Books

'Scandalous Women': Save Me the Waltz

John Collier's Lady Godiva (1898)

There are two ways to react to books that use allusions to Journey songs in writing about Joan of Arc, or describe Henry VIII's youthful looks as "the centerfold for ‘Hot Renaissance Princes'".


Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History's Most Notorious Women

Publisher: Penguin
Length: 304 pages
Author: Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
Price: $15.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2011-03
Amazon

There are reviewers who glory in reviewing a work they find lacking. They trot out their snarkiest adjectives and have at both writer and work with malicious glee. Despite being accused of this myself, I do not enjoy attacking people or their books. So when Elizabeth Kerri Mahon’s Scandalous Women started off badly (a grammatical error on the first page) and went downhill from there, the final blow a misquote of Zelda Fitzgerald’s novel, Save Me the Waltz, (Here called “Save the Waltz”) I groaned. Poor Zelda.

Deep breath. Here we go.

Taken from Mahon’s blog of the same name, Scandalous Women is organized into sections with titles like “Wayward Wives”, “Scintillating Seductresses”, and “Crusading Ladies”. Within each section Mahon offers vignettes of women ranging from Carry Nation to Amelia Earhardt.

Mahon is an avid amateur historian whose selected bibliography indicates she’s done her homework. But she’s no writer. Both blog and book are laden with grammatical errors (comma placement being a particular problem), clunky sentences, and while the editors managed to clean up most of the spelling and word choices in the book (i.e., “bare” for “bear”, as in endure), there is the Zelda misquote and the use of “hung” for “hanged”. People are hanged. I know that sounds bizarre. But we are. Animals, on the other hand, are hung. English is such an amusing language.

Most irritating to this reader is Mahon’s slangy, breezy style, taking a solemn subject and dumbing it down. Phrases like “rock star”, “rocked his world”, (many of her subjects slept their way to power), “new innovation” (as opposed to old innovations), referring to Anne Boleyn as “knocked up”, or describing Charles VI as “not exactly jonesing to be king” are cringeworthy. So is the opening line in the section on Joan of Arc: “She was just a small town girl, living in a small town world...”

There are two ways to react to books that use allusions to Journey songs in writing about Joan of Arc. The kinder response is “Hey, this really gets that coveted 18-34 female demographic reading about history!” (And buying this book.) The grumpier response is annoyance verging on other not-so-nice feelings. History is serious stuff. Women in history, particularly those with the nerve to resist repressive conventions, deserve better treatment. Further, such colloquial language means the book will date rapidly: will the next generation know what “rock star” once meant? Will the expression “one taco short of a combination plate” make sense ten years from now? Unlikely.

Even if you are a nicer, more easygoing person than I am and can cope with Henry VIII youthful looks referred to as “the centerfold for ‘Hot Renaissance Princes’”, Mahon’s writing soon dulls the vibrant characters she proposes to write about. The women blend into a rockin,’ knockout cacophony of rags-to-riches seductresses, their complex lives reduced to a few pages. I realize Mahon intended to give readers a taste of each woman, a sort of “feminists for dummies”, but it doesn’t hold together.

If you are truly interested in women like Cleopatra or Frida Kahlo, check out Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, which won her the Pulitzer prize, or Hayden Herrera’s excellent Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. My point is, there are plenty of well-written biographies about women who defied social mores, and they merit your sustained attention. Scandalous Women does not.

3

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.