Monday, September 7, 2015

Guest Post by E Journey, author of Between the Two Worlds series.

Strong Women: Beyond Swooning and Smelling Salts

          All my female characters are strong. From protagonists to secondary characters, including those who pass for villainesses. I can’t write them any other way. These are women who know—or at least learn—what they want and go after them. Women not daunted by obstacles. Women others can rely on.
          Heroines, of course, can make mistakes, have characteristics that make them vulnerable or fragile and villainesses can have lovable attributes. They would all be boring if they’re perfect or totally evil. And there may not be a story worth telling. In any case, life isn’t like that.
          Why choose strong women in my stories?
          Partly, it’s because of how I got into writing novels. The first one I wrote is set in Victorian times, a sequel to a well-loved classic-cum-miniseries. Most authors who’ve written sequels to Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South were enamored of the alpha male hero, but I was intrigued by the female heroine.
          Like most people, I didn’t have high opinions of typical Victorian females—repressed, subservient, timid, inferior to men (because they couldn’t cultivate their abilities), and in need of a man’s protection. Exceptions existed but were sadly rare in real life.
          Regency and Victorian period fiction, however, had many exceptions among the few novels focused on a heroine: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane Austen’s Lizzy Bennett, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliott, and Gaskell’s Margaret Hale, to name a few. Heroines with minds of their own, ready to defy society or conventions to follow their hearts.
          It seems like everyone is writing sequels, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. I had a long history of writing, not fiction, but essays and social science reports. In my sequel, I focus on Margaret blossoming into a Victorian feminist.
          I’ve continued the trajectory of strong heroines in the contemporary fiction I’ve written. From Elise to Agnieszka, to Leilani. Despite different histories, all are intelligent, strong-minded, and passionate about what they value. Each finds her own way, and forges an identity (as lawyer, pianist, or psychologist) separate from the man she loves, but within the limits of who she is and of sociocultural practices of modern life.
          Secondary characters are also strong and, I hope, not unidimensional: for example, beautiful and vengeful Lori, loyal and irrepressible Leah, lusty and talented Aunt Jola, single-minded and traditional Mrs. Talar, and secretive and maternal Mrs. Torres.
          Why make them all strong? Because, in real life, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, our strengths are not too obvious, but they surface when we meet adversity. Besides, weak villainesses don’t make worthy opponents, and we relate more deeply with strong protagonists—live their frustrations and triumphs, share their joy and sadness, ride along with them in their adventures, and grow with them as they surmount obstacles.
          For me as a writer, strong women characters are more fun and satisfying to write. Otherwise, I’d probably turn off my computer and concentrate on painting. A tragedy because I love creating with words.
          Strong women are empowering. They give us hope, make us root for something, and reinforce our belief in humans, more so when we see them deal with issues and problems that we, as readers, also confront.

In picture: A Victorian Press.
Also by the author:
Article on Feminism in Gaskell’s North and South

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