Last summer, as I was perusing the new book section at my local public library, I came across a book in non-fiction whose spine declared it was Between the Sheets. I was intrigued enough to pull it from the shelf and read its entire title: Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th-Century Women Writers by Lesley McDowell. Though I had no time to read it that week, or even that month, I added the title to my Must Read list. It’s my first read of 2011, and I couldn’t have chosen better.
Though the writing is sometimes choppy, McDowell’s argument is flawless. She brings a new perspective to the motivation and consequences of liaisons that have long been seen as only detrimental to the women involved in them. She dares to suggest that these nine women: Katherine Mansfield, H.D., Rebecca West, Jean Rhys, Anaïs Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Martha Gellhorn, Elizabeth Stuart, and Sylvia Plath are not the victims scholars and biographers have painted them to be these many years. She even goes so far as to posit that they knowingly entered into these relationships, aware of the almost certain consequences in order to further their own writing in a time when women were still not being taken seriously as authors without an established male author to recommend them. Her research is thorough and extensive. She offers alternate explanations along the way, as well. She has no qualms about disagreeing with the standing interpretation of anything related to these women. If you are interested at all in 20th Century literature, you should read this book. If you are feminist, or care about feminism, you should read this book. If you enjoy a well-written, for the most part, engaging argument, read this book.