Just finished an excellent book: “Anne Frank: The book, the life, the afterlife,” by Francine Prose. She wants to be sure that we remember Anne, not as the winsome teen depicted in the play and movie, but as the serious, extremely talented and skilled writer that she was. In her last months, Anne revised the diary with an eye to publication; Prose details the ways Anne edited and improved her younger writings. She deplores what she calls the “dejudification” of Anne in some analyses, and shows how much the diary still means all over the world.
My heroes since the age of 13 – Paul McCartney and Anne Frank. I once wrote a play in which a girl not unlike myself talked to the two of them in her room. Not a successful play, but a wonderful fantasy. (Incidentally, in my play, Paul and Anne were sitting on opposite sides of my bedroom and did not meet.)
And I read a moving and disturbing Personal History in the most recent New Yorker, called “Thanksgiving in Mongolia.” The author, Ariel Levy, announces immediately that as a child, she had no interest in playing house, she played explorer. And later she became one, with many adventures including travelling alone in India at the age of 22 and hiking in Nepal. She could not decide whether or not to have a child, a decision her partner left to her; finally, at 38, inspired by a joyful trip to Greece, she got pregnant.
And then, five months pregnant, she decided to go to Mongolia. This would be her last lengthy trip, she writes, for a year or two. Her doctor, she says, told her it was safe to travel until her third trimester. I wonder if he knew, though, that her destination was Ulan Bator.
She wasn’t feeling well there, and, alone in her hotel room, she gave birth to a perfect breathing 19-week old baby boy who fitted in her hand. She managed to take a picture of him before they were rushed to hospital, where he was taken away. She never saw him again. When she got back to New York, “I was so sad I could barely breathe,” she writes. Her life fell apart, and her marriage ended.
This story made me, too, profoundly sad, and I thought back to the discussion of the other night, Camille Paglia talking about the profound biological differences between men and women – that the basis of some of what feminists call sexist behaviour is the fact that women and infants do need protection. Ariel Levy wanted the freedom and autonomy of a man, which was just fine until she got pregnant late in a woman’s reproductive cycle. And then, though she still wanted to behave like a man, her body was very much that of a woman. I think of my friend Lynn, who during several difficult pregnancies had to spend months in bed for the safety of the fetus. Levy did not want to give up her freedom; but motherhood is the very definition of lack of freedom. At least, a certain kind of freedom – the “going to Mongolia at five months pregnant at 38” type of freedom.
I mourn her loss, but I do not understand the decision that generated it. No, that’s not true – I do understand it. I can understand saying, Why should I give up my exciting life for this new arrival, whom I haven’t even met? She writes: “I liked the idea of telling my kid, ‘When you were inside me, we went to see the edge of the earth.'” I can understand it, but I would never, in a million years, have taken that risk. But then, I did not play explorer as a little girl. I played with dolls.
To quote Camille Paglia, “Feminism was always wrong to pretend that women could ‘have it all.’ It is not male society but mother nature who lays the heaviest burden on women.”