No, this is not about yet another retraction of a Journal article related to someone's irreproducible results involving high-stakes biomedical research. It is about yet another novel that has a character who makes paranoid statements about feminists as she is thinking about her own life. As I was reading a novel recently, I found myself wishing that novels could have Errata, or retractions, or second-thoughts; that an author could realize "Oh no, those things I had that character say and think are really stupid in a way I did not intend" and then fix the problem. That would be a novel retraction.
Here are some excerpts from The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver; I don't know if these thoughts reflect the beliefs of the author, Lionel Shriver, or only her main female character (Irina), but I hope it is the latter:
Irina assumed that Jude was prideful in that wearing feminist way about the fact that she'd not taken her husband's surname.
She [Irina] didn't care if feminists would have maintained that she didn't need a man.
She [Germaine Greer] was that rare animal, a feminist with a sense of humor..
Older, she [Irina] was wiser to the woes that could fall abruptly from the sky like weather, and all that feminist brouhaha aside, a woman was safer -- plain safer -- when she made a survival pact with a male of the species.
Thus over Ramsey's protests she demurred from taking his surname, not from feminist zeal but because she could not afford it; the appellation Irina Acton would make official the very vanishing act at which she was already getting too much practice.
One gets the impression that this Irina character has an imaginary little feminist sitting on her shoulder, criticizing her every decision (no doubt in an unpleasant, shrieking voice).
I am sure that there are wearing, humorless feminists wandering around out there somewhere, hating all men and despising women who take their husband's name, but do I really need to say that those descriptions are not applicable to most people who would call themselves feminists? Perhaps the author only used statements like the ones above to illustrate the insecure mindset of her main character; if so, this was effective.
Whether or not the anti-feminist statements are part of the fictional world of the book or also represent the beliefs of the author, the question is: Do spurious anti-feminist statements like the above examples ruin a work of fiction for me, the reader?
The three most recent examples that I have discussed in this blog are Solar (I McEwan), The Perfect Reader (M Pouncey), and The Post-Birthday World (L Shriver); one by a male author, two by female authors. There are parts of Solar that I liked, and I can't say I hated the book, but there were quite a few things about it that I disliked. I hated The Perfect Reader entirely. And I didn't really like The Post-Birthday World (I liked Shriver's other books more). So, maybe..
But, in fact, I really don't think the occasional anti-feminist elements were central to my dislike of these books. The "feminists hate men", "feminists are humorless" etc. statements and caricatures certainly didn't help me like the books, but I would probably feel the same if a novel also involved repulsive stereotypes of scientists. Oh wait, Solar had that too.
I am trying to think of a recent novel that contains overt "anti-feminist" statements or characters, but that is an interesting, thought-provoking, well-written work of fiction. I don't mean "anti-feminist" in the sense of having a plot line about a woman who doesn't have a career and/or who is a 40 year old "girl" who loves to shop (I don't consider either of those anti-feminist). I mean "anti-feminist" in the sense of the excerpts above. I am sure there must be some, but my memory fails me right now. Any suggestions?
10 months ago