An interesting collection that contains brief biographies of the women in the Beat scene and either writing about them, or samples of their own work. There are a lot of women covered here and the definition of "beat" seems to extend to anyone on the fringe of the San Fransisco poetry scene of the 50s and 60s.

I suppose Beat has as many different meanings as Goth. I wasn't much interested in the movement for a long time as I pictured people in turtle necks and berets reciting poetry over bongos. Then I read Kerouac's novels and was blown away by the intensity, the non-conformist lives, the poverty and the tragedy and how very much it sounded like now. I think the problem with this book is the thing I love most about the Beats is the novels, I'm afraid I'm not very good at poetry appreciation, and so I didn't connect with this book as I would have liked. Still the stories of the women were amazing. I wish the writing had included more fiction and less memoirs and poetry. Perhaps the reason that the women are less famous is that they didn't write novels, and poets are never as famous as novelists. Still there were a few writers that made me want to read more by them.

I wish someone could do an oral history of the Beat women, or just the beats. I fear not enough has survived and too many are dead to make this possible but I think that oral history would be such a good scheme for examining the scene. (And would make such an interesting comparison to Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me).

The male beats have come under criticism for being misogynistic, which personally I don't see. I think the quote that stood out the most for me from this book was that there were plenty of women writers in the scene. But that unlike the men, they weren't published, rather they were sent to mental institutions or committed suicide, or both as in the case of Elsie Cowen, because women just weren't allowed to non-conform like men. As Corso said,
There were women, they were here, I knew them, their families put them in institutions, they were given elcectric shock. In the 50s if you were male you could be a rebel, but if you were female your families locked you up. There were cases, I knew them, some day somebody will write about them

The book is definitely a collection of literature and lives. This is both its strength and weakness. While it makes a good reference to find out whose who, and for samples of lots of different works, sometimes it just seems a bit too disjointed and disconnected. Still it was a fascinating read and one I will hold onto.
It was interesting to note that Straton thought the imbalance of power in Edwardian relationships seemed to come from a disparity in age. Older men who adored young women who had no ideas or opinions of their own, who were still living at home and had little education. They weren't given the opportunity to develop any either as as soon as they were married off they became embroiled in the house and babies. (As did Straton's conventional wife). This got me thinking a lot about the difference in relationships nowadays which seems to be that the men make so much more money than their partners, and as our society measures success by wealth this creates another imbalance.

But in addition to the love story, it's dissatisfactory end leads Straton to start questioning all his assumptions about society and the world, from thinking that Imperialism is a good thing, to wanting to see society progress beyond nationalism to a world citizenship, bypassing all conformity and the ruins of civilisations past. It's a very Wellsian idea, and one of the nice things about this book is the non-conventional woman's critique of it later.

This is a very touching story of doomed love. But also the story of how women are doomed and failed by the society of the time. I'm not sure things have gotten that much better since Wells' time and as such found it a fascinating and insightful book.


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