The following column was published on March 4, 2017.
Writers, whom critics dismiss as “minor artists,” have played a major role in molding my literary and political persuasions. Consider the example of Anne Brontë who refused to glamorize cruel and immature men, as her more famous sisters did in “Wuthering Heights” (Emily Brontë) and “Jane Eyre” (Charlotte Brontë).
In her masterpiece, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” Anne exposed the 19th-century Romantic hero as an emotionally unintelligent and bad-tempered alcoholic with a propensity for violence toward women. Indeed, the designation of “minor” tends to mark apostates whose courage to challenge prevailing norms and depict the truth has landed them in or nearabout the dustbin of history.
I inherited a partiality for British literature as a colonial-cultural legacy from my Indian immigrant family. It probably explains why I preferred Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven and The Famous Five series to Nancy Drew’s detective mysteries (the only genre I read through middle school), and why Victorian authors still dominate my bookshelf.
Although Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” marked my formal introduction to Victorian prose, the largely unsung Elizabeth Gaskell convinced me of its vitality. Embracing literary qualities then regarded as subversive and frivolous, Gaskell depicted independent female characters in vivid tales infused with local color. Her distinct feminine perspective has encouraged me to trust my own writing voice, but I did not always believe that I could or should be a writer.
I was born in India and at the age of seven months, I boarded my first flight. Needless to say, I flew before I walked. My maternal grandparents (now deceased) immigrated to Dallas, Texas, while my father is a successful pediatrician in Dubai, UAE.
My childhood was both privileged and tragic. I feel fortunate because we traveled extensively and lived a sheltered and comfortable life. I feel unfortunate because my mother lost a long and brutal battle with cancer, passing away when I was eight years old.
After graduating from high school, I gave in to what I perceived as familial and societal expectations, and enrolled to study medicine at Kasturba Medical College, India. (Indian medical schools follow the British system of education, where the primary medical degree conferred by universities is a Bachelor of Medicine, i.e. the foreign equivalent of a US MD). Even before I completed the 4.5-year long rigorous program, I knew that my personality and interests did not comport with a career as a practicing doctor.
However, I only found the courage to pursue nonfiction writing seriously after re-kindling my creative spirit while studying design in Italy, and exploring pathless woods in Oslo and London’s sustainable fashion industry.
The American poet Mary Oliver poignantly wrote, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” I no longer count myself amongst the regretful.
At the graduate program in Liberal Studies at Dartmouth College, I took my first steps as a bona fide writer. Along with newfound intellectual and creative freedom, I met my best friend and now-husband there. In the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont, the pendulum of my life finally reached its true center of rest.
For my Masters thesis, I studied the works of Edith Wharton, another lesser-known author who stayed true to her beliefs in the face of opposing cultural trends.
In an artistic milieu dominated by modernists that believed in “art for art’s sake,” Wharton emphasized the relationship between history and literature as a mutually enriching dialogue. Her individualism and ardent engagement with the cultural arts and politics of her time inform the ethos of my opinion column, “Record Straight,” and my communications work for the Vermont House Republican Caucus. Like the candid works of the above-mentioned women writers, my words have drawn the ire of many.
As my detractors in the progressive elite and establishment right cannot argue on the basis of facts, they resort to petty and predictable slander in the hopes of undermining my credibility.
Were I a safe-space seeking “snowflake” Millennial, I would certainly complain about how so many old, white men are bent on silencing my views with ugly and unwarranted personal attacks. Sadly for them, such unoriginal epithets only embolden my commitment to bring the other, untold side of the story to the readers.
Looking ahead, if you would like “Record Straight” to examine a local political issue that you believe has been ignored or intentionally suppressed, then feel free to contact me. Ultimately, as Thomas Paine wisely noted, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Meg Hansen is a syndicated columnist from Windsor, Vermont.