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emewsM It SSr When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography by Jill Ker Conway Knopf, 1998, 205 pp., $23 In the last chapter of When Memory Speaks, Jill Ker Conway writes, "Until we lose it we take memory for granted. Along with language it is the force that makes us human. It gives us the cultural context for the miraculous power of communication. . . . We need to cultivate [memory], because it matters how we remember things." Conway is the author of two memoirs , The Road from Coorain and True North, the first about her girlhood on a sheep farm in rural Australia and the second about her life as a scholar and teacher of history. She has also edited two volumes of women's autobiographical writings, Written by Herself—Autobiographies of American Women, which undoubtedly provided some of the impetus for this book. Conway begins her study with an analysis of some of the broad categorical differences between the ways men and women experience life. She observes that there are "archetypal life scripts" for men and for women that "show remarkable persistence over time." Historically, the most common archetype for the male experience has been the hero's Odyssey, exemplified first in the Homeric epics and transmuted in the Confessions of St. Augustine (c. 400) and the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1781).Another type, the "self-created economic man," was utilized in Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography (1818). For women, the parallel in classical antiquity to the archetype of the hero has been theAmazon, a female image "more monstrous than admirable." In politics and religion, European women were denied a voice, while female mystics (Hildegard of Bingen, Dame Julian of Norwich, St. Teresa of Avila) wrote about their relationships to God. In the early 19th century, a secular model, the romance, or quest for the ideal mate, appeared. For the bourgeoisie, erotic adventures, family, material success and personal emotional fulfillment took precedence over firsthand visionary encounters with God. It wasn't until the second half of the 19th century that women finally achieved the education and status that would permit them to comment honestly and intelligently on 202 · The Missouri Review society. Even then, women continued to impose constraints upon themselves. Things happened to them rather than being instigated by them. This lack of agency is one of the chief aspects of women's experience that Conway explores. Because the scope of her study is large, it includes some rather strange bedfellows. The book moves from discussions of historical antecedents to contemporary autobiography— from St. Augustine to Kathryn Harrison 's The Kiss (1997). While some readers might wish for more discrimination , Conway's overview seems consistent with her purpose and piques our curiosity about some fascinating historical figures. The current interest in memoir and autobiography shows no sign of diminishing . As Conway observes, "What makes the reading of autobiography so appealing is the chance it offers to see how this man or that woman, whose public self interests us, has negotiated the problem of selfawareness ... so that while we think we are reading a gripping story, what really grips us is the inner reflection on our own lives the autobiographer sets in motion." (EK) The Undiscovered Country by Samantha Gillison Grove Press, 1998, 226 pp., $23 In Samantha Gillison's first novel, Peter Campbell, a Harvard biology graduate student, travels to the rain forest of Papua New Guinea to do research for his Ph.D. dissertation. His dissertation concerns disease as it relates to inheritance in isolated communities, a subject that requires collecting blood samples as well as mapping kinship. He and his wife, June, agree to make the journey together with their six-year-old daughter, Taylor, a decision arrived at partly out of the blind desire to refresh their marriage and partly out of naïveté. In planning the journey they don't talk to anyone who tells them what living in the mountains of New Guinea is really like. They arrive in Port Moresby, a shabby city of aluminum siding and concrete blocks, dry orange earth, outdoor cooking fires, broken beer bottles covering the ground and intense tropical heat. Gillison locates the consciousness of each chapter skillfully in different...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 202-203
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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