New review: Lighting a fire

Christiane Inmann’s history of women’s reading and writing is a delicious read, says Jessica Gjergji

As all forbidden fruit should be, Christiane Inmann’s cross-cultural history of women’s role as readers and writers is mouthwateringly tempting from the moment you open the cover. Its pages are thick and satisfying, its golden text shimmers seductively and James Tissot’s autumn portrait of Kathleen Newton stealing into amber-drenched forests invites you to investigate further.

Forbidden Fruit: A History of Women & Books in Art does exactly what it says on the tin. Social and cultural historian Inmann claims to have produced the first account to trace the history of women’s literacy through various works of art and the development of writing by and for women. Presented in chronological order, beginning with the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Greece and China, the reader is led through the ages, and across the globe, exploring the female struggle to obtain the power of the written word for themselves, opening the window to their education and increasing their freedom.

It sounded implausible that one volume could satisfy such a vast topic and maintain my interest. I suspect that all too many of us are familiar with those ‘critically acclaimed’ works that entice with dazzling packaging but are either too light on content, or over-stuffed with academia. Forbidden Fruit provides a pleasing balance; it’s comfortable, informative, easy to become acquainted with and beautifully presented.

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