The following ideas are from a talk titled “Understanding the Mysterious Woman–Adventure and Awakening.” I spoke about this at Ozarks Writers Live, a fabulous annual event hosted by the Fayetteville, AR, Public Library each fall, and held on Sept. 13 this year.
BUT, before you read this, do scroll down and read the guest post from bookstore owner and deep thinker, Dan Krotz from Sow’s Ear Antiques and Books in Berryville, ARkansas.
Now, about that mysterious woman…WHAT does the female in fiction reveal about the living, breathing, female…about me and you?
Let’s look at a bit of history first. I think most of you are familiar with the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series by Lucy Maud Montgomery, especially with the first book in the series which covers Anne’s life from ages 11 through 16. That book came out exactly one hundred years ago, in 1908, and sold 19,000 copies in Canada during the first five months. (Remember, telegraph was the method of rapid communication in those days. Radio and telephone were in their beginning stages and weren’t in common use. Talk about books or anything else didn’t zip around the globe!)
But, before long millions of copies of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES were selling around the globe. What was it that almost guaranteed this book’s success? Well, of course it had pathos. It had Victorian virtue. It had spice, because its appealing protagonist was a bit of a scamp. But still, why the popularity? BECAUSE MOST BOOKS AVAILABLE TO YOUNG PEOPLE AT THAT TIME WERE WRITTEN FOR BOYS! This novel was water in the desert for young girls.
Female readers and writers as well as women generally have faced many literature deserts over time. Often books intended for women were insipid, wordy, and sweetly romantic in nature–not the more lively stories and mystery novels that are popular today.
That’s not to say there weren’t any mysteries that might appeal to women. The first few mystery novels featuring women protagonists were published in the 1870’s in England. One of those was by Wilkie Collins, known as the father of the detective novel for THE MOONSTONE. His book, THE LAW AND THE LADY showcased Valeria Brinton, who made heroic efforts to find enough evidence to clear her husband of a murder charge. Though the book might seem quaint to us today, at least Valeria managed to bypass or ignore many social rules and restrictions that burdened women of her day.
Next time: Anna Katherine Green.