Lovers and Tyrants, Francine du Plessix Gray, Simon and Schuster, 1967, 316 pp
I loved this novel unconditionally. I have always meant to read Francine du Plessix Gray because I had the impression of a smart, outspoken female, along the lines of Mary McCarthy, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. Her latest novel, The Queen's Lover, was released recently, reminding me that I still hadn't read anything she had written. As is my usual practice, I went for her first novel.
Her books seem to get tepid reviews, though she gets a lot of respect, making me think that possibly she is not easily accessible and has a unique take on whatever she writes about. I was right!
Lovers and Tyrants is probably autobiographical since the life of Stephanie, the main character, follows Gray's life: born of a French father and Russian emigre mother, raised in France and then America after escaping the dangers of World War II. The theme of tyranny by those who love us the most felt true to me.
If I had read this novel in the 70s when I was going through my own awakening to feminism and personal freedom (and I so wish I had), I would have loved it and learned from it and been given courage by it. Women in their 20s and 30s today might not find it as moving because life actually is better for women now. Not perfect, but better.
Reading it now, in my 60s, with my children grown and having worked out many of my issues with men, marriage, and motherhood, was an emotionally satisfying way of looking back over what it was like for me. In many ways, it acted as absolution and benediction for all the missteps I made.
If you are a woman who has grappled with the disconnect between the urge to nurture and the urge to flee, I recommend Lovers and Tyrants to you. Gray's writing is wild and impassioned, sometimes undisciplined, sometimes overblown. But it is from the depths of an intelligent, creative woman who will not be denied and who claims all the rights due to a human being.
(Lovers and Tyrants is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)