Be warned that there’s nothing political here. Or, to the extent that anything political happens, you’ll likely find it to be disagreeable, regardless of your orientation. Ms. Holland is clearly a crank who was too smart for her own good, and with antisocial tendencies to boot. So she retreated to the family Unabomber-class shack in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and wrote books. I was saddened to find that she died two months ago, aged 77.
How did Barbara Holland come on my radar? Ah, I remember. I was perusing the eBay listings of used books (one of my most serious vices, in that I can find no excuse to give it up), and a novel that had something to do with horses caught my eye. I clicked on it, thinking of my friend who is a horsegirl. This led me into checking out the author. An assortment of books appeared. I should try one of these.
So I reached for Holland’s memoir, When All the World was Young, and it compelled me to read it through. She describes a rather hellish childhood, seen through the ironic eye of a survivor. However, her tales are weirdly humorous, although it’s not a “ha ha” sort of funny. For example, although her father terrorized her, she steps back and speculates…
I see by the newspaper that today, as then and always, the experts agree that children raised without a resident Father do badly in school, suffer emotional and behavioral problems, and often end up in jail. Nobody spells out the essential ingredient, but it would seem to be fear, pure and simple, necessary nourishment for the growing child.
Do we need fear? That’s something to chew on. Overbearing fathers can be a problem, but so can the absence of fathers. Life is complicated, isn’t it?
Holland understood these things. She was in a good position to observe, being something of an alien to our world. Some people are like this (I’m thinking Asperger syndrome). Growing up, Holland was overwhelmed by the senselessness and hostility of human interactions; on the other hand, she was aware of the need for a structure to our existence. I see in her life a quest for that sweet spot between a shared (and coerced) cultural configuration versus tolerance of individual eccentricities.
The New York Times printed Holland’s obituary.
Barbara Holland, Defender of Small Vices, Dies at 77
Barbara Holland, a writer whose humorous essays sang the simple pleasures of drinking martinis, cursing and eating fatty foods, and who wrote an evocative best-selling memoir of her childhood and adolescence in the Washington suburbs, died on Sept. 7 at her home in Bluemont, Va. She was 77…
Holland could not follow the herd. She tried, and it just didn’t work for her. So she sought her own path. She did not pursue wealth and fame. Rather, she was satisfied with a modest lifestyle, paid for by her own honest work. She did not have to beg for alms, and she had no master. From this vantage, she could freely observe and comment.
Perhaps this closing paragraph from the NYT obit will nail down why I saw in her a kindred spirit, and why she might possibly be of interest to TAMs:
[Holland’s] fight for ground to stand on as a young woman remained central to her reading of the world. A steady paycheck and self-respect were the keys to her brand of feminism, not the allowance and room of one’s own proposed by Virginia Woolf. “No, Mrs. Woolf,” she wrote in her memoir. “A job, Mrs. Woolf.”