One Thousand White Women
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
2 of 5 stars
In this semi-historical fiction novel, a group of misfit women volunteer to go West to become the brides to the Cheyenne Indians in 1875.
My sole regret is that I was unable to be present when the family was notified of the circumstances of my “escape” from the “prison” from which you had all conspired to commit me… that’s right, I am to wed, and perforce, couple with a genuine Savage of the Cheyenne Nation! — Hah!
The premise of this novel is fascinating — a speculative ‘what if?’ based on a proposed treaty, in which the US government would send white women to marry Native Americans and through that, generation by generation, incorporate the “Savages” into the white man’s world. The plot itself was full of danger, adventure, and wonderful descriptions of life with the Cheyenne Indians, and their relations with the white people during the time of Manifest Destiny.
Unfortunately, a few stylistic things detracted from my enjoyment of the story, greatest of which was the fact that the narrator was an incredibly ‘modern’ (i.e. 21st century) woman in her thoughts, beliefs, and social mannerisms — a self-proclaimed ‘agnostic,’ crusader for women’s and minorities’ rights, and sexually liberal woman… an all-around feminist, who led her fellow white women in these ideals. Her sexual experiences were described in depth and spoken of casually (even joked about) in her conversations, and she treated the times she was raped as non-events to be forgotten about as soon as possible, but was embarrassed to write about their ‘bathroom’ facilities. At the same time, rape was treated callously with a ‘buck-up-and-get-over-it’ attitude, and the victims agreed not to even discuss it, but simply pretend it didn’t happen.
On the topic of women… one of my pet peeves is when books inaccurately portray pregnancy and/or childbirth, and this book was the source of many eyerolls for its “sins” in this category. For instance:
- In the book, every single one of the main characters (seven in all, not including one that was known to be infertile, and another who wouldn’t let her husband touch her) got pregnant within the first two months.
In reality, it generally takes healthy couples an average of 4-6 months to conceive.
- In the book, not a single one of these women miscarried, despite the fact that (among other hardships), they were abducted and raped by another tribe.
In reality, one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage.
- In the book, two of the women delivered on the same day, and later two more women delivered on the same day.
Sure, it’s possible, but highly unlikely in such a small sample set.
- In the book, identical twins each gave birth to sets of identical twins.
In reality, the likelihood of having identical twins is 3 in 1,000. This trait is NOT hereditary. That means (if my math is right) there is a 0.0000027% chance of identical twins both bearing identical twins.
- In the book, the women’s bellies were described as “enormous” at four months along.
In reality, many women aren’t even showing until 3 or 4 months along.
- In the book, the women were upset that they wouldn’t have modern facilities in which to deliver, and the main character makes a big deal out of the fact that she delivered her first children at home with a midwife.
In reality, by 1900 (25 years AFTER this story), only about 5% of women delivered in hospitals, and over 50% delivered with midwives rather than doctors.
- In the book, May claims that she “felt [her child] burst into being in my womb in the consummation of our love“ I thought the narrator was being poetic, except that it happened to her again later in the novel.
In reality, if this were at all possible, women wouldn’t need home pregnancy tests.
Another annoyance would be the stereotypes,and accents (complete with italics on each phonetically-spelled word!) that go along with them. They made reading this book painfully slow.
Overall: Fascinating story, great descriptions of Cheyenne life, but too unbelievable in characters and voice.