A thoughtful and emotionally charged memoir of pilgrimage and transformation, Daughters of Empire weighs the powerful individual drama of pregnancy and motherhood against a larger backdrop of culture shock and marital tension. A dual British-American national on her first return trip to England in over a decade, Jane Satterfield faced a woman’s fundamental decision: to become a mother or to forge a new life on her own. That the decision was not so simple was only the first of many revelations. Satterfield casts a loving yet skeptical glance on the world of mid-‘90s Britain as well as the cultural and literary legacy that continues to haunt, shape, and challenge her. In a voice by turns tender, insightful, and funny, Satterfield brings to life a provocative personal history through fascinating detours into music, popular culture, and literary mothers such as the Brontës, Sylvia Plath, and Angela Carter.
Jane gives an overview of the book:
December skies and scattered snow. I stand on Charlotte Brontë’s front steps, thinking I'm going to be sick. This is not a new sensation. For the last two months, it's been impossible to stand or sit without feeling queasy. Every waking hour has been given to vertigo, same as if I stood on deck during an Atlantic crossing, the waves pitching on all sides, endless underneath. Or is this a literary pose, a way of thinking about myself that raises recollected pain to the level of art?
Seven years into a stormy marriage, I had, as the British say, “fallen pregnant.” Although the state of our bond was questionable, at best, when Rob decided to accept a Fulbright Teacher Exchange, I agreed to go along. To a great extent, I had no choice. The exchange required that we'd trade homes with our counterparts from Britain, so if I'd remained in Maryland, I'd have had to move in with my parents: such were the financial pressures and, even worse, the sense of failure that I knew would haunt me if I stayed. The last years had left me feeling claustrophobic, conflicted as Joyce’s Eveline, wanting to leave but too unnerved to go. Rob was not a bad man, but the kind of spouse whose love expressed itself as control, whose genuine interest could, at a moment’s notice, degenerate into interrogation—whose flair for listening had atrophied over time so that the only remarks he heard were assent or resistance to his views. Even six years out of grad school, I felt I couldn't afford to leave the marriage. Teaching at my alma mater, and writing on the side, my list of publications grew slowly, future success far from assured. While I’d willingly traded economic marginality and zero job security for the personal satisfaction and writing time I’d gleaned from part-time teaching, the lack of income to show for my efforts undermined my confidence and my status as an equal partner in the marriage. If I cringed at playing the role of suburban wife, I feared even more what would happen when I tossed this script aside: would I end up divorced, alone, a disgraced poverty-stricken daughter? So I agreed to go with Rob, swayed, in part, by my love for England: the roots my mother had kept alive and the memory of the weeks I'd spent with my grandfather in Corby among castles and gardens touched with summer light. Somehow, I thought, this landscape would reveal the pathway out of the confinements of my life.
Jane Satterfield, the recipient of a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, is the author of two poetry collections: Assignation at Vanishing Point (Elixir, 2003) and Shepherdess with an Automatic (WWPH, 2000). Her poetry has been...
To travel is always an education, sometimes a luxury, often a necessity. It can be a blessing to spend time just under the skin of another’s geography. To read a poem may be to travel as well. To read a...