Battlepanda: Susanna Clarke on Crook Timber


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Susanna Clarke on Crook Timber

The good people at Crooked Timber put together a panel on Susanna Clarke's excellent Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you've not read the book yet, I highly recommend it (and may I also be as crass to recommend that you obtain it through my Amazon Affiliates ad on the bottom right hand corner of this blog). And if you have, I highly recommend the seminar, and especially Susanna Clarke's reply to the issues raised.

Both Belle Waring and Maria Farrell were disappointed that all the central/more interesting characters in JS&MN are male. I understand their frustration at the short supply of compelling central female characters in fantasy fiction. Indeed, female characters are underrepresented and underdeveloped in many if not most genres. But the onus should not be placed on women writers to make up the difference. That would be an unfair burden, a tax on their creative powers.

The more fundamental source of the problem is societal, cultural. Starting from childhood, girls often watch cartoons or read stories where it is necessary to identify with male characters, but the reverse is seldom true. Micky Mouse and bugs bunny are loved by girls and boys. But boys are sure to be taunted and teased for admitting a liking to, say, My little pony. As a result, is it not surprising that women writers like Susanna have no problem crafting exquisitly nuanced characters like the adorably curmudgeonly Mr. Norrell, while even quite accomplished male writers often end up crafting their obligatory female love interests out of stock cardboard.