We asked our regular contributors to write about the feminist books that they love—books that struck a chord, for one reason or another, books they couldn’t put down, that they’ll never donate, that are underlined and dog-eared and bookmarked eternally, that you can maybe borrow, but you most definitely have to give back. Here’s Emily on Christiane Ritter’s A Woman in the Polar Night:
In 1934, Christiane Ritter left the comforts of her home and children to live for a year in desolate Svalbard, in northern Norway, with her husband and another hunter. Her memoir, A Woman in the Polar Night, the only book she ever wrote, chronicles this year. If I know you, there’s a good chance I’ve lent it to you or bought you a copy. Ritter walked away from everything she knew about being a human in society and confronted life in the harshest of elements, without sunlight, without guarantee of food or warmth, and with only few provisions. She walked right up to and past her own physical, psychological and emotional edges, and recounted it all in absolutely gorgeous and meditative prose. I can reread each sentence a dozen times. I randomly open to a page, point and land here: “We are wet from the sea, and the mist is oppressively heavy.” A second try and I land here: “With beads of sweat on their brows and swearing horribly, holding the thin needles in their heavy hands, the men try with a kind of lunatic fervour to invent new knitting patterns for socks.”
A Woman in the Polar Night balances the worn man-in-nature narratives more familiar to readers living in our patriarchy. It’s true that some social constructs did travel along with Ritter, but most were left behind, allowing Ritter to experience and share with her readers a totally different consciousness. In that way, it’s an amazing tale of possibility. Ritter wrote, “The immense silence of the land surrounds me and invades me, submerging and annihilating my human smallness.” While that can be read as a reminder of human insignificance, I see it in context as the opposite—as an expression of our vastness as living beings. Feminism in action requires ideological movement. To learn what that can look like, we can turn to reading about the movement of one mind from social confines into vast independence and freedom.