The Wrong Kind of Woman
Elitism and sexism at an all-male college in the 1970s are explored in this multilayered novel, The Wrong Kind of Woman.
Virginia is a frustrated academic; she married and had a daughter before she could finish her PhD. She teaches an art history class or two at the college when she is needed, but she is not tenured or valued by the administration. She has a vaguely dissatisfying marriage to Oliver, a full professor at Clarendon College, a small college in New Hampshire, but in general, life is relatively good if not a little unfulfilling. But when Oliver dies suddenly, Virginia is left to raise their teenage daughter alone while finding a place for herself in the community at large as well as in the tightknit and closed-off world of academia.
Virginia forms a tenuous bond with the only other female professors on campus and gradually begins to get involved in the women’s movement, which will have negative repercussions for her and one of her professor friends.
The story’s narrative alternates among Virginia, her 13-year-old daughter Rebecca, and Sam, a student at Clarendon who had struck up a friendship with Oliver before he died. Rebecca is dealing with typical teenage issues compounded by grief, while Sam is grappling with confusing romantic feelings. His somewhat reluctant involvement with an anti-war group will have far-reaching consequences.
Virginia is a multifaceted character who is trapped in a difficult life circumstance compounded by an era that does not accept women as equals. The trajectory of how feminism reached a small New England town in the 1970s is quite compelling. A character-driven novel, the plot moves along somewhat slowly but it is elevated by the realistic protagonists and an intriguing premise.