I spent my morning reading and replying on the Women’s Fiction Writers Association website to a discussion about defining women’s fiction. One of the topics was trends in Women’s Fiction, and in that thread the topic of “girl” and “wife” books came up. Bestseller titles tell you much about the trend: Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Kitchen God’s Wife. Girls who are women trying to save themselves, as one commenter on the thread so aptly put it.
It’s official. History made. Glass ceiling — well, not if shattered, a network of cracks so numerous and widespread you know whose head is going through it soon. America may well have — at last — our first female president. So how has literature responded to the new world that presidential campaigns seem to indicate is approaching, a world of equality for women?
Last year, complex and unlikeable but interesting female characters led the NYT bestsellers list, that’s how. And you see it everywhere, even in the world of romance novels. Complicated women are interesting. People want to read about them. Some of us want to write about them. Check out this Atlantic article about 2015’s leading, complicated literary ladies. The sentence I like best is this:
“Perhaps most refreshingly, these novels aren’t so much heralding a new age of female-centric literature as they’re building on a much older English-language tradition of works about complex women.” It made me remember how much I love Austen’s heroines, and the reasons I do like them, despite the sappy-happy endings. I recalled how enthralled I was with Middlemarch, arguably the best novel in English, at least so acclaimed during the 20th century.
And now we’ll get to watch a complicated, imperfect, strong, intelligent woman lead the headlines for months and months. It will be interesting reading.
By the way, The Renaissance Club, my work-in-progress, features a young woman art historian learning to be one of these strong characters who leads, not follows, in her life. Stay tuned for news about the book.