Capturing the truth about women
So, Jane Austen - how does it feel never to have found the right man? To be constantly alone?
Oh, sorry - I meant a different JA of course - Jennifer Aniston- or ‘poor Jen’ as the cheap mags would have it.
But in one sense it boils down to the same thing: women defined not by their achievements but by a relatively
narrow view of them, often one which is overly simplistic (the gentle irony of a romantic writer who, sadly, never found true love) or defined by the patriarchy (how can she be complete without a man?)
As a writer, Austen (as was pointed out on Radio 4’s Brief Lives) would have made much capital (pun intended) over her own appearance on a £10 bank-note. Such a character, were she fictitious, would have come in for some caustic wit in one of her own novels.
Yet of course she is fictitious. She stopped being herself once we’d all bought into the Bath tea-shop version of her. Not Jane the radical, Jane the feminist, Jane the woman whom quite a few men were interested in, but whom she seemed quite content to dispatch into the footnotes of her own narrative.
Why does all this matter to me? Well, I’ve always thought I was quite good at writing female characters. After all I have a wife who is indubitably a woman. And I’ve got three sisters, Chekhov, as you ask. Plus two daughters. (sorry, Sam, this blog ain’t about you).
But I’ve done a bit of rereading of my fantasy novel (don’t ask about agents) and the tentative YA fiction I’m planning and now I’m not so sure. I think Jane and Jen might ask - where’s the wit, the anger, the stubborn resilience? Also, the joy and the talent, the hope and the glory? I fear my girls and women are pale shadows of both JAs.
I’ve got a lot to live up to - but capturing women (which may not be the best closing phrase of a blog promoting women writers and characters) will be something I’ll try to do truthfully - and something I’ll be reminded of every time I hand a tenner to the local landlord. Or barmaid....
What? What did I say? ‘Barmaid’ is ok surely? Isn’t it?
Hmm. Must try harder.