The past, as many have said, is a nice place to visit, but most of us wouldn鈥檛 want to live there. While the world is by no means a wonderful place for women and is in many ways seemingly regressing its advances, one has to admit that many historical periods were much harder times to be female. Learning these lessons from the past helps us appreciate our present, and even potentially shape the future. One of the best ways to do this is via literature, which makes these lessons not just dry concepts, but fascinating and even fun. In this week鈥檚 book club, you鈥檒l be transported back in time to three very different countries and time periods, and witness the evolution of rights, status, and conditions via these authors鈥 historical research and imaginings.

1. And the Spirit Moved Them: The Lost Radical History of America鈥檚 First Feminists by Helen LaKelly Hunt ($19): Our first volume deals with strict historical fact and interpretation of a group of unsung women who author Hunt claims founded American feminism years before the more famous Seneca Falls Convention. Intersectionality and its necessity in feminism found a resurgence as a wildly popular term and subject in the wake of the globe-spanning Women鈥檚 March, but Hunt argues that we can find intersectionality much further back in feminism鈥檚 history. From beginning to mid-19th century, a set of abolitionists and feminists began to keep very close ties, culminating in the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention. This gathering was notable for doing something no convention in America had done before; it was organized by women, and it was designed for women. It was also attended by white and black women, who planned for the future together. Unlike the common current cases where religion is used to justify discrimination, these women proudly used their religious beliefs to call for freedom, firmly convinced that it was their spiritual duty to dismantle the slave state and the patriarchic model.

So why isn鈥檛 this convention History 101? 鈥淎s a longtime feminist and activist, I knew the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was considered to be the birthplace of the American women鈥檚 rights movement,鈥 Hunt writes, but when she found the earlier convention鈥檚 minutes, she 鈥渇elt confused. Was there another national women鈥檚 convention during this era that I鈥檇 never heard of?鈥 Hunt believes the convention鈥檚 religious and intersectional overtones led to it largely being ignored by both progressive and conservative historians.

She then ties this story into her own; one of the major builders of women鈥檚 philanthropic networks, Hunt channeled her inheritance from her father, conservative silver magnate H.L. Hunt, into the support of women, feminism, and gender equity. She founded, among other organizations, the Women鈥檚 Funding Network, Women Moving Millions, and The New York Women鈥檚 Foundation. A relationship therapist with a PhD from Union Theological Seminary, Hunt found herself in the middle of faith and feminism and found a place where they were mutually inclusive. With a foreword by Cornel West, the book promises to be a captivating look at a group of women who were part of the past, but certainly ahead of their time (and possibly even ours).

2. Anne Boleyn: a King鈥檚 Obsession by Alison Weir ($28): Each of Henry VIII鈥檚 six wives was forced to watch the depths of her husband鈥檚 depravity, philandering, and greed, as he pillaged, ate, and raped his way through 16th century England. Each wife in turn, quickly or gradually, became a scapegoat, as the inability to produce a male heir loomed larger than her husband鈥檚 misdeeds. Eventually accused of crimes like adultery, conspiracy, and treason, they fell to the executioner鈥檚 blade so Henry could find a new wife. Alison Weir鈥檚 series of historical fiction based on her study of each of the wives hits its second volume with the story of Anne Boleyn, possibly Henry鈥檚 most famous wife (and, ironically, possibly the one who left the least material to study). Boleyn鈥檚 initial rejection of the married Henry was probably wise, but her eventual decision to elevate her family鈥檚 standing by agreeing to supplant Katherine of Aragon led to her downfall.

鈥淪he knew she was fortunate, being a girl, to receive a good education. Father had very advanced ideas, but then he was always concerned that his children should do well in life 鈥 which, of course, would reflect favorably on him.鈥 Weir presents Boleyn as an early feminist, picking up these ideas as she grew up in the Netherlands and then the French court, spending time debating feminist issues and reading progressive writers when she could escape her court duties. Since much of what we know about Boleyn is hearsay, and in particular hearsay from a court ambassador who hated her, Weir combines research with imagination to create a somewhat different, fleshed-out portrait of her novel鈥檚 main character.

This is not to say that she venerates Boleyn; in fact, she presents her as complex and not always fully sympathetic; her outspokenness led to plenty of friction, and her open desire for the death of her predecessor Katherine and Katherine鈥檚 daughter Mary will make most uncomfortable. However, by the time she confronts her own death, the reader will have gone on a complex, emotional journey. The book may also be worth it alone for the 鈥渙pulence porn鈥 鈥 descriptions of lavish parties, food, and outfits abound. Anne Boleyn鈥檚 story may be done, but this book humanizes, dramatizes, and modernizes it like it鈥檚 just beginning.

3. The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer ($27): So, as promised, we鈥檝e got historical fact and historical fiction; now how about a little historical fantasy? Winawer time travels us back to Siena in 1347, where her heroine Beatrice Trovato awakens, Outlander-style, to find herself a far cry from the New York hospital where she works as a neurosurgeon. When Beatrice鈥檚 brother passes away and she must travel to (present) Siena to close his estate, she finds herself shamefully grateful for a break from her emotionally exhausting work, which has suddenly started to get eerily empathic: 鈥淚鈥檇 touched people鈥檚 brains with my hand,鈥 she says, 鈥渂ut I couldn鈥檛 know how it felt to actually be inside of someone else鈥檚 head. Today, though, it seemed I had.鈥

As she grieves her brother, she finds something to divert her interest: a conspiracy, hundreds of years in the past, that was designed to cripple the city. One of the instigators is an artist named Gabriele Accorsi, and she finds that some of his art features an unnervingly accurate portrayal of her. When she recovers from the shock, she鈥檚 in medieval Siena, which is no picnic for a modern woman. Not only does she have to deal with a staggeringly different place in society and a conspiracy on the rise, but guess what鈥檚 on the horizon? Yes, even a modern neurosurgeon, minus her tools, may be no match for the Plague.

With all this disease and danger, the weird part is that Beatrice actually finds herself enjoying aspects of a somewhat less hectic medieval life. She also, naturally, meets Gabriele: You have two guesses as to whether or not they fall in love, and the first doesn鈥檛 count. Winawer describes the world of medieval Siena in painstaking, fully realized detail, as Beatrice starts to wonder which world she belongs to. One thing is for certain, though: If she doesn鈥檛 do something, Siena will be destroyed long before she鈥檚 even born. And that鈥檚 a lot of history.

Which books make history come alive for you? Tag us in your next bygone read @BritandCo.

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