A Short History of Women: Book Review

"This is a must-read for any woman who has questioned the difference she can make, or guilt over not doing ‘enough’ to change the world."
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert book cover

Book Review: A Short History of Women, Kate Walbert

I must begin this review with an admission: I’m only half-way through this novel. But, even half-done, I can strongly recommend this novel. A Short History of Women is a fictionalized account of five generations of the Townsend women. The first Townsend woman we meet is Dorothy Trevor Townsend, whom we soon learn is a famous suffragist who went on a hunger strike to protest the lack of equality between women and men—in 1914 England.

The novel follows Dorothy and her descendants, leaving England for the U.S. with her daughter Evelyn after World War II. The Townsend women are shadowed by Dorothy’s legacy, vacillating between a desire to live up to the great suffragist’s actions and the urge to live independent of the family history.

It’s worth including what Leah Hager Cohen, in her article ‘Feminine Mystique’ in the New York Times Sunday Book Review wrote about A Short History of Women:


“Like her last novel, “Our Kind,” which was a National Book Award finalist, “A Short History of Women” consists of linked stories: in this case, 15 lean, concentrated chapters that hopscotch through time and alternate among the lives of Dorothy Trevor Townsend, a British suffragist, and a handful of her descendants. Several of the stories have been previously published; most could stand alone. Yet together they coalesce into more than the sum of their parts. It is Walbert’s conceit that while the oldest and youngest generations never meet, they share a legacy of echoes: objects and phrases that repeat mysteriously, and with increasing significance, across the decades. This spare novel manages, improbably, to live up to its title: it delivers what feels like a reasonably representative history of women — at least of white, Anglo-Saxon women, over the past hundred-odd years.” (Cohen 2009)


This novel touches some of the roots of WG-USA, spotlighting the struggle of women for equality, voting rights, and the right to an education. The Townsend women are compelling, well-written, and believable, facing struggles with their mothers and daughters with which we identify. This is a must-read for any woman who has questioned the difference she can make, or guilt over not doing ‘enough’ to change the world.


Original Publication: The Flame, 2016