Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2023 by the New York Times, The Week, Vulture, Elle, and The Millions
A piercing blend of memoir, criticism, and biography examining how women writers across the centuries carved out intellectual freedom for themselves--and how others might do the same
I took off my wedding ring for the last time--a gold band with half a line of "Morning Song" by Sylvia Plath etched inside--and for weeks afterwards, my thumb would involuntarily reach across my palm for the warm bright circle that had gone. I didn't fling the ring into the long grass, like women do in the movies, but a feeling began bubbling up nevertheless, from my stomach to my throat: it could fling my arms out. I was free. . . .
A few years into her marriage and feeling societal pressure to surrender to domesticity, Joanna Biggs found herself longing for a different kind of existence. Was this all there was? She divorced without knowing what would come next.
Newly untethered, Joanna returned to the free-spirited writers of her youth and was soon reading in a fever--desperately searching for evidence of lives that looked more like her own, for the messiness and freedom, for a possible blueprint for intellectual fulfillment.
In A Life of One's Own, Mary Wollstonecraft, George Eliot, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, and Elena Ferrante are all taken down from their pedestals, their work and lives seen in a new light. Joanna wanted to learn more about the conditions these women needed to write their best work, and how they addressed the questions she herself was struggling with: Is domesticity a trap? Is life worth living if you have lost faith in the traditional goals of a woman? Why is it so important for women to read one another?
This is a radical and intimate examination of the unconventional paths these women took--their pursuits and achievements but also their disappointments and hardships. And in exploring the things that gave their lives the most meaning, we find fuel for our own singular intellectual paths.