The Free Women 1

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Chapter 1. Free Women 1

Anna meets her friend Molly in the summer of 1957 after a separation


The two women were alone in the London flat.

‘The point is,’ said Anna, as her friend came back from the telephone on the landing, ‘the point is, that as far as I can see, everything’s cracking up.’

Molly was a woman much on the telephone. When it rang she had just enquired: ‘Well, what’s the gossip?’ Now she said, ‘That’s Richard, and he’s coming over. It seems today’s his only free moment for the next month. Or so he insists.’

‘Well I’m not leaving,’ said Anna.

‘No, you stay just where you are.’

Molly considered her own appearance — she was wearing trousers and a sweater, both the worse for wear. ‘He’ll have to take me as I come,’ she concluded, and sat down by the window. ‘He wouldn’t say what it’s about — another crisis with Marion, I suppose.’

‘Didn’t he write to you?’ asked Anna, cautious.

‘Both he and Marion wrote — ever such bonhomous letters. Odd, isn’t it?’

This odd, isn’t if? was the characteristic note of the intimate conversations they designated gossip. But having struck the note, Molly swerved off with: ‘It’s no use talking now, because he’s coming right over, he says.’

‘He’ll probably go when he sees me here,’ said Anna, cheerfully, but slightly aggressive. Molly glanced at her, keenly, and said: ‘Oh, but why?’

It had always been understood that Anna and Richard disliked each other; and before, Anna had always left when Richard was expected. Now Molly said: ‘Actually I think he rather likes you, in his heart of hearts. The point is, he’s committed to liking me, on principle — he’s such a fool he’s always got to either like or dislike someone, so all the dislike he won’t admit he has for me gets pushed off on to you.’

The Free Women 1

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  1. Lenelle Moïse November 7th, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Anna seems to be in a somewhat dire state. Her pronouncement that “everything’s cracking up” seems to be completely ignored by Molly and rudely interrupted by unexpected Richard’s phone call/impending arrival.

    It’s interesting that Anna, who the narrator tells us “had always left when Richard was expected,” decides to stay this time. Why is Anna more willing to brave Richard’s presence? What is so different about today, I wonder?

  2. Helen Oyeyemi November 7th, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Molly and Anna seem so adept at making Richard into an uncomplicated creature and making their antagonistic relationship with him as simple as possible that I feel sorry for him even before he arrives on the scene. It’s like they’re co-directing their friendship and solidarity as a production that requires a villain as an opposing force.

  3. Philippa Levine November 9th, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    I was really fascinated by the way gossip serves, right at the start of the book, as a form of intimacy between the two women. It’s something that threatens and mystifies and frustrates Richard — he can’t get past it and can’t understand it. Is it serving, I wonder, as a kind of “women’s language” (that’s certainly an argument that gets made about how women relate to one another)? Richard certainly gets tripped up by it over and over again, although Tommy finds ways (later in this section) to slide by it.

    1. Nona Willis Aronowitz November 9th, 2008 at 11:16 pm

      It seems less like a “women’s language” and more like a freeperson’s language versus some one who has already given up and submitted to the life they were “given” (that is, chose albeit listlessly). tommy is still able to rebel, mold his future, and craft his opinions. richard to me doesn’t represent all men, but cowardly men.

  4. Lenelle Moïse November 10th, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Meditating on the title of this section, I wonder what “free” really means? Since this text, first published in 1962, slightly predates the second wave of feminism, “free” might just mean “unmarried.” Are Anna and Molly early models of the “women’s liberation” MOVEMENT or are they simply, individually, “liberated women,” in that they don’t financially depend on men? In other words, is their decision to remain single a POLITICAL decision or a personal preference? (I know, I know. “The personal is political” but still…) Would these characters encourage other women to live as they do? Or do they secretly envy the married women (like Marion) whom they also claim to pity? It’s interesting to me that when these “free women” meet alone, they spend so much of the scene talking about men and affairs with men and other people’s marriages.