Everybody needs the possibility to grow and to chase their dreams. Nowadays, this is more or less a given, but in the 19th century that was not the case, especially not in the Deep South of South Carolina.
Women were expected to get married and start a family, slaves were expected to obey with a smile and accept their situation in life.
Sarah Grimké came from one of the most respected families in Charleston. She wanted to study law, but her hopes were crushed since girls did not get to study and she had to put that nonsense out of her head. Unfortunately Sarah was a little too intelligent and stubborn to get a marriage proposal, much to the despair of her mother and the rest of her family.
Sarah concerned herself with the fate of the slaves the family owned and became convinced slavery should be abolished. The friendship she formed with a slavegirl that was given to her on the eleventh birthday helped her in that.
Sarah and her younger sister became involved in the abolishment movement and the fight for women’s right, something most abolitionists did not like, by the way.
Parallel to this story is the story of Handful, or Hetty as her owners call her. She is the girl that was the birthday-gift for Sarah. More and more she feels she should be free. Her mother, Charlotte is a good seamstress and is valued by her mistress for that, but after a humiliating punishment Charlotte grows resentful and tries to get back at her masters at every way, with a terrible result.
Sarah Grimké did exist, she fought for women’s rights and the abolishment of slavery. When a writer uses a real historical person in a story, the danger is that the story will end up full of biographical details that are not necessarily interesting for the reader. Luckily, Sue Monk Kidd avoided this and managed to write a literary account of Sarah’s life. What especially works is the parallel story of Handful that gives events a different perspective.
To tell Handful’s story, Sue Monk Kidd had to change a few historical details, but this is all accounted for.
What I never realized is that the abololitionists wanted to end slavery, but this did not mean all of them were automatically for equal rights between black and white. Also the Quakers were not as progressive in their views on equality between men and women or black and white as they are sometimes portrayed.
Well written was how on all sides of the situation people can react differently, from resistance to collaboration and everything in between.
The invention of wings is a beautiful and often moving historical novel about two interesting women and a friendship that can grow, somehow, despite the difficult circumstances.
Published in 2014