The Women’s Pages

Debra Adelaide

The Women's Pages
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The Women’s Pages

Debra Adelaide

Ellis, an ordinary suburban young woman of the 1960s, is troubled by secrets and gaps in her past that become more puzzling as her creator, Dove, writes her story fifty years later. Having read Wuthering Heights to her dying mother, Dove finds she cannot shake off the influence of that singular novel: it has infected her like a disease. Instead of returning to her normal life she follows the story it has inspired to discover more about Ellis, who has emerged from the pages of fiction herself - or has she? - to become a modern successful career woman.

The Women’s Pages is about the choices and compromises women must make, their griefs and losses, and their need to fill in the absent spaces where other women - especially those who become mothers - should have been. And it is about the mysterious process of creativity, about the way stories are shaped and fiction is formed. Right up to its astonishing conclusion, The Women’s Pages asserts the power of the reader’s imagination, which can make the deepest desires and strangest dreams come true.


The Women’s Pages is a novel that pays homage to words, pages and books written by women and about women. The main character, Dove, nurses her ill mother and at her request, re-reads Wuthering Heights to her. After her mother’s death, rather than returning to work, Dove finds herself captivated by the story and also by the life of Emily Brontë. Adelaide describes Dove’s experience of re-reading Wuthering Heights, ‘The novel had unfolded again and again to be something different every time, and she was sick of it because it meant there would never be a final reading of this book for her’. Dove also feels compelled to write her own novel. She has never written before – her career is in graphic design – but finds it an addictive and organic process.

The chapters in Debra Adelaide’s book alternate between Dove’s experience in the present, and the novel she is writing. The novel chapters are about a woman named Ellis (Wuthering Heights was first published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell). Ellis has been brought up by her father and a housekeeper and has never known her mother, nor the story behind her mother’s absence. It is the 1950s, and Ellis is frustrated by the limited career options for women, and the expectation that all women desire only marriage and children. Ellis is an independent thinker, and I liked her a great deal.

Adelaide’s book is a novel within a novel, with references to Wuthering Heights thrown in for the astute reader. I would have preferred the whole book to focus on Ellis and her story from the 1950s to today. The book is also about imagination, and how and why we use it. The purpose of Dove’s summoning of Ellis’s life and story comes into sharp focus at the end of the novel, and makes for a satisfying conclusion.

Annie Condon is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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