Skip to main content

Book 11: Calamity Jane by Roberta Beed Sollid (reading notes)

Like many other legends of the old West, Calamity Jane's legendary status makes her out to be a larger-than-life character, a shining heroine who lived as she pleased and enjoyed more freedom than most women of the era. Considering that she was already a legend in her own lifetime, surprisingly little seems to be known about her real life, which is eclipsed by her legend.

I think I first became aware of the legend of Calamity Jane when I watched the 1953 movie starring Doris Day and Howard Keel as a kid, but what I remember best is the Lucky Luke comic about Luke's encounter with her. Both are, of course, purely fictional. I'm not sure I even realised she wasn't a fictional character at that point.

I have a mild interest in all things Old West, and when I came across this book, which was, at the time of original publication, touted as the most accurate and exhaustively researched biography of Calamity Jane, I decided to shell out the money to buy it - which wasn't a whole lot as I got it second-hand.

It was just as well it was cheap, because although thoroughly researched, the author can't hide her disapproval of Jane. I find this bias not at all scholarly and really rather unfair, considering that Jane appears to have been very much the product of an irregular and poverty-stricken childhood, as well as being an alcoholic, perhaps from an early age. It's not that I think her behaviour was exemplary or admirable, but anyone purporting to be writing a scholarly study should at lest try to keep a neutral tone.

Fortunately, this bias is most obvious in the preface and only pops up occasionally in the main text.

What I took away from this book most of all is that remarkably little is known about long periods of this woman's life. Sometimes she is mentioned in passing in letters or memoirs, and sometimes newspaper articles are the only source of information available, and those are often biased and clearly exaggerated, often recounting her drunken antics or announcing her arrival in town, seemingly to warn the citizenry of her presence. And it's not just periods of her life that are obscure - her chroniclers can't even seem to agree on simple things like her real name or her date of birth. While her given name is generally held to have been Martha Jane Cannary (or Canary), her middle name may not have been Jane at all - Jane might simply have been appended to her along with the Calamity moniker because it was a common woman's name. But back to the book:

This book is really more of a biographical sketch of Calamity Jane's life, and long passages are really more about debunking the legend while not replacing the hype with much of anything, because the author was unable to find any reliable sources for the truth, and often-times the author is working with scant information and drawing conclusions rather than having solid evidence for anything. One really has to applaud the effort, but the outcome is less than satisfactory.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

First book of 2020: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (reading notes)

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I loathe movie tie-in book covers because I feel they are (often) trying to tell me how I should see the characters in the book. The edition of Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things that I read takes it one step further and changes the title of the book into the title of the film version as well as having photos of the ensemble cast on the cover. Fortunately it has been a long while since I watched the movie, so I couldn't even remember who played whom in the film, and I think it's perfectly understandable to try to cash in on the movie's success by rebranding the book. Even with a few years between watching the film and reading the book, I could see that the story had been altered, e.g. by having the Marigold Hotel's owner/manager be single and having a romance, instead being of unhappily married to an (understandably, I thought) shrewish wife. It also conflates Sonny, the wheeler dealer behind the retireme