Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World

Claudia Roth Pierpont, Author
Claudia Roth Pierpont, Author Alfred A. Knopf $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-679-43106-0
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-679-75113-7
Prebound-Other - 978-0-606-20847-5
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Considering ""how ambitious women worked out their destinies in an age of momentous transition,"" Pierpont scrutinizes 12 well-known 20th-century women in these essays (revised and expanded from their original publication in the New Yorker). In her highly capable hands, these diverse women--writers, philosophers and a movie star--come alive through probing questions about their work and vivid details about their lives. In the first grouping, Pierpont explores ""issues of sexual freedom"" through the widely varying perspectives of Olive Schreimer, Gertrude Stein, Anais Nin and Mae West. The second part, concerned with race, and the third, with politics, cover figures from Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Mitchell and Eudora Welty to Ayn Rand, Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy. Of course, connections and overlapping concerns emerge through the course of these excellent, astute pieces. The most interesting parallels are those that are least expected and those that occur across the borders of nationality, class and medium--such as coincident views of women's power between Arendt and Mitchell, or similar sexual stances on the part of Nin and Rand. In her arrangement of writings, Pierpont raises questions about women's progress through the century: What do these ""women of a transitional age"" tell us about our own ""internal change""? She also defends her subjects from harsh contemporary judgment, ""for they had hardly any models to follow, apart from a handful of suicidal literary heroines."" Indeed, perhaps this collection's most noteworthy contribution is its levelheaded, sympathetic and unsentimental nature, especially given that the name alone of many of these figures (such as Rand and Nin) can provoke powerful reactions from both admirers and detractors. (Mar.)
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