Book Review! Douglass’ Women by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Okay, this is going to be the last Book Review for a bit – I was reading like crazy for a while but now I have to catch up on other topics!

Initial Thoughts:
“Douglass’ Women” is a random $1 Store find – believe it or not! It wasn’t on my Book List but it sounded intriguing and I thought, “For $1, why not?!”. I’m not up to date on all the history about Frederick Douglass, especially his family life, so I’m not sure how much of this is true or fictionalized.

Plot:
The story of famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, as told from the point of view of the two women he loved most – according to this story. One, his wife, a free woman of color, Anna Murray Douglass & the other, his lover, an educated white German woman named Ottilie Assing. They battle each other over the years & eventually come to the realization that Douglass is the problem. Unfortunately, they’re both too invested to turn away so they spend the rest of their lives longing for a man that cannot give either of them what they truly want & deserve. The story shows the different ways people deal with love, grief, infidelity, and how those emotions can help us find ourselves, or tear us down. Essentially, the typical story of a cheater & the people they hurt along the way.

Characters:
– In the beginning, Anna is a woman with almost nothing to offer, except what Frederick wants most – freedom. Initially he is attracted to her potential and the future they COULD have together. Like most dreams, to make it a reality you have to put in effort. He didn’t want to put in the effort to build a future with Anna, he was more focused on building his future in the political world. Anna saw a much different future. She saw babies and a love to grow old with, not politics and traveling the world. They didn’t know each other long enough before jumping into a commitment to know that they just weren’t compatible because they wanted very different things. Anna is an extremely strong woman. Anna’s desire to be with Frederick was misguided from the beginning, but she stays committed & tries to make the marriage successful. She manages to persevere and raise her children with grace & dignity, despite the many “sins” her husband commits against her.
– Ottilie is a woman who offers Frederick everything, a whole world of formal education, fancy parties, powerful people, and social change. They are more compatible on a social and intellectual level. However, Ottilie’s obsessive desire to be with Douglass in a romantic way is their undoing. She gives him too much. He tries to resist at first, but she persists and shows him he can have his cake & eat it too. Obviously they live in a time where divorce wasn’t much of an option so she had to have known all along that he could only be with her legally once Anna died. What a risky game! Unfortunately, that is often the case when a woman agrees to become “The Other Woman”. In the beginning Ottilie comes across as villainous. She makes everything a competition with Anna, in her mind & in conversations with Frederick. However, towards the end, you see she was just lonely, insecure, & also misguided. Although she honestly should have expected it, when Frederick eventually betrays her too, she loses all sense of reason. To a certain extent her reaction is understandable because she’s centered her life around him, but that’s why you can’t build a life focused on someone else. If, most likely when, they leave you, you have nothing left.
– Frederick is tough to analyze. He comes off as a very rude, selfish, conceited, mean spirited man, but you have to understand that he spent his youth being treated less than human by slave owners. Earning his freedom allows him to pursue (almost) anything he wants & he wants it all. How can you blame him? However, despite his circumstances, I still feel like he had an ugly heart. He was always so focused on himself, even in the bedroom! During the sex scenes, which were very uncomfortable to read, his “sexy talk” consists of, for example, “I’m no slave” & “I’m equal to any man”. Uhhhh okay, a romantic moment with a lady isn’t really the time for this kind of talk – at least in my opinion, but what do I know!? Based on his character as described in this story, I have no warm feelings for him, despite his accomplishments. I’m not sure if the author is doing a historical figure a disservice or if she did the research to find that he really was not a great person in regards to his personal life.

Quotes:
Pg 225: Anna, “When I was most angry, I reminded myself Freddy fathered my children”, Ottile, “When I was most lonely, words failed to comfort me. Ideas can never be children”.
I think these two quotes sum up a great deal about these characters. Anna was angry with the way Frederick treated her. She used her position as a mother to help her cope. She couldn’t give Frederick a beautiful, educated wife to impress his colleagues with, but she gave him a family. Ottilie, on the other hand, was defined by her loneliness, that’s why she started the affair to begin with! While she could give Frederick the lifestyle Anna couldn’t, she couldn’t give him a family to continue on his legacy. That’s the draw of the two women. They both offered something completely different, a “special skill set”, that Frederick wanted.

Overall:
A sad story of two strong, educated in their own way, extremely different women that found themselves struck down in the name of love. This story shows the paths that love can lead us down & how they aren’t always as romantic as we envision them to be.

Rating: B
I enjoyed this book, although the sex was a little much for me. I guess you won’t find me reading “50 Shades…” anytime soon, haha! The reason for the B rating is simply because I wasn’t over the moon about this book. It was good, but not something I need to read again.

Have you read “Douglass’ Women”? If so, what are your thoughts? Did you find it enjoyable? I also recently reviewed “The Duchess” by Amanda Foreman – another book based on women in history, although that one was written as a Thesis so it’s more historically accurate. Do you have any book suggestions for me? Please let me know in the comments below!

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