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Downsized Literary Ladies: All Pluck, But No Luck

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Downsized Literary Ladies: All Pluck, But No Luck

Downsized Literary Ladies: All Pluck, But No Luck

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

If you're feeling anxious in these tough times, some suggestions now from writer Rebecca Flowers, who found a way to make herself feel better. In our series Three Books, where authors pick three books on one theme, she found comfort from a few literary heroines facing bleak, financial prospects.

REBECCA FLOWERS: As a child, I devoured books about poor girls. The best saw large fortunes vanished and were maybe even orphaned.

Then, as an adult, I learned about being downsized myself firsthand, twice in three months. Instead of making a ball gown out of the draperies, I crawled into bed to console myself with books about other women in similar situations.

First up, Dodie Smith's 1940s novel "I Capture The Castle." It's about two sisters, Rose and Cassandra Mortmain, who live with their eccentric family in a rundown castle in the English countryside. Their father published a critically acclaimed book, but hasn't been able to write in years. The family becomes destitute.

But as fate would have it, two handsome and wealthy American brothers inherit the manor next door. Rose is determined to leave poverty behind, even if it means marrying someone she doesn't love. While Cassandra, more the wandering- in-the-moors type, wonders if the allure of money won't soon wear thin.

The ending is a surprise but manages to embrace such solidly middle-class virtues as having only as much as you need and locking your father in a dungeon until he writes 50 pages of passable prose so the family can eat again.

When it comes to reinforcing middle-class mores, "Gemma Bovery," the title heroine of Posy Simmonds' graphic novel of Flaubert's classic, may seem familiar. Gemma suffers from an ennui particular to modern day middle-class society. When Gemma and her husband, Charlie, leave London to seek a simpler life in Normandy, our heroine embarks on an illicit affair with a young student. Charlie discovers the affair and bails.

Gemma does what any modern woman would do: cuts her hair and prepares to find work that will eventually get her out of debt. That she dies at the end of the book - I'm not spoiling anything, you find this out on page one - has more to do with poetic justice than penury.

Poetic wouldn't exactly be the word I'd use to describe "A Certain Age," by Tama Janowitz. Instead, what you get is a cautionary tale of what can happen when unalloyed social ambition meets poor financial management and ruthless, sexy men in heartless New York society.

Thirty-one-year old aspiring socialite Florence Collins dreams of the lavish, posh life of the uber rich. But when all her poorly conceived scheming for a wealthy husband falls apart, she is left homeless, friendless, destitute, and quickly develops a taste for crack cocaine. It's not great literature, but it's definitely an addictive, sordid read.

These impoverished heroines prove that when prospects for love, happiness and a sizable return on their 401ks diminish, the toughest literary ladies do whatever it takes to find their own personal bailouts.

BLOCK: Rebecca Flowers is the author of "Nice To Come Home To." Her three books picks are "I Capture the Castle" by Dodie Smith, "Gemma Bovery" by Posy Simmonds and "A Certain Age" by Tama Janowitz.

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