Monday, March 14, 2016

Seven Women

Seven Women and the secret of their greatness, Eric Metaxas

I was quite excited to pick up this book recently, thinking it was time to read another biography.  I enjoyed Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer about 4 years ago, so was keen to read more of his work.   He has also written Seven Men, after which he was encouraged to write a similar version about seven women.

It was a good read and was also very interesting.  Unless you spend your life in history and biographies, chances are there will be women in here you do not know much about.   His introductory chapter explains the process he went about in choosing which women to include, which was insightful.  He did not choose women because they were compared to men (such as the first woman to do something).   Rather:
When I consider the seven women I chose, I see that most of them were great for reasons that derive precisely for their being women, not in spite of it; and what made them great has nothing to so with their being measured against or competing with men. In other words, their accomplishments are not gender-neutral but are rooted in their singularity as women.  All of them existed and thrived as women…  (p. xv)
He also goes on to talk about how pitting women against men does both a disservice and I found these comments refreshing.   He finishes saying that biographies enable us to look at a different era and time and to realise that we all come to these accounts with our own cultural blinkers, and we can still learn a great deal from people of the past.   All very helpful and illustrative to know how someone has thought about their writing.

Then onto the stories of the seven women.  He has included:  Jean of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa.  In doing so he has included women from the Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed faith.   I felt each chapter got better as I read along, meaning I found Joan of Arc and even Susannah Wesley much weaker chapters than the later ones.  I wonder if sometimes stories of people from long ago are so alien to our cultural understanding they are much hard to interact with, which is an interesting conclusion, I realise, considering Metaxas’ opening remarks.  

The one I struggled with the most was the chapter on Joan of Arc.  It is clearly a fascinating story and one I did not know the details about.  However, oddly I thought for a biography, there was no analysis of her at all.   This was a young woman who claimed voices from God were clearly speaking to her about helping the rightful king of France regain the throne.   The whole story and setting is so foreign to us, an attempt at interpretation would have been helpful for the reader.  I can only assume even Metaxas did not feel up to the task.

Each of the following chapters presented a woman and her life and faith in more detail, with a little bit of analysis along the way.   I had either no or only basic knowledge about most of these women and I finished the book encouraged by the lives of women of the past.    In the end because only one chapter was given to each woman, it was really only a taste.  They are some I would definitely like to read about in more detail in the future.  A good read to get a brief insight to seven remarkable women.

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