This week I read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It's our St. Stephen's Episcopal Church's Book Club's selection for April. The book was chosen for Oprah's Book Club, and I couldn't wait to read it because I *love* The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair. Oprah's Harpo Studios owns the movie rights, and I'm sure Oprah's company will produce a wonderful film adaptation.
This book is historical fiction, and in Kidd's author's notes she explains how she was looking for two sisters to write about when she discovered Sarah and Nina Grimké at The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum in 2007. Judy Chicago's artistic rendering of a banquet table complete with place settings honoring 39 female guests of honor is displayed over a porcelain tile floor inscribed with the names of 999 other outstanding women who've contributed to history. On these tiles, Kidd read the names of Sarah and Nina Grimké. She was stunned that these outstanding women were from Charleston, her hometown. How could it be possible that she'd never heard of them before?
The Grimké sisters grew-up on a plantation close to Charleston. The family also had a town house in the city with many field and house slaves. Both women left their church, family, and beloved city to travel north to Philadephia to become Quakers and outspoken leaders in the abolitionist movement. But when the two increasingly speak out about women's suffrage, the Quakers expel them, and many in the abolitionist movement shun them for dividing the abolitionists.
The Invention of Wings is told from alternating points of view between Sarah and her personal slave, Hettie "Handful" Grimké. Sarah is given Handful as a present on her eleventh birthday. Sarah's rebellion starts early: she teaches Handful how to read and write. Both girls are punished for breaking the law, and there isn't much more information in history about Handful after other than her death from an illness. Most of her story and her history is fabricated in the book, but I enjoyed reading the story from her point of view very much. I can only imagine how many other slaves must have had similar thoughts and feelings.
Sarah's biggest issue in life isn't her flaming red hair, but that she was born extremely smart and has ambitions beyond her station in life. It must be bitter watching her older brothers experience college and law school (her dream) and having access to her father's library taken away. During a time when finishing school and marriage was the best option for young women, Sarah chooses to remain single to pursue her dreams.
It's harder for me to relate to Sarah's plight than Handful's. I think the abolitionists had a good point in that they needed to focus on one issue at a time. Although I do see Sarah's point in that women could be in a better position to push the abolitionist cause if they had equal voting rights.
Most of the plot centers around the Charleston home of the Grimkés with their many children, harsh mother, and various house slaves. Handful's mother, Charlotte, is an interesting character, and her story was remarkable and tragic. Charlotte makes Sarah promise to help free Handful when she was just a young girl, and she believes that teaching her to read will fulfill that promise.
As tragic as slavery was in our history, another tragedy has occurred: women who have made a difference…those who have made it possible for us to achieve our dreams, fade from history. Why is that? My hope is that there will be more women history writers to preserve the stories of remarkable women who've risked their reputations, social status, and security to make a difference for us all.
NOTE: Oprah’s Interview with Sue Monk Kidd
The television interview airs on “Super Soul Sunday,” Sunday, April 13, 11 a.m. ET/PT on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.