In hindsight, I'm glad I pretentiously spent much of my 20s reading books one "should" read just so I could say I'd read them, because I don't have the patience, or the time, or the peristence for such things nowadays. The Sound and the Fury is sitting on my bookshelf with a bookmark holding fast at page 20 or so, because I know I should read it, and I'd like to read it, but every time I open it, it just looks a little too much like hard work.
So I'm in a bit of a Dick Francis phase, again, just now. Mock me if you will, but his stuff is exciting, well-written, engaging, and even if I remember whodunnit once I'm a third of the way through, I usually still need to find out exactly how once more. I seem to have an affinity for twentieth-century males - Neville Shute is another old favourite (if you've never heard of him, you may have heard of A Town Like Alice; he was British but wrote a lot about Australia, and, like Francis, always had an interesting subject to describe in detail as background for his adventures). (My husband is also a twentieth-century male, come to think of it. I quite like him too.)
I have a high tolerance, is what I'm saying, for the type of writers often described as misogynistic. It's an unfair description: it's not that they hate women; they're just products of their time. Hemingway, now, was a total bastard, but I love his writing - partly because he gets me swearing at just what a bastard he is as well as how he manages to evoke a scene or a mood with three well-chosen single-syllable words and no adjectives at all. JK Rowling he was not.
So now and then Dick Francis comes out with a humdinger like this:
She glowed with happiness, the peach bloom cheeks as fresh as a child's. It was extraordinary, I thought, how quickly and clearly the mental state of a woman showed in her skin.Idiot. (And not just because he missed a hyphen there.) Still, maybe it makes me a bad feminist, but I'm willing to register such nonsense and keep reading because I want to know how it turns out. His heroes are highly intelligent men of honour who often find themselves in enormous amounts of physical pain - here, have a pitchfork to the back and a dislocated shoulder while you get kicked in the head by a crazed stallion - before emerging victorious against the forces of evil, and if the love interests are often treated in an uncomfortably patronising manner, well that's just Mr Francis being what he thinks of as a gentleman. It's all good clean steeplechasing fun, and a breath of fresh Cheltenham air compared to things like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
What inspired all this musing, however, was a line I came across yesterday. The narrator was talking about how if he refused a drink, people sometimes thought he was a recovering alcoholic. "One had to drink to prove one wasn't, like natural bachelors making an effort with girls." This is a 1974 publication, and natural bachelors must be a reference to gay men.
Which, I think, answers my mother's question. The lesbians, who were there all the time, were natural spinsters.