Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica : Journal of the Malta Historical Society. 6(1975)4(460)

[p.460] INEZ SOLER, Il-Mara matul iż-Żminijiet. Guido Saliba publ. Veritas Press, 1975. pp. xxiii, 259. Price £M1.50.

The appearance of this book in 1975 — International Woman’s Year — is doubly welcome. In the first place the need of such a publication in Maltese had long been felt — a book providing good reading and cultural material for our Maltese readers and almost encyclopaedic in its approach to and treatment of a single subject. In the second place, at a time when there is a growing awareness of the rights of women in Malta, the information contained in this volume should give the right direction and background in writings and conversations about Women’s Lib in these Islands.

The author was an outstanding personality in local literary-artistic circles. Herself a painter and sulptor of merit, Inez will long be remembered, together with her husband Guido, for uplifting the tone of Maltese broadcast drama after more than a decade’s assiduous work following the last War, for the refined standards of diction and intonation she established and for her insistence on minutes for the stage direction of intellectual plays. The same qualities of self-discipline and thoroughness are evident in this work.

Inez Soler writes with conviction on the progressive role of Women in the events that have shaped the destiny of Mankind. She is very conscious of the place of Woman in Society and it is precisely this consciousness, coupled with a style at once direct and forceful, rhetorical and romantic, based on a good command of the Maltese language that gives a special quality to the book.

In her Foreword dated June, 1959, the author explains clearly what she set out to do. “The history of Woman,” she says, “is indissolubly linked to that of the whole of Mankind. For a clear understanding of this history one must know how woman lived thousands of years ago and how she is living today; the dwellings she lived in and how, throughout the centuries, she learned to furnish her home and to bring up her family; the clothes she wore, the food she cooked and how she spent her leisure hours.”

In this well-balanced account of Woman throughout the Ages Inez Soler roams over a very wide field treated from thirteen different angles, each topic again divided into two sections, with various subdivisions for periods, sub-themes, etc. Beneath the lucid and readable prose there lies hidden a considerable amount of preparatory reading, familiarity with the language and content of the Bible, and an ability to concentrate on essentials to give in distilled form the right amount of historical detail to serve as background for her account of the social history of woman.

[p.461] Guido Saliba explains in his introductory study that this book was originally written between June, 1959 and June, 1960 for broadcasting in a Radio College series organised by the Department of Information. One special merit of the work is that, in spite of the enormous sweep of her canvas, Inez tried to relate international movements and world trends in fashion etc. to the story of Woman in Malta, however imperfectly we know it so far. Here and there we find one or more paragraphs devoted to, say, the place of woman in prehistoric Malta; we read of the excellent textile weaving by Maltese women in classical times and we see her mentioned in relation to medieval and later church or house building and roof construction. With justified feminine pride the author records the 22nd September 1947 as the date on which Maltese women were granted the right to vote and to take part in public life (p. 179); she also deals briefly with the development of education of females in Malta (pp. 201-2) and touches on the influence of religious college education on character formation of successive generations of girls in the 19th and 20th centuries (p. 216).

Guido Saliba tells us (p. xii) that his wife intended to write a chapter on Maltese furniture. In fact, our knowledge of the history of Woman in Malta still suffers from various lacunae. Some of these have been filled in part since 1959 with the publication of studies or monographs devoted to particular themes. For example, the documentation appended to the present reviewer’s Notes for a History of Maltese Costume (in “Maltese Folklore Review,” No. 3, 1966) would amply repay study for much relative material. From the pre-Order period Inez Soler herself quotes from a bando relating to public cleanliness dated 22nd October 1477 (p. 140). Perusal of the bandi issued by successive Grand Masters between 1530 and 1798 will no doubt illustrate many other topics relating to women. In underlining the need of turning our attention to the history of Woman in Malta Inez has herself pointed the way for others in this field.

Guido Saliba deserves a special word of praise not only for the loving care with which he edited this work and for his informative introduction, but also for enhancing the usefulness of the volume by providing it with indices of (i) names (ii) places (iii) subjects and (iv) objects referred to in the book. The judicious inclusion of illustrations also forms a pictorial commentary on the text.

J. Cassar Pullicino