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They Went Whistling

Women Wayfarers, Warriors, Runaways, and Renegades

By Holland Barbara

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Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Published In: United States, 01 November 2003
Throughout history there have been women, endowed with curiosity and abundant spirit, who stepped out of the cave, cast off the shackles of expectation, and struck out for new territory. In this ode to bold, brash, and sometimes just plain dangerous women, Barbara Holland reanimates those rebels who defied convention and challenged authority on a truly grand scale: they traveled the world, commanded pirate ships, spied on the enemy, established foreign countries, scaled 19,000-foot passes, and lobbied to change the Constitution. Some were merry and flamboyant; others depressive and solitary. Some dressed up as men; others cherished their Victorian gowns. Many were ambivalent or absentminded mothers. But every one of them was fearless, eccentric, and fiercely independent. Barbara Holland evokes their energy in this unconventional book that will acquaint you with the likes of Grace O Malley, a blazing terror of the Irish seas in the 1500s, and surprise you with a fresh perspective on legends like Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde fame. With wit, wisdom, and irreverent flair, They Went Whistling makes a compelling case for the virtue of getting into trouble."

About the Author

Barbara Holland is the author of several books, includingEndangered Pleasures. She lives in western Loudon County, Virginia.

Reviews

Deliciously ironic, reliably brainy, steadily informative a jubilant hop, skip and jump toward rectifying the omission of women from the historical record. Star Tribune (Minneapolis) With humor and style, Holland reveals lives fraught with excitement, danger, passion [and] intrigue. USA Today Deliciously ironic, reliably brainy, steadily informative . . . a jubilant hop, skip and jump toward rectifying the omission of women from the historical record. Star Tribune (Minneapolis) With humor and style, Holland reveals lives fraught with excitement, danger, passion [and] intrigue. USA Today Luxuriating in tales worth retelling . . . [Holland] gives herself free rein to speak her mind and break the rules. The Washington Post" "Deliciously ironic, reliably brainy, steadily informative...a jubilant hop, skip and jump toward rectifying the omission of women from the historical record."-"Star Tribune" (Minneapolis) "With humor and style, Holland reveals lives fraught with excitement, danger, passion [and] intrigue."-"USA Today""Deliciously ironic, reliably brainy, steadily informative . . . a jubilant hop, skip and jump toward rectifying the omission of women from the historical record." -"Star Tribune" (Minneapolis) "With humor and style, Holland reveals lives fraught with excitement, danger, passion [and] intrigue." -"USA Today" "Luxuriating in tales worth retelling . . . [Holland] gives herself free rein to speak her mind and break the rules." -"The Washington Post"""

EAN: 9780385720021
ISBN: 0385720025
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
Dimensions: 20.27 x 13.36 x 1.75 centimeters (0.23 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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They Went Whistling provides an entertaining and provocative overview of women's history for the last 2000 years. As the author herself says in the acknowledgments it is not a genuine scholarly biography, footnoted and all. Rather it is intended to make us think about the few famous women who are known to history and wonder what happened to all the rest. Written with informal language, the book reads quickly and the reader is never in doubt as to Holland's point of view. She has very definite opinions on women's place in history books or rather the reasons for their absence.

The book starts with several quotes. One is attributed to early travel writer Dervla Murphy who says 'One is a much less lighthearted traveler with a foal at foot'. As Holland discusses in the introduction, for much of history women have been defined as mothers and their lives very much restricted. Those who rebelled were certainly not respected in polite society. Of course, some did venture out, but the ones who are remembered well by history are those 'not driven by dreams of glory but by a nurturing concern for others: the Virgin Mary, Florence Nightingale, Clara Baron, Harriet Tubman, Mother Theresa - mothering their way into history'. Men could be adventurers and greatly admired, but an adventuress is 'a woman who preys on rich men and other people's husbands.'

Holland divides the book into chapters titled: Warriors, Menswear, Outlaws, Exiles, Wayfarers, Renegades, Grandstanders, Seekers and Radicals. The famous such as Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Susan B. Anthony and George Sand are all there. However, the pleasure in reading this book lies in discovering the less known but still remarkable women like Confederate spy Belle Boyd or Alexandra David Neel who was the first Westerner to visit Lhasa and Potala, 'the glorious palace of the ruling lamas'. Neel travelled under incredibly difficult conditions, disguised as a beggar with her face blackened by soot from the bottom of a cooking pot, to avoid explusion or worse.

There is no doubt whom Holland admires and whom she scorns. Grandstanders such as dancer Isadora Duncan or aviatrix Amelia Earhart are roundly mocked. 'Those with ample self-esteem seldom worry about survival', and they often put the people in their lives through incredible hardships while they follow their muses or dreams. Greatly admired by the author are the wayfarers, those intrepid travellers who braved the wilderness before credit cards, airplanes and cell phones. A great many of them were British women in the 19th century. Maybe 'knowing that a woman ... stood at the helm of the Empire worked in their hearts like yeast' and gave them courage to travel 'trotting ahead of the yellow dogs of domestic boredom'. Many apparently looked much younger than their chronological ages. 'Perhaps after all it's the quiet life that breeds gray hair and wrinkles'. Luckily many of these women left journals or wrote extensive letters so we can admire their incredible bravery and sometimes wonder at their foolhardiness.

Holland also pays tribute to the radicals such as Mary Harris, the 19th/early 20th century American union organizer 'Mother Jones'. A ferocious soldier in the war between workers and management, her motto was 'Pray for the dead but fight like Hell for the living'. Her legacy continues to live on in the Mother Jones magazine which is dedicated to 'social justice implemented through first rate investigative reporting'. As the book, concludes Holland worries about the future. Where are the wayfarers and radicals now? 'Careers, it turns out, keep women in line more effectively than policement or repressive husbands'. Those degrees and careers are time-eaters and demand ceaseless loyalty and attention. They're harder to leave than a husband, and unlike children, they never grow up and learn to take care of themselves. She has a good point; women today are often just too tired to rabble rouse.

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