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Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King - Review

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

I bought this book in March at the queer bookshop in York that my mum had recommended to me and which I then visited with my friend Jacqui when I visited her one afternoon. I was intrigued by the blurb so took this with me on a weekend away. I read the introduction by Sandi Toksvig first which alerted me to several facts: the book was older than I thought, having been written in 1985, and while I knew it was in some way LGBTQ+, having been sold in the bookshop, I was surprised to learn it was semi autobiographical but that, despite sleeping with both men and women, Florence King was very conservative and regretted having come out. This was a really useful introduction and definitely helped me to read the book in a certain way. 

So Florence King was born in 1936 in Washington DC, to an American mother and a British father. Her maternal grandmother moved in with the family when Florence was born and never moved out. She had failed with bringing up Florence's mother as a typical Southern belle, so she is determined to do better with Florence. She is obsessed with being from Virginia elite, despite the somewhat rough times the family has found itself in. She brought with her her black maid, Jensy. Florence's mother, grandmother and Jensy all have very different influences on Florence's life. 

Florence is very intelligent which makes her stand out at school right from the beginning. She is an oddity and never quite fits in with the other girls - who she calls malkins - who wish for marriage and babies. In fact she reads as autistic to me, but maybe I'm projecting. She excels at French and wants to major in that at college, but due to no one really understanding the scholarship programme, the college she goes to doesn't offer it as a major. She turns to history instead. She graduates but doesn't want to teach, so applies to do an MA in Mississippi where, to earn her keep, she becomes a dorm proctor. I loved this part of the book where she meets all the Southern women, including Tulaplee. She meets Bres, a perpetual student, and the two start a relationship. Florence has previously lost her virginity to one of her professors, having an affair with him over one summer. She is included into Bres' group, all bohemians, who drive into nearby states to procure alcohol.

I think Florence genuinely did love Bres and their relationship had a sad end. I liked the book and how snobby the grandmother was. I liked how Florence just kind of kept herself apart throughout the book. I'm glad I read it and I think I'll pas it on to people at my book club. I'm giving it four out of five.

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