by Rachel Cooke
eBook, 368 pages
My Thoughts:In Her Brilliant Career, acclaimed journalist Rachel Cooke goes back in time to offer an entertaining and iconoclastic look at ten women in the 1950s—pioneers whose professional careers and complicated private lives helped to create the opportunities available to today's women. These intrepid and ambitious individuals—among them a film director, a cook, an architect, an editor, an archaeologist, and a race car driver—left the house, discovered the bliss of work, and ushered in the era of the working woman.Daring and independent, these remarkable, unsung heroines—whose obscurity makes their accomplishments all the more astonishing and relevant—loved passionately, challenged men's control, made their own mistakes, and took life on their own terms, breaking new ground and offering inspiration. Their individual portraits gradually form a landscape of 1950s culture, and of women's unique—and rapidly evolving—role.Before there could be a Danica Patrick, there had to be a Sheila van Damm; before there was Barbara Walters, there was Nancy Spain; before Kathryn Bigelow came Muriel Box. The pioneers of Her Brilliant Career forever changed the fabric of culture, society, and the workforce. This is the Fifties retold: vivid, surprising, and, most of all, modern.
Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties by Rachel Cooke is a highly recommended collection of seven essays that cover the lives and accomplishments of ten widely diverse women and their careers in the 1950's in the UK. Many of these women were the first in their careers, to make a mark. Cooke observes that, “One of the great upsides of being the first was that guilt, as it pertained to working women, had not yet been invented.”
The women presented in Her Brilliant Career include a diverse group: Patience Gray, cookbook writer; Nancy Spain, writer and personality; Joan Werner Laurie, magazine editor; Sheila van Damm, rally-car driver and theatre manager; Alison Smithson, architect; Margery Fish, gardener; Muriel Box, director, and Betty Box, producer; Jacquetta Hawkes, archaeologist; and Rose Heilbron, QC., the first woman to sit at the Old Bailey. Her Brilliant Career also includes a Select Bibliography, Acknowledgements, and an Index.
In the introduction, Cooke points out "I prefer the idea of role models, inspirational figures who make you want to cheer. The extraordinary, mould-breaking women you will find in the pages that follow weren’t perfect. They were, like all human beings, flawed. They doubted themselves, they got in muddles, they made mistakes; feeling defensive, they sometimes seemed difficult and distant even to those who loved them. They certainly did not – dread phrase – ‘have it all’, or not all of the time, at any rate. Their children sometimes had a hard time of it. But they loved what they did and they got on with doing it as best they could in far less equal times than our own. If that isn’t encouraging – a kind of rallying call to the twenty-first-century battle-weary – I don’t know what is."
Isn't that the truth?
All the women lived in the post WWII UK, but readers not in the UK, should still find inspiration from these ten women and what their accomplishments meant for the women of today. All the essays can be read as stand alone pieces, but as Cooke writes, "But if you read all seven of them there will, I hope, be a cumulative effect, the culture of the Fifties – its food, its architecture, its popular culture, its habits and its opinions – revealed through the lives of ten revolutionaries and taste makers who just happen to have been women. I hope these stories make people reconsider the ‘lost’ decade between the end of the war and feminism. I hope, too, that they speak to readers everywhere, whichever city or continent they happen to be reading in."
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.