Independence is the word, theme and flavour of the week. Today marks the declaration of independence by the United States from the Kingdom of Great Britain, July 4, 1776. And although here in the US, we’re celebrating the independence of our country, there are many other forms of independence celebrated in literature, oftentimes in the most unusual of manners. To get us started, here are seven books with a theme of independence . . .
In Soulless by Gail Carriger, set in a steampunk Victorian England* populated with vampires, werewolves and other supernaturals , Alexia Tarabotti fights against the strict social structure with her stubborn, riotous personality, nonconforming attitude and insatiable appetite. There’s murder, romance and plenty of tea with a heroine who is assuredly herself and a lady through and through.
Philip Connors’ Fire Season is a memoir of sorts about Connors’ annual escape from the Big City, where he works as a Wall Street Journal reporter, to the New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. There Connors spends the next five months in and around a watch tower, scouring the forest for fires, with only a radio and his dog for company. This is independence from the world in one of its truest senses and Connors takes his readers on his journey into solitude, writing and, of course, forest fires.
I don’t believe the irony will be lost on anyone here but Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn could be entitled The Queen’s Grand Escape. Obviously very few people know what it’s like to be The Queen and born into rules and protocol of royalty but what if one day you, the Octogenarian Queen, just get tired of it all? In Kuhn’s world, you might just run away for a bit.
Oh and while we’re on the topic of escaping the strictures of old age, we cannot forget to mention Mrs. Pollifax. For those of you who haven’t met, please meet Mrs. Emily Pollifax who liberates herself from any of the stereotypes assigned to an elderly widow from New Jersey and becomes THE BEST SPY EVER for the CIA in The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman.
Of course, fictional English women are not the only ones to live lives of daring adventure. In the year 1902, in England, Beryl Markham is born Beryl Clutterbuck. With a name like that, you’d fully expect her to live a rather colorless existence. Instead, she lives most of her life in East Africa; has a zebra as a pet; is known as an adventurer, racehorse trainer, and bush pilot; becomes the first person to fly nonstop from Europe to America–the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic. And she writes about her exploits in West with the Night–a little book Hemingway describes as really a bloody wonderful book.
In My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, fifteen year old Sam Gribley needs a bit of solitude after living in a cramped New York apartment with ten other family members. So he runs away. And by ‘runs away,’ I mean he escapes to the Catskill Mountains where he lives in a hollowed out tree, makes friends with the animals, sews his own deerskin clothing, and hunts for food. You know, the usual.
*You’ll notice that there are more than one instances where literature rallies for independence in England. Hmmm, coincidence or are we seeing a theme here…