I noticed the book immediately: a colorful, unmistakably travel-esque picture topped with a billboard that evoked both Broadway and freeway diners, staring out from a new display in my much-loved young adult section. But the best part? The display was for LGBTQ fiction.
I started this series with a strained and cheesy Doctor Who reference, and today's title was me finishing with one ("Silence in the Library," for those playing at home). Let’s try and move on from my sparkling wit to discuss which kinds of books and writers get to grace bookshelves, and the social and economic processes governing this. Who gets published and who does not? Whose work gets preserved? Who gets into libraries and bookstores? Who gets to be an icon?
Any moment in time is the history others might look back on. I want to look to the writing happening, and the reputations being shaped, right now. Who do you think are going to be today’s feminist literary icons in future eyes, and who ought to be? And what is the point of having icons?
I can’t predict the future—no, really, it’s true!—so I can’t tell you who are going to be recognized as great writers with feminist consciousness or consciences. I can, however, tell you who I like, and who represents the kind of expression I’d like to see more of in time to come.
We’ve mostly talked about established icons of feminist interest, but now I want to look to a legacy that hasn’t quite taken shape yet. Over the course of this week, we’re going to talk about the how icons get to be icons, and Sookie, with her world of glitter, wisps of the unknown, and pushing boundaries, is the perfect character with which to start. The protagonist of the Southern Vampire Mysteries throws up a number of questions around the kinds of characters one sees represented, and what one might be looking for in a feminist character.
I am wary when I walk into bookstores these days, because I don’t need to dip into the horror section to find books that scare me. I take a look around at the white faces on the covers and think about how I’m not encountering books about people like me. Except, given how popular the whitewashing of covers is just at present, maybe I am and just don’t know it.
Whitewashing book covers, representing non-white characters as white* on covers, is a publishing practice which has become disturbingly common.
Between high school English and having spent half my life treading one set of boards or another, a large chunk of my brain is devoted to Shakespeare. For whom isn’t that the case, really? There’s the deep horror of Macbeth, the lovely gender mix-ups of Twelfth Night, the… no, I really didn’t like The Taming of the Shrew. But the thing is that Shakespeare’s plays are largely about the men. My having gone to drama school has to be good for something, so let me take you through the theatrical manipulations rendering so many Shakespearian women more silent than they could be (and, arguably, more silent than the stories could do with).
Romance novels: generally not the sort of thing we might discuss as a vehicle for feminist literary icons. Many are the faces I have pulled at the quality of some of the novels supposedly aimed at me. I think, however, that writing romance novels off entirely is leaving a lot outside in the cold. Romance is, after all, the most popular literary genre in all the world. More than that, it’s a genre dominated by women writers and readers, and you’ve got to put down some of the contempt for romance to misogyny. Accusations of silliness and inconsequentiality are, of course, some of the most insidious tools in the patriarchy’s toolbox. Let’s share some love for the love story, shall we?
I wanted to write about at least one writer from the Southern Hemisphere for you. (I was going to also write about New Zealand’s Katherine Mansfield, but then Lindsay pipped me to the blog post!) I thought to myself, I’ve never read My Brilliant Career (1901), and that’s supposed to be one of the best feminist works to ever come out of Australia. An excellent topic on which to write, I surmised! This plan did not quite work out as I had expected. So let me tell you a little bit about Miles Franklin, and some other Australian women writers you, readers, may find of interest.
One of the world's most enduring literary traditions has to be the Arthurian legend, which gives us the most intriguing figure of Morgan le Fay. Mother, sister, lover, healer, and witch, she’s had to be extremely flexible to fit the changing requirements of Arthurian narratives. She’s been an ally to Arthur, the wicked witch, and she’s presently popular as an object of feminist reclamation. Let’s take a trip with the various incarnations of Morgan le Fay, and discern how such a malleable character has sustained the kind of power she has over imaginations across the centuries.
We’re going to leave the 19th century soon, but not before we’ve covered a certain breed of independent woman literary icon. At a time when divorce was the height of scandal, Louise Mallard and Nora Helmer were literary characters who looked to a better life without their husbands. And they suffered terribly for it. Let’s explore the rise of representations of women learning to live their lives far from being under a man’s thumb.