A World of Women
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This issue’s cover is from J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in what is already a classic new series. The first two titles were Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for their help. Cover image based on original artwork by Cliff Wright
In A World of Women Auchmuty delves more deeply into some of the girls’ school stories which she stimulatingly assessed in her earlier book, A World of Girls . Her main thrust is that the genre, once commonly dismissed as ‘all japes and gymslips’, in fact positively influenced young readers by its depiction of an all-female society where, unfettered by male competition or dominance, girls inevitably assumed leading roles in sport, drama, scholastic achievement and community responsibilities.
From stories by three giants of the genre, Elsie J. Oxenham, Dorita Fairlie Bruce and Elinor Brent-Dyer, Auchmuty now considers the adult characters - those who are fully fledged grown-ups from the beginning (i.e. teachers and headmistresses) and, particularly, the girls who mature during the course of the series from junior pupils to young women. Seeing these girls-grown-up as feminist role-models, she adroitly backs her argument with quotations and instances from the books stressing the heroines’ involvement in careers, education and non-domestic pursuits.
So far, so fascinating! But it would also be possible. by selective quotes and examples from the intriguingly ‘curate’s egg’ mosaic of these stories, to put the differing view that, despite their girlhood independence, these characters generally grew up to accept fairly conformist roles as ‘backers-up’ of men.
However, Auchmuty writes with punch and persuasiveness and, as well as presenting a sympathetic account of the school-story genre, A World of Women provides valuable social insights (for example, into the impact of movements such as Guiding, Guildry and Camp Fire). The book’s great value is its accurate conveyance and celebration of female friendships and the essential sisterhood of women and girls, which, often neglected by more elevated authors, have been significantly acknowledged by the so-called ‘schoolgirl writers’.