“I want to write a sort of necrology of myself. For I am at the end.”- Hedwig Dohm, Become Who You Are
This is a novella about a woman widowed in her mid 50s, and an exploration into her making sense of herself and her life after widowhood. This book was written in 1894 and Dohm was definitely ahead of her time. Lamentably so many of the issues she discusses in this book are still very much relevant today.
In the book, the protagonist is first admitted to a sanatorium, and through the diary she gives to her doctor, we are able to learn more about her and her quest into discovering who she is. But everyone thinks she’s lost her mind. Actually, she’s all too sane:
“Insanity– is this something different than the blocking of ideas; visions that come to us and that emanate from us, we know not where to and where from, and over which we have no power? If this is insanity, then I was insane for more than fifty years.”
While reading this book I couldn’t help but think of how sad this story is; I believe women are still expected to prop others up (in some cultures more than others) and one of the worst things I can think of for myself is not having a sense of my own identity. I was also stunned to learn that by the time the protagonist was in her 50s, she felt she was too old and that her life was over.
Feminist themes are plenty, and there is also a lot of insight into aging from a feminist perspective, which I don’t see being talked about too often:
“So contemptuously, so reluctantly do people look at an old woman, as if her age were a fault that deserved punishment.”
“Why did I have to live as I lived? Because I am a woman and because it stands written on ancient, bronze tablets of law how a woman ought to live? But the text is erroneous, it is erroneous.”