Since travelling the South West Coastal Path, Raynor Winn has become a regular long-distance walker and writes about nature, homelessness and wild camping. On Thursday 8th November Raynor will be at CCB talking about her highly acclaimed debut, The Salt Path.
Q: What Book Changed your Life?
A: The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
I made my first train journey when I was 18. I’d just met an unbelievably beautiful young man who had exploded into my life in a long army trench-coat and riding boots, his long hair a mat of blond, eco-warrior mystery. My parents were horrified and banned me from seeing him, so as far as they knew I was at a friend’s house, when really we’d caught the train on a day-trip to Oxford.
Although the amazing architecture of the city was like nothing I’d seen before, what really affected me was visiting the biggest bookshop I’d ever encountered. I was totally dazzled by the thousands of books that lined their shelves, but one book caught my eye and I couldn’t leave without it: The Women’s Room by Marilyn French.
The rural farming community I was living in was a world of tradition. Farmers’ daughters married farmers’ sons, my sister already had and I was expected to do the same. I’d met someone who totally contradicted that, but the pressure from my parents to conform was intense. The Women’s Room was hailed as one of the most influential novels of the Feminist Movement, so I sneaked the book into my home where feminists were treated with derision. Reading in bed, the book hidden under the covers, I was sucked into the world of 1950s’ American women struggling through a patriarchal society. It didn’t seem like feminism to me, but just like the lives of all the women I saw around me. By the time I reached the end my thoughts had changed, the story had slapped me around the face. It was as strongly feminist as any book could be: not by suggesting that men are the enemy, but that women are. That there’s nothing stopping us having anything we want, other than our own acceptance of our situation.
I reread the book over and over, until my Mum found it, declared it pornography and threw it in the fire. But it was too late, I would never think in the same way again. From then on I made my own choices. I ran away and married my eco-warrior and over thirty years later we’re still living life on our own terms. Without The Women’s Room that might never have happened.