A Short History of Women

A Novel

A Short History of Women

A profoundly moving portrait of the complicated legacies of mothers and daughters, A Short History of Women chronicles five generations of women from the close of the nineteenth century through the early years of the twenty-first.

Beginning in 1914 at the deathbed of Dorothy Trevor Townsend, a suffragette who starves herself for the cause, the novel traces the echoes of her choice in the stories of her descendants—a brilliant daughter who tries to escape the burden of her mother’s infamy; a granddaughter who chooses a conventional path, only to find herself disillusioned; a great-granddaughter who wryly articulates the free-floating anxiety of post-9/11 Manhattan. In a kaleidoscope of characters and with a richness of imagery, emotion, and wit, A Short History of Women is a thought-provoking and vividly original narrative that crisscrosses a century—a book for "any woman who has ever struggled to find her own voice; to make sense of being a mother, wife, daughter, and lover" (Associated Press).
  • Scribner | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416594994 | 
  • June 2010
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for A Short History of Women includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kate Walbert. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women chronicles the lives of five generations of women as they attempt to navigate turbulent times in the history of both Britain and the United States.  From a European suffragist who starves herself for women’s rights in 1914 to her great-granddaughter in New York in 2007, Walbert’s work highlights the love, friendship, and regrets that each of these women experienced. Readers will be swept up in the tremulous times as these five women attempt to find their way in a society that needs an answer to “The Woman Question.”  


Questions for Discussion

  1. Throughout the novel, Walbert consistently reveals future events before they occur – from Father Fairfield’s death to Dorothy Townsend (Barrett’s) impending divorce.  Why do you think she chooses to do this?  How does this change the pacing of the story?
  2. How is Evelyn’s release of the canary symbolic of
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Articles About This Book

More Books from this Author

The Sunken Cathedral
The Gardens of Kyoto
Our Kind

About the Author

Kate Walbert
Photograph by Deborah Donenfeld

Kate Walbert

Kate Walbert is the author of His Favorites, The Sunken Cathedral, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2015 and BBC ten best, A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002 Connecticut Book Award in Fiction; and Where She Went, a collection of linked stories and a New York Times Notable Book. She has had fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize stories.