Kitty Garstin, played by Naomi Watts in the 2006 film "The Painted Veil" was confronted by her family who implied that they no longer wished to financially support her and that it was time for her to get married, thus becoming someone else's burden. This film was set in the 1920's and Kitty did not have the skills and society did not have the infrastructure to allow a woman of her class to earn her own income and thereby support herself. Kitty's only path to "independence" was to get married, even if she didn't want to, or as in this case, was not in love with her suitor. Her marriage led her on a downward tailspin to the bleak, grim lands of inner China to a town decimated by a cholera outbreak. Left here, isolated from her previous life, Kitty is forced to not only grow up but to also forge her own path and identity.
Doris Lessing's female character, Mary Turner of "The Grass is Singing" does not fare as well as Kitty Garstin. The story opens with her murder and then back tracks to how she arrived at such a fatal ending. Mary Turner was unlike Kitty, and more like some of Edith Wharton's women, she worked and supported herself even if the income was meager. Mary Turner was successful with her office job and socially successful. She was happy and independent until she overheard some of her friends criticizing her for remaining single. Mary felt shame at their stigma, as if being single meant that she was incomplete or undesirable, instead of single by her own choice. Many women still experience this same stigma today. They hear exclamations like "Why is a nice girl like you still single?"
Mary, like Kitty, enters into a hostile, brutal married environment. It isn't that the husbands are horrible but where they live as the result of their marriage leaves them isolated. Edith Wharton's women also often leave a life of some independence to get married and "become fulfilled and respectable" only to find themselves in a bitter, often devastating struggle to survive. (Read "The Age of Innocence" and "Bunner Sisters")
Women's literature often explores the reconciliation of individual identity and marriage (whether it is one filled with love or not).
Looking for more?
- Novel "The Grass is Singing" by Doris Lessing, 1950 This novel is well written and is an interesting manifestation of how people’s choices govern their lives. It is set in Rhodesia (now South Africa) and among other things, depicts the class struggle between British settlers and the native African population.
- Movie: "The Painted Veil" starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, 2006 This movie is a visually stunning film. It is a quiet film with endearing characters and gripping struggle. It is based on the 1925 novel by W. Somerset Maugham, which I have not read.
- Doris Lessing audio clips – excerpt readings and interviews
- Biography of Doris Lessing, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
- To learn about more women who inspire us and who guide us, please read my articles at
Famiss – Women’s Success History & Portraits
About the author: Allison Frederick is a writer and online marketing educator for other creative women. www.FaMissWomen.com offers free Web 2.0 resources. She is also the author of an upcoming novel, A Portrait of Josephine, an academic-lite thriller. Find out how to receive a free copy of the novel by visiting www.portraitofjosephine.com