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Every Eye Isobel English David R. Godine/Black Sparrow: 152 pp., $23.95

July 16, 2006|Susan Salter Reynolds

ISOBEL ENGLISH died of leukemia in 1994 at 73, little known beyond her immediate circle of friends and fellow writers in Britain. Her novel "Every Eye," published there in 1956, is being printed for the first time in the United States. English (June Braybrooke's pseudonym) was a writer whose work shows how much deeper and richer fiction can be in the hands of a well-read author. Not that she has a heavy hand, but her work is full of hints and references to her reading of spiritual texts and great writers, particularly her British literary ancestors. In "Every Eye," faint memories of Muriel Spark, Flora Lewis and Evelyn Waugh come floating up, adding to autobiographical bits found in husband Neville Braybrooke's introduction.

In "Every Eye," a middle-aged Hatty remembers being 14, when her sexual future -- the life of "a solitary English woman of character" -- was shaped by admonitions from her mother and uncle. "They harden," she thinks of these women, "like the autumnal beads at their throat into hard little wax pellets that no heat will ever melt again; they turn into a self-supporting wholesome substance that can never take anything in, nor be taken in, again." But on a trip to Ibiza, "the most savage of Balearic islands," Hatty recalls her first, much older lover, the mysterious end to that affair and her family's efforts to dissuade her from seeing the man.

Her painful memories have a backward power and momentum that is more piercing than the experiences were in the moment of living. The light on the stairway of a questionable Paris hotel, for example, is "more a degree of darkness than of light." And Hatty feels anew her regret after an operation to fix the squint affecting her left eye, a condition that had informed her way of seeing the world at an angle.

"There must be a great emptying of the mind when one is about to start on a long journey," Hatty thinks, for it is from this trip to Ibiza that she reconstructs the lost pieces of her life, a process she calls "befogging the present." "It is no good clinging to the shreds of last night's anxiety, nor to its comforts; everything must be fresh and completely hard at the edges to withstand the future movement and buffeting."

*

Get to Work

A Manifesto for Women

of the World

Linda R. Hirshman

Viking: 102 pp., $19.95

LINDA HIRSHMAN'S 2005 article in American Prospect magazine encouraging women to stay out of the house incited a flurry of articles and TV appearances, including one on "60 Minutes." It firmly established the former Brandeis University philosophy professor as one of the most outspoken voices in the fraying women's movement. The movement, Hirshman wrote, wasn't radical enough, because its focus was on the public sphere (job equality, political representation), not the home, that "most intransigent of patriarchal institutions in our society" with the "thickest glass ceiling." We failed, she claims, to "take on the inequality where it lives."

As a result, Hirshman reports in "Get to Work," only 38% of today's married mothers work full time. Only 15.7% of Wall Street's corporate officers are women. More and more women with advanced degrees are choosing to stay home, but choice, she writes, is "the weasel word." These women find all the familiar reasons to do the bulk of the housework and raise the children while working part time rather than insisting on shared labor at home. Their lives, she writes in a take-no-prisoners tone, resemble those of toddlers, so why should politicians take them seriously?

Hirshman takes a very hard line, but she sifts through the confusing spectrum of arguments over women's roles with a clarity and conviction harking back to Betty Friedan, that "razor-tongued moralist," rather than the "beautiful, ever-gracious and all inclusive Gloria Steinem." Steinem's willingness to compromise was, Hirshman believes, "ruinous" for women's rights.

She offers such controversial admonitions as: "Don't study art. Use your education to prepare for a lifetime of work. Never know when you're out of milk. Bargain relentlessly for a just household. Consider a reproductive strike. Get the government you deserve."

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