The Ariadne’s Thread that connects one episode of one’s life to the next is provided by our women friends – the ones to whom our stories can be told. I have a high school friend (let us call her Q) with whom I have followed most of the threads of our lives.
Originally we were a set of about five girls in one of New York’s now-defunct select high schools. We started The Literary Club, partly so that we could talk about the books girls read then (Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence and—I don’t know why—Samuel Butler), partly so that we could write on our college applications, “I served for a time as President of The Literary Club.” We had a faculty advisor who listened wide-eyed to our opinings, chiming in from time to time, “You girls are SO brilliant.”
Sometimes, when I meet Q now, we review the later adventures and scenes of the members of The Literary Club:
There was the ruggedly candid X who, after a year of marriage, confessed that she was no longer the bright-eyed Wunderkind her Mister Right had chosen (whom she was now putting through med school), because she had become “so bitter.” Bitter drew a Big Failing Grade in woman-ship in those days, though the double-binds bright girls got into produced “bitter” predictably.
Z had been raised to be an Emancipated Girl of The Left. Her mother (for cryin’ out loud!) had her fitted for a diaphragm. She married an Italian (as in the technicolor movie,“Three Coins in the Fountain”) – someone who would call you cara as he breathed kisses on your neck. He would come to control her by making sure she remembered with longing and remorse a virginity that was lost before they met.
F was a beauty of the jeune fille en fleure (young girl in flower) variety: fragile, innocent, effortless. This is a type that must be kept in very secure, climate-controlled environs till it finds what in those days was felt to be permanent refuge in an appropriate marriage. She was, I think, aware of her charge – the frail, natural beauty she held in trust – and did her best to avoid life’s jagged edges as she shepherded herself through her first youth. (In those days, one could expect no second spring of youth.)
When the tragic collision came, she was catapulted into a mental fragility that would confine her life within the boundaries marked by fear of a renewed breakdown. It was not a failed life. She would have achievements to her credit, both personal and professional. But the zen-like playfulness was gone.
I reproach feminism (that is, some but not all of the pubic feminists) for preferring the abstractions of a settled ideology for active sympathy for real women. But it is safe to say that the perils that beset and enveloped the members of The Literary Club could not have done that so thoroughly had we had recourse to the saving graces of the feminist revolution.