By Lauren Hooker
The characterisation of the female in most female-led novels is the pursuit of love or marriage: Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, the conspicuous narrator of ‘Rebecca’ -to name a few. Yet why is this, when it is completely inaccurate?
An important thing to note is the distinction between women dedicating themselves to finding love and society pushing them towards it. Novels about women being pressured by society to marry do not necessarily highlight an inaccuracy as much as they highlight an injustice. In other words, if Elizabeth Bennet were real, her love-story would not have been too different.
However, what is even more frustrating than the theme of women being persuaded into marriage is the idea that women actually dedicated their lives to it, that they actually couldn’t exist for any other purpose than to be married! This can be shown in examples of novels about a woman searching for a man; such as D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love” (fitting title). Alternatively, it can be shown by highlighting the absence of novels where women do normal things, or ‘men’ things; such as writing, having a job, playing sports; or where women do really extravagant things such as having a life! As Kelsey Mckinney put it, “women don’t take road trips to find themselves; they take road trips to find men”. The majority of our literature fails to create powerful women, but it’s not just powerful women we are lacking: the Lady Macbeths, Rhoda Nunns and Scout Finches -those who have done particularly significant worldly things – but women who do pretty normal things. Literature has normalised the female pursuit of love.
“The Odd Women” is a book written by male author, George Gissing, and he actually did have the right idea. The title refers to the number of women who could not find a marriage partner as a result of a purely statistical imbalance: there were more women than men! And this novel is written about the women who remained unmarried. Rhoda Nunn is perhaps the most fascinating character. She establishes a typewriting institution to teach women who were unmarried how to use a typewriter, so they could become financially independent. One of my favourite proclamations of Rhoda Nunn is the following:
No equality in love? I’ll do without! Children and motherhood? Unnecessary! Social castigation? Who cares!
And I think that speaks for itself. Indeed, whilst I am not arguing that romantic love is a bad thing, I couldn’t possibly pretend for a minute that it was necessary for the making of a woman, or for a great novel.