The book is essentially about how a group of women driven to lives of domesticity in the 40s and 50s, formed a correspondence club out of boredom and isolation, which gave them a creative outlet for articulate writing, validated their right to an opinion and helped them form an identity outside their often unhappy marriages. The letter that got the ball rolling, addressed to Nursery World magazine, read:
"Can any mother help me? I live a very lonely life, as I have no near neighbours, I cannot afford to buy a wireless. I adore reading, but with no library am very limited with books... I have had a rotten time, and been cruelly hurt, both physically and mentally, but I know it is bad to brood and breed hard thoughts and resentments. Can any reader suggest an occupation that will intrigue me and exclude "thinking" and cost nothing! A hard problem, I admit."
From this letter, the Cooperative Correspondence Club (CCC), edited by 'Ad Astra' (all the contributors used pen names) was born, which the Guardian describes as "somewhere between a round-robin newsletter and a fully fledged magazine". The printed material was circulated on a fortnightly basis, rather like a zine – its "handwritten articles sewn together and slipped between homemade decorative linen covers." The secret publication allowed the women to share recipes, indulge in sex talk, disclose marriage troubles, voice opinions about the war and encourage each other. Some of the quotes in the book, of the women's struggles, resonate even today: "I had never cooked a meal or ironed a shirt in my life when I got married..." (me too!).
Sometimes we are harsh on women's magazines because they fail to make us feel good about our credit card debt/complicated love lives/wobbly thighs (sigh, Jane made us feel okay about all those things) and sell their readers to advertisers to make money, but we forget that they have been a sort of secret sorority for women-kind, where no man dare venture, where we can indulge our love of frivolous things, such as $500 shoes, stationery to match our office space and risotto recipes, express our opinions (if only in the letters pages), vent, read news and reviews relevant to our lives, keep informed about wordly issues and share stories of battles with illness, post-natal depression, lost loved ones and affairs. They aim to relate to us, educate us and inspire us. And, despite their penchant for over-exposed celebrities and dieting stories, they are still very much a part of the modern female discourse (and, heck, this blog would be a little light on content if they weren't utterly fascinating to read).
Girl With a Satchel