Thursday, March 22, 2007

Women's Fiction

There has been much discussion taking place because of comments made by Muriel Gray, one of the judges for the Orange Prize. I have basically ignored them but then reading Helen's blog, http://reddersramblings.blogspot.com/, and the comments, it set the old brain cells thinking.

Back in the days when I had a brain - pre children that is- and I was about to head off to Harvard Divinity School for a Masters in Theological Studies, I had a theory that women's writing about God was mostly emotional and could therefore still be felt as much today even though much of what I was studying was written hundreds of years before. However men's religious writing was not emotional but deeply rational and quite frankly left me cold and could be quite dated. I think women's writing is emotional and speaks to heart where men's writing tends to be colder and deal with issues........these are broad sweeping statements but if one looks at the writings of Hadewijch and Teresa of Avila. Their experience of God is deeply emotional and still speaks to women today where as if you look at the words of Augustine or Aquinas it deals with how we should think about God and not how to feel him. The theological concerns have moved on in many cases but how we love God hasn't.

So to tie these ramblings back to women's writing today, I think most women's fiction still deals with emotions be they domestic in setting or global whereas 'men's' fiction tends to separate the emotion from the actions of saving the world or solving a crime. I know which I would prefer to read and that my dh wouldn't touch most of it.......I also know I am going to take some stick for these comments and before it starts I do read fiction read by men. One of my all time favorite books is Any Human Heart by William Boyd (Restless is on my tbr pile because I want to see how he deals with a woman's point of view) ....but that book also showed me how men's minds work which is very different from women's.........Basically women shine most when they are working with emotions and potentially helping other women in my opinion.

8 comments:

Jane Henry said...

I agree - most of successful women's fiction has been in the domestic: Think, Jane Austen, the Brontes (though ok that is a gothic take on it), George Eliot, and my major literary heroine, Virginia Woolf. Mrs Dalloway is about a party for god's sake. How flaky can you get?

My other literary heroine Margaret Atwood does take sweeping themes, but I find her futuristic stuff, The Handmaid's Tale/Onyx & Crake a bit too bleak. She is far far better when dealing with the choices people make and using her pithy wit to dissect the problems of the society in which we live - OK, that's a wide theme, but hey, it IS set against a domestic backdrop.

For most of us, it's where our lives are. What is wrong with writing about it.

I did hear MG talking about how JKR uses the pain of losing her mother to inform the fiction of Harry Potter and I can see her point, but I don't think that means the rest of us have to write fantasy. As it happens, I do write fantasy too, and have a plot for a book that is going to be way off the wall I think, if I ever get to it...

And what about Audrey Niffeneger? Time Traveler's Wife was wonderful.
love Janex

liz fenwick said...

Margaret Atwood is a hole in my reading which will be addressed at some time soon........you have me intrigued with what your fantasy is about.

Yes, JKR does deal with the loss of Harry's mother very well but that is a key emotional issue and Hogwarts becomes Harry's home....I think she handles the angst of being a teenager beautifully because she captures the emotions not just the rampant physical changes. The themes she deals with aside from loss of parents are key childhood/teen issues. She doesn't solve world problems nor does she set out imo. So I am not sure how MG thinks she takes the view.

I'm rambling. Must go back to writing :-)

Jane Henry said...

Ok Liz I'll email you off line about it...

liz fenwick said...

look forward to it Jane ;-)

Therese said...

Liz, it's the classic thinking vs. feeling demonstration.

All the best books demonstrate both--and women do seem to do a better job of this, IMO.

This makes me think of the movie THE CONSTANT GARDENER, which is based on a John LeCarre novel. I haven't read the book but I thought the movie was compelling.

In any event, I'm glad to be a woman writing in a market where women are the main book buyers!

Therese said...

Oh--I should say that given how TCG is a novel by a man, I'd do well to read it and see if it's as balanced as the film.

cs harris said...

Interesting contrast of men and women's theological writing. Is it perhaps because religion is emotional, but men feel the need to rationalize it while women are comfortable embracing the emotion? On the other hand, men can be very emotional. I'd say most of the men in my life have been far more "romantic" than I am. I think in the end that when it comes to love choices, women are (usually) far more hard-headed and rational--because of the implications for their futures, and the futures of their children.

liz fenwick said...

It was funny because this subject came up in a way in book club this morning. It came up in did we read more books by men or women. Hands down it was by women for most. So we're in luck Terese :-)

C. S. I agree that men are more romantic in one sense and that women are more pragmatic when it comes to romantic love in many cases. However once they separate it out from the rest of their lives while I think most women blend the whole together hence maybe appearing less romantic?????