The essayist Rebecca Solnit opens her memoir with an emblematic image: a picture of her writing desk, a dainty Victorian vanity given to her by a friend who nearly bled to death after being stabbed by an ex-boyfriend. The desk has given rise to “millions of words”, many of them calling out misogyny in its various forms — from social slights to femicide.
Although also active in political and environmental causes, Solnit is best known for her feminist essays, collected in slim anthologies — most recently Whose Story Is This? (2019). Her memoir, Recollections of My Non-Existence, centres on one of her principal preoccupations: the pervasive effacement of women.
Solnit recounts the terror of walking the streets of 1980s San Francisco as a young woman, for fear of violence and the disturbing eroticisation of violence in the media and art at that time. Her early work evolved in tandem with her own self-development — “the heroic task of becoming”— as she had to overcome not only sexism in publishing but the conditioning of women to minimise themselves to stay safe (and desirable). “In those days, I was trying to disappear and to appear . . . and those agendas were at often odds with each other.”…
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