Mary being assaulted by Collins in “The Keeper” is an example. Or Kitty being injured in the park in “Of Fortune’s Reversal.” Yet, in the first case, the attack is used to establish Collins’ character. In the second, the attack is to set the underlying character of Kitty Bennet…bravery in the face of danger to another…when she had been established (barely) in the Canon as a mouse-like follower of whichever woman in the room had the dominant opinion.
This is something upon which I reflect a lot. Part of it is that I read other authors’ works and see that the crux-stresses are emotional rather than (in most cases) physical. See Ola Wegner’s deft use of emotional crises. Yet, there is also Melanie Schertz who uses physical danger to great effect.
Is this a question of my gender?
I re-read one of the best discourses on writing…Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Therein she discusses how problematic it is for “regular” male writers to write on women’s subjects. She clearly points out that the male ego (“The Shadow of ‘I’) is prevalent on every page, making it obvious that it is a man opining.
I fear that I may be falling into that trap by allowing my work to grow organically.
Yet, I am mindful of John LeCarre (David Cornwall). The bulk of his work, while about male spies, deals with men of emotion and thought. George Smiley is nearly an emotional eunuch–yet he has depths of sensitivity that enable him to prevail precisely because he is NOT a man of action.
In fact, the care with which Smiley is written convinces me that LeCarre is writing with Coleridge’s “Androgynous Mind”–or as Woolf suggests ‘Man-Womanly” or “Woman-Manly.” He writes with both halves of his mind.
For myself, I believe that I am conversant with both sides of my mind–the male and the female–(Note that I did not write ‘Masculine’ and ‘Feminine’ as these two words are gendered social constructs.). As such I believe that the work that is growing in front of me is an organic result of both parts of me. (BTW: Just finished a difficult section..CH XV and XVI in The Exile.)
Not all writing about a female character needs to be structured in soft, gentle and other socially-constructed feminine characteristics. But, in order to have it be meaningful, the gendered natures of the actions must be erased. We have, over the course of time, developed preconceived notions of behind the meanings of character actions. If Fitzwilliam Darcy throws a crystal decanter into the fireplace…is this an expression of adult anger at his understanding of Lizzy’s rejection of his suit or the outburst of a spoiled brat denied his heart’s desire? Is his act of destruction more acceptable than when Caroline Bingley smashes a vase against her sitting room wall when she realizes that she cannot win Darcy? Is Caroline being a childish virago while Darcy is a man in extremis?
Thus, Annie Reynolds surprises Henry Wilson and General Fitzwilliam (as well as us) in “The Maid and Footman” by suggesting courses of action more suitable to be taken by…and then herself acting like…a man. Conversely, Henry Wilson drops to his knees and screams in anguish moments after that action.
We might look at either sets of actions through gendered lenses–yet is Annie Reynolds acting manly and Henry Wilson womanly? Or are they taking the best paths for their characters?
Sooooo….I am trying to continue the Bennet Wardrobe Series by developing the future life of Catherine Marie Bennet. It will not be smooth. The inner workings of her soul will be tested by life’s trials…and not all of them will be emotional.
But, I pray, dear readers that they will not be gendered…that the Kitty Bennet who emerges in “The Exile” will be a Person In Whole.
(I am hoping to be at the point of Beta Readers by the end of April. If you would like to be one…let me know.)