In the early 1900s, when women have yet to vote, Christina Mayhew earns a little money (understatement, as she is a lead actress!) on the side so that she may pursue her next to impossible dream of becoming a doctor. Lucky enough to be beautiful and intelligent, and coming from a long line of groundbreaking women in her family, she “slaves” as an actress for a major movie studio and justifiably resents the fact that she couldn’t get the medical scholarship that she deserves because she was a woman.
As the leading woman in a movie called Egyptian Idyll, she’s in the hot desert of Indio, California shooting what she thinks is a silly film. Martin Tafft, the director, doesn’t think making movies is silly at all – and making films (something he passionately loves to do), has earned him bucketfuls of money. He’s like the Steven Spielberg of the 1930s! However, he too is disillusioned with the “Hollywood scene” – back then, as it is today, drugs and sex pervaded the film industry in which outrageous behaviors, , made the scandal sheets. (Makes me wonder about Hollywood… you mean, it’s always been that way?!) Nevertheless, Martin’s passion for the movies hasn’t dimmed – he still holds hope that films have the power to bring world peace and believes movies can be a powerful instrument on bringing about social change. He can’t wait until movies finally talk!!!
Now, having understood Martin’s ideals, it makes me wonder why he wasn’t more understanding of Christina’s dream of becoming a doctor – nor is he very empathetic of the suffragette movement. Sure, let women have the vote, but women’s rights and bringing about world peace have nothing to do with one another. DUH!! Okay, so he doesn’t exactly say that, but he didn’t make the connection either!
In any case, the plot seems to revolve around Christina’s ambition and gender constraints and her self-revelation that it’s SO very hard to be a woman. Duh again. But I’m digressing… Christina is beautiful and intelligent and Martin is handsome and intelligent. They work together and fall in love. Martin wants to marry Christina and while Christina wants to be Martin’s wife, she can’t marry until she fulfills her dream of being a doctor. Medical schools back then, you see, already scoff at the idea of a woman doctor, let alone a married woman doctor! Nah-uh, no way, no how, will the University regents accept a married woman in their medical school!
Martin is understanding, and in true hero fashion, is disgusted at the idea of keeping Christina as a lover indefinitely rather than making her his wife. It goes against his old-fashion, honorable grain! What to do? Well, he’ll solve it after he makes the movie, where the real pleasure of reading this book really lies – I’ve never thought shooting silent films can be such a fun read!
Alice Duncan has packed this story full of interesting historical tidbits about the movie industry, the process of making movies and the plight of the non-voting woman in 1918. But although the main characters are likeable – Christina, the spunky and intelligent woman, and Martin, the idealistic and very patient movie director – their romance goes on the wayside as the difficulties in Christina’s life overwhelm it. Christina herself is an engaging heroine – she’s practical in her philosophy but idealistic in her ambitions. She knows what she wants and is willing to work hard to get it! She’s also very witty, funny and spunky. Frankly, she’s one of the two reasons I gave this book a four.
The second reason is Ms. Duncan’s talent. She manages to take elements of a serious issue – the women’s movement – and tangle it, without making light of the issue itself, in an entertaining way that’s easy to read. And the scenes of shooting a silent film is a laugh out loud riot! As mentioned, the romance between Martin and Christina is nothing to write home about, but all the other essentials that make it a good book are present – it’s entertaining, informative and just all around good fun!