Today I spotted a newspaper article looking at ‘five books by women, for women’ to celebrate International Women’s Day. You can imagine my delight when I saw that one of the five is Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting! She features alongside Agatha Christie, Shirley Jackson, LM Montgomery and Octavia Butler.
Stacy Gillis, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University, has written a wonderful piece about the five books and a culture which has seen women’s writing as ‘something to be controlled, managed and dismissed’. You can read the article here. She writes of Coaches:
A rewriting of Jane Eyre, the novel contains all the tropes of the Gothic romance – a castle, a family secret, murder – but these are challenged by one of Stewart’s finest protagonists, Linda Martin. Martin is employed as a governess by an aristocratic family, but rejects the trappings of romance to protect her charge, and her own integrity.
Yes! Linda’s care for young Philippe is something I love about this novel, and Gillis’s point is echoed in Mary Stewart’s review of her early fiction: in the preface to the 1969 Hodder & Stoughton Omnibus Edition which includes Coaches, she wrote:
it is perhaps worth noticing that the heroines of Wildfire at Midnight and Nine Coaches Waiting, faced with choice between love and duty, reject the traditional choice of romantic fiction, and – as so many women do – choose duty.
She went on in the preface to write that:
I was tired of ‘tough’ books where the girl ‘heroine’ is regarded purely as a sexual object, and where her qualities of mind and heart (if any) are ignored or treated as irrelevant.
And so Mary Stewart’s writing is part of a tradition that as Gillis has it ‘challenge[s] the status quo, if only for a little while. Each challenge, however, provides another example of how to effect change in a patriarchal culture’.
I wrote about Mary Stewart and International Women’s Day 2017 in my March 2017 bulletin. This has quotes by Rachel Hore and Harold J Herman on the way Stewart wrote women.