4 Mar 2012
Review: "Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" by Florence King
One of the strongest American stereotypes most be the Southern Belle. If you have ever read "Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell, you know exactly what I mean. It is a way of life, an identity oozing overpowering feminine charm and delicately wrapped female vile. It is the exact opposite as being one of the boys.
"Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" is Florence King's tale of growing up in a Southern family, ruled by the soft and well-manicured yet steely hand of her grandmother. Granny has aspirations to be a grand lady and she dreams of raising a Southern belle - however, her own daughter is more of a man than a woman really, loving baseball and suits, so when a granddaughter comes into the world, Granny does everything in her power to turn her into a real lady. Growing up in a bohemian household with Granny, mama and a book-loving Englishman for a father means that Florence has a childhood far away from the norm. From day one the three main adults in her life has three very different agendas and Florence has to find her own identity from a young age.
I read about "Confessions..." at one of the blogs I follow and loved the sound of it. I wasn't really sure what to expect but from the first line of the first page, I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Florence King has a talent for observing the awkward and funny, the little humorous gems of an extraordinary life. Her observations on the American female of the 1950s are both disturbing and hilarious - I was appalled and fascinated at the fact that all of the other girls in her sorority at college took a marriage prep class. Homework involved washing their boyfriends socks!
To describe these girls who are forever worrying that no-one will marry them and depend on guys to give them self-esteem and self-worth, Florence and her father comes up with the word "malkin". A fantastic word that I will definitely keep in my vocabulary. Is is bound to come in handy.
Florence herself was far from a malkin - though she looked like the perfect young Southern lady, inside her there was a real academic mind hungering for books as well as a sexual creature hungering for, well, sex. The story follows her battles to study French (she ends up studying history instead) and to lose her virginity without falling pregnant. Quite rebellious pursuits in the South in the 1950s but Florence has courage and is not afraid to go after the things in life as she wants.
The book is written with intelligence and personality, it is full of anecdotes and scattered words of wisdom and it poses questions about femininity and the role of a woman that are as relevant as they were in the 1950s. Because what defines you as a lady? They way you look or sound? A ring on your finger or who you sleep with? It is probably a question that each of us have to answer for ourself just as Florence King did. And as she herself says in the book - she may have gone to bed with both men and women but she never ever smoked on the street.