Imperfect and absurd, the modern literary heroine is a woman of our times



File 20190307 82684 qxgya4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Unapologetically experimental yet utterly captivating, this new type of heroine has become a reader favourite.
JL-Pfeifer/Shutterstock

Sally O’Reilly, The Open University

The way women are portrayed is changing. In film, The Favourite has won numerous awards and features three women, variously wild and untameable, as joint protagonists. Other movies such as The Wife and Can You Ever Forgive Me? show older or unlovely women as sympathetic leads. Brava! But what’s happening in fiction? What are readers looking for in their modern, made-up women?

In this period of widening gender equality, it seems the time is right for new portrayals of women in fiction. Readers are diverse, and want many different things, and various female “archetypes” have existed since storytelling began. Early tales included murderesses and proxy witches such as the Greek figure Medea and Grendel’s mother – who is nameless – from the Old English poem Beowulf.

There were deceiving femme fatales, such as the Sirens who lured sailors to shipwreck, tragic mistresses, including Dido and Cleopatra and poor, resourceful girls like Gretel in traditional fairy-tales.

These enduring archetypes have been customised and reimagined by each succeeding generation. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is full of worldly wisdom and Shakespeare presented women who were wily and devious like Portia and Lady Macbeth as well as tricked and deceived like Juliet and Desdemona.

Victorian heroines like George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke claimed their right to passion and equality – and in the 20th century female characters engaged with the world of work as well as matters of the heart, battling for self-determination. The eponymous heroine of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one example, setting out to impose her will on her impressionable students, though she is ultimately betrayed.

Unpredictable women

So where do we find ourselves now? One notable characteristic of the modern heroine is that her flaws are not only centre stage, they are celebrated. Jane Austen wondered if anyone but herself would like domineering Emma Woodhouse – but now every heroine worth her salt has as many vices as virtues. Women behaving badly fill the pages of books in every genre – from Katniss Everdene, the rebellious heroine of Suzannne Collins’ The Hunger Games to Frances Wray and Lilian Barber, the unlikely conspirators in Sarah Waters’ page-turning novel The Paying Guests.

There is also a recognition that female experience is as universal as male experience. The heroines of contemporary fiction reflect the rich diversity of female lives. Examples include Hortense Roberts, one of the main characters in Andrea Levy’s seminal novel Small Island who finds tenderness in her bleak new homeland, and Elizabeth Strout’s astonishing Olive Kitteridge, whose true complexity is revealed in a narrative that spans decades. Their everyday experiences are compelling and heartrending.

Genres are blending and heroines are complicated. They are morally ambiguous and their behaviour is unpredictable. The doomed mistress is fighting back and taking on the characteristics of the proxy witch. This is demonstrated by the typical heroine of the new crime sub-genre domestic noir which focuses on women’s experience and emotions in the home and workplace. She may find herself married to the modern equivalent of Bluebeard, but he is unlikely to get away with murder. This is exemplified in novels like Gone Girl – Amy Dunne outsmarts her husband and excels in trickery, cunningly creating mantraps while seeming to be the perfect wife.

Scarred, imperfect or absurd

Publishing’s latest passion is for redemptive, feel-good fiction, known as “up-lit”, and this also reinterprets existing tropes. Gail Honeyman’s lonely Eleanor Oliphant hits the vodka behind closed doors and attempts to conceal her dysfunctionality and traumatic childhood from the world, but is stronger and more able to grow than we first realise. One of the reasons for Eleanor’s wide appeal may be that she springs from a line of literary heroines – that of the spirited outsider.

Honeyman draws parallels between Eleanor and Jane Eyre, another abandoned child who finds her own path. Readers are engaged not only by Eleanor’s predicament, but by her determination to transcend disaster. Her most recent antecedent is Helen Fielding’s Chardonnay-swilling Bridget Jones, who is herself the direct descendant of Jane Austen’s best-loved heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

Women who make their own rules are selling well in literary fiction too. In Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney’s young Bohemians Frances and Bobbi are brimming with anarchic attitude, sharing “a contempt for the cultish pursuit of male physical dominance” and luxuriating in “shallow misery”. They lead unapologetically experimental lives, creating ripples of sexual confusion.

Following the various cases of male bullying and sexual harassment that have hit the headlines, it seems that fictional heroines reflect a mood of noncompliance with the world that men have organised. The 21st-century heroine may be scarred, imperfect or absurd. True love may be on the cards, but so might illicit sex. And while she may change in the course of the narrative, revealing strengths and strategies that surprise us, conformity is optional. Here’s to the good/bad heroine, long may she remain unredeemed.The Conversation

Sally O’Reilly, Lecturer in Creative Writing, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Millennial bashing in medieval times


File 20170626 29085 1kzq3gv
In Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Morte d’Arthur,’ a character complains that young people are too sexually promiscuous.
The British Library

Eric Weiskott, Boston College

As a millennial and a teacher of millennials, I’m growing weary of think pieces blaming my generation for messing everything up.

The list of ideas, things and industries that millennials have ruined or are presently ruining is very long: cereal, department stores, the dinner date, gambling, gender equality, golf, lunch, marriage, movies, napkins, soap, the suit and weddings. In true millennial fashion, compiling lists like this has already become a meme.

A common thread in these hit pieces is the idea that millennials are lazy, shallow and disruptive. When I think of my friends, many of whom were born in the 1980s, and my undergraduate students, most of whom were born in the 1990s, I see something different. The millennials I know are driven and politically engaged. We came of age after the Iraq War, the Great Recession and the bank bailout – three bipartisan political disasters. These events were formative, to an extent that those who remember the Vietnam War might not realize.

The idea that young people are ruining society is nothing new. I teach medieval English literature, which gives ample opportunity to observe how far back the urge to blame younger generations goes.

The most famous medieval English author, Geoffrey Chaucer, lived and worked in London in the 1380s. His poetry could be deeply critical of the changing times. In the dream vision poem “The House of Fame,” he depicts a massive failure to communicate, a kind of 14th-century Twitter in which truths and falsehoods circulate indiscriminately in a whirling wicker house. The house is – among other things – a representation of medieval London, which was growing in size and political complexity at a then-astounding rate.

Geoffrey Chaucer.
Wikimedia Commons

In a different poem, “Troilus and Criseyde,” Chaucer worries that future generations will “miscopy” and “mismeter” his poetry because of language change. Millennials might be bankrupting the napkin industry, but Chaucer was concerned that younger readers would ruin language itself.

Winner and Waster,” an English alliterative poem probably composed in the 1350s, expresses similar anxieties. The poet complains that beardless young minstrels who never “put three words together” get praised. No one appreciates old-fashioned storytelling any more. Gone are the days when “there were lords in the land who in their hearts loved / To hear poets of mirth who could invent stories.”

William Langland, the elusive author of “Piers Plowman,” also believed that younger poets weren’t up to snuff. “Piers Plowman” is a psychedelic religious and political poem of the 1370s. At one point, Langland has a personification named Free Will describe the sorry state of contemporary education. Nowadays, says Free Will, the study of grammar confuses children, and there is no one left “who can make fine metered poetry” or “readily interpret what poets made.” Masters of divinity who should know the seven liberal arts inside and out “fail in philosophy,” and Free Will worries that hasty priests will “overleap” the text of the mass.

On a larger scale, people in 14th-century England began worrying that a new bureaucratic class was destroying the idea of truth itself. In his book “A Crisis of Truth,” literary scholar Richard Firth Green argues that the centralization of the English government changed truth from a person-to-person transaction to an objective reality located in documents.

Today we might see this shift as a natural evolution. But literary and legal records from the time reveal the loss of social cohesion felt by everyday people. They could no longer rely on verbal promises. These had to be checked against authoritative written documents. (Chaucer himself was part of the new bureaucracy in his roles as clerk of the king’s works and forester of North Petherton.)

In medieval England, young people were also ruining sex. Late in the 15th century, Thomas Malory compiled the “Morte d’Arthur,” an amalgam of stories about King Arthur and the Round Table. In one tale, Malory complains that young lovers are too quick to jump into bed.

“But the old love was not so,” he writes wistfully.

If these late medieval anxieties seem ridiculous now, it’s only because so much human accomplishment (we flatter ourselves) lies between us and them. Can you imagine the author of “Winner and Waster” wagging a finger at Chaucer, who was born into the next generation? The Middle Ages are misremembered as a dark age of torture and religious fanaticism. But for Chaucer, Langland and their contemporaries, it was the modern future that represented catastrophe.

These 14th- and 15th-century texts hold a lesson for the 21st century. Anxieties about “kids these days” are misguided, not because nothing changes, but because historical change cannot be predicted. Chaucer envisioned a linear decay of language and poetry stretching into the future, and Malory yearned to restore a (make-believe) past of courtly love.

But that’s not how history works. The status quo, for better or worse, is a moving target. What’s unthinkable to one era becomes so ubiquitous it’s invisible in the next.

Millennial bashers are responding to real tectonic shifts in culture. But their response is just a symptom of the changes they claim to diagnose. As millennials achieve more representation in the workforce, in politics and in media, the world will change in ways we can’t anticipate.

The ConversationBy then, there will be new problems and a new generation to take the blame for them.

Eric Weiskott, Assistant Professor of English, Boston College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to read the Australian book industry in a time of change


Jan Zwar; David Throsby, and Thomas Longden

In 2014, the Department of Economics at Macquarie University began a three-year study to examine the responses of Australian authors, publishers and readers to global changes in the current publishing environment.

Last week we released the first stage of the study, based on a survey of more than 1,000 Australian book authors. Our findings show that while book authors are innovators in their professional practices, the financial rewards for initiative and experimentation are unevenly distributed.

Authors’ income

The average income of Australian authors is A$12,900. Although a fifth of authors write as their full-time occupation, only 5% earn the average annual income from their creative practice (which we calculate using ABS data as A$61,485 for the 2013-14 financial year). Most authors rely on other paid work and their partner’s income to make ends meet.

Justin Heazlewood’s Funemployed (2014) explores what it’s really like to be a working artist in Australia.

Compounding this is the recent fall in the average selling price of trade books. According to Beth Drumm, Sales and Marketing Manager in the Asia/Pacific division of Phoenix International Publications, the standard price of small-format publications has fallen from A$24.99 – A$29.99 to A$19.99 within the last five years. Highly discounted books sold by discount department stores (such as Kmart, Target and Big W) also impact on an author’s income.

Nearly a fifth of all authors earned over A$101,000 in the period of the survey, and a small proportion of authors (nearly 3%) earned more than A$101,000 from their creative practice alone.

An author’s capacity to earn income from other paid work is boosted by high levels of education. They also possess technical skills (the ability to compose, write and edit) that lead to work that does not produce creative output.

One of the greatest limiting factors for authors is finding time to write. Table 1 (below) shows the proportion of authors for whom insufficient income prevents them from writing further. Domestic responsibilities and the need to earn income from other sources affect more than half of authors.

//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/8R1HT/3/

Another pressure on trade authors’ time is their increased role in promoting their books. With the rise of social and online media as important channels for promotion, more than half of all trade authors spend more time promoting their work than they did five years ago – and the rise of social media hasn’t negated the importance of in-person bookstore appearances.

Although we examine how changes are affecting all types of authors, in the remainder of this article we focus on the challenges facing literary fiction authors and poets in particular (while we use “literary” fiction, we are aware of the debates around the use of the term).

Literary fiction authors

Changes in the industry are increasing opportunities for authors to publish their work using cost-effective digital technologies and small print runs. Even so, nearly a third of these authors report being worse off financially compared to five years ago.

One factor for this may be the shift of a considerable amount of literary publishing in Australia from larger publishers to small, independent presses – very small presses may have more constraints on the size of advances, if any, they can offer authors, for example.

The top-earning quarter of literary authors earn on average A$9,000 a year from their writing. Literary fiction authors are the most likely to report that insufficient income from their writing prevents them from spending more time on writing (70%). Although the top-earning quarter of literary authors earn on average A$85,000, the majority of their income comes from other types of paid work.

Poets

Australian poet Rachel Smith participated in the Multipoetry project by the Krakow City of Literature. The Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office and Australian Poetry brokered the involvement of Australian poets.

The situation for poets is even more challenging. Nearly three quarters of Australian poets have changed the way they publish, distribute or promote their work. Poets are particularly innovative in finding new avenues for paid work and are also experimenting with self-publishing – but the average income earned from their creative practice by those in Australia’s top-earning quartile of poets is only A$4,900, the lowest average across any of the different types of authors.

After his first self-publishing experiment proved a success, Steven Herrick wrote a series while continuing to publish books with traditional publishers. Not all self-publishing experiences are so positive.

Over half of poets reported no discernible change in their financial position over the past five years. Even though they are innovating and experimenting in their professional practices as well as stylistically (see, for example, the work of self-published performance and multimedia poet Candy Royalle) those changes are not leading to increased incomes.

At the launch of our research findings, Australian poet and author Steven Herrick encouraged poets to write in other genres to increase their incomes.

Herrick self-published a series of cycling memoirs set in Europe through Amazon, starting as an experiment. He quickly established a readership in the UK and he is about to release his fifth title in the series.

The market for literary fiction and poetry in Australia

At the moment, the market size for most Australian-authored literary works is modest. Most literary titles – apart from those by high-profile authors – have print runs of 2,000–4,000 copies.

Print runs for single volumes of poetry for adult readerships are even lower – often between 300 and 1,000 copies. In keeping with a centuries-old tradition, authors are creating their own publishing opportunities such as Kill Your Darlings, a literary journal founded in 2010, taking advantage of digital technology to keep costs down.

Kill Your Darlings was founded by authors Rebecca Starford and Hannah Kent.

The actual size of the market for literary works in Australia, particularly for Australian-authored work, is unclear. There are no reliable statistics about the sales of literary books as a proportion of total trade sales, but during 2015 one member of our research team estimated that literary books comprise roughly 5% of trade sales, and less than half of these comprise Australian-authored literary works (onshore trade sales are worth approximately A$900 million).

A related question then arises as to whether it is possible to grow the size of readerships for literary works, and if so, how could that be done? Literary publishers around Australia are endeavouring to increase the size of their readerships but there are no short-cuts.

That’s because the pleasures and rewards of reading literary works are an acquired taste which develops over time. Further, Jim Demetriou, Sales and Marketing Director of Allen and Unwin, commented:

With literature each one of the author’s books is a totally different “animal” to the previous book, so you have to sell the concept and the idea behind each individual title. It’s generally a slower build unless it’s a big-name author who people recognise and understand.

The way forward

Studies of the book industry often refer to the tension between creative and commercial imperatives (see Merchants of Culture,2012, Words & Money, 2010, and Reluctant Capitalists, 2006).

There are no easy answers but the survey findings – and the initial discussion around them – suggest that Australian authors are engaging with changes in the industry and exploring new opportunities.

One feature of the Australian book industry is that authors, publishers and booksellers share a collaborative commitment to its cultural and commercial success. That’s something the new Book Council can bank on, with confidence.

For further information about the research, visit here.

The Conversation

Jan Zwar, Postdoctoral Research Fellow; David Throsby, Distinguished Professor of Economics, and Thomas Longden, Postdoctoral Research Fellow

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: Winston Churchill’s Books to be Published as Ebooks


In perhaps a sign of the times, the various books written by Winston Churchill are to be published as ebooks for the first time.

For more visit:
http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/2012/06/19/275-Winston-Churchill-s-forty-volumes-to-be-sold-as-ebooks-for-first-time-ever.html

Life of George Washington – Washington Irving


I have been reading the five volume work of Washington Irving on the ‘Life of George Washington’ over the last little while. Currently I am in the middle of the second volume. Though I am only reading two to ten pages a day and don’t view this reading exercise as particularly pressing, I am enjoying my reading experience very much. It is an easy to read book, with chapters divided into very manageable portions. As a whole, the five volumes make up about 2000 pages.

This work by Washington Irving on the life of George Washington covers the life of the first president of the United States, shedding much light on the life and times of Washington. Thus far I have covered the period of Washington’s early life, through the war against the French and Indians (in which Washington played an important role) and into the American War Of Independence (in which Washington led the fledgling nation’s army against the British). This biographical work seems to be an excellent life of George Washington, but also provides an insight into the players and the history of the times.

In short, this five volume work on Washington is excellent and I would highly recommend reading the entire work on an important person in, and period of, American history. The work is available at the Internet Archive and I have links to the five volumes on my website at:

http://tracingourhistory.com/history.html

The Sermons of the Right Reverend Father in God, and Constant Martyr of Jesus Christ, Hugh Latimer, Some Time Bishop of Worcester – Volume 2


I have been working for some time at getting this work of Hugh Latimer up on the particularbaptist.com website. It was previously up on the site in conventional HTML, but that is no longer the case. With this work (and all current and future projects) I have posted the PDF file to Scribd and embedded the document from there into the website with a Scribd provided widget. The book is not yet complete, but as I add to the work revisions of it will be posted to Scribd and the widget automatically updated. The work is available for download via both the widget and at Scribd.

The page devoted to this work at particularbaptist.com within the site’s library simply known as ‘The Book Room,’ has also been updated and the format for it is the design I will now be using throughout The Book Room as books are added (or links to books at other sites). Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done throughout The Book Room, but work is progressing. The entire library site at particularbaptist.com is being overhauled and updated.

I am currently reading this second volume of sermons by Hugh Latimer as I work on the project. I have included a review on the page in The Book Room and this is what I have said there:

‘This book of sermons is like a trip into the past – a trip back to the English reformation. With this book it is possible to get a feel for the times in which the reformer Hugh Latimer walked. The sermons are of course locked into the period, with references to events well known then (and perhaps not so now) and framed in a manner unknown now.’

‘Though preached many years ago, I have found many of these sermons still profitable to my own walk with God now. They are well worth reading, though it must be said they can sometimes be a little difficult to stay with due to the cultural differences, language of the day, etc. Stick with it and these sermons will warm your heart.’

Visit this work online at:
http://particularbaptist.com/library/latimer_sermons_contents.html

This Little Church Went to Market, by Gary Gilley


I have just bought three books by Gary Gilley, two of which I already owned (and had forgotten that I did – probably because of the move, storage and other issues over the last few years). The three books, which I intend to read back to back as it were, are:

  1. This Little Church Went to Market – Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out?
  2. This Little Church Stayed Home – A Faithful Church in Deceptive Times, and
  3. This Little Church Had None – A Church in Search of the Truth

As can be seen by the titles of the three books, they all have to do with the modern church and its current state.

So today I start on the first of the three books, ‘This Little Church Went to Market.’