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FEATUREby it. Anna is a character in transition – or in breakdown, some would argue. It would be impossible to refer to her as a victim or an innocent or a career woman, though she contains elements of all three. What is striking is the honesty with which her often conflicting lives (physical, emotional, intellectual) are portrayed, and this is surely why so many women revere this book.Written six years earlier, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Long View finds a less schematic way to ‘name’ women, exploring a long marriage of 30 years from end to beginning, mainly fromthe wife’s perspective. Antonia is a survivor of warring and indifferent parents, of a predatory older married man, and then of a phenomenally selfish and controlling husband. But she is also an efficient and highly critical mother, a society hostess, a passionate lover; she is intelligent and emotionally acute and she knows (I want to say, ‘names’) her husband to a T. She is not his victim, although we might all disagree with the choices she makes.It is partly the time-scale and structure ofthis novel that allow Howard to push beyond victimhood: she begins the novel at the end, with middle-aged Antonia hosting a party for her son’s engagement. Gradually we move back through the stages of her marriage, to her girlhood. Each stage is real, vivid, vital – but naturally, at each stage, she is a slightly different person. The complexity Lessing achieved by splitting Anna’s personality between the four notebooks is here achieved by revealing a character in transition through time. And the result is that the character changes and is never predictable, never clichéd.In My Name is Lucy Barton (2016) Elizabeth Strout’s woman narrator is looking back on a long hospital stay she endured in her 30s. While Lucy was in hospital, her mother visited for five days. Lucy had been estranged from her family since she went to college, and her mother has never met (and never does meet) her two granddaughters. This is a novel that ‘names’ mothers and daughters, and it is about memory.At first glance, Lucy is a victim. As childhood memories are revealed, we learn of extreme poverty – her family lived in an unheated garage attached to a remote farm miles from any neighbours. At the age of five she was locked ina decrepit truck with a brown snake; she was abused both physically and emotionally; she was an outcast, labelled ‘stinky’ at school; she has been lonely all her life. But Strout is interested in a more complex picture than mere victimhood. And that is what saves this novel from being trashy. (I use the word deliberately – Lucy castigates herselffor calling a friend’s behaviour ‘trashy’; ‘trashy’ describes something simplistic, and so, when used of behaviour, describes something not properly understood).THE THREE FACES OF EVEJane Rogerslooks at how women novelists portray complex female charactersIn Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, Anna Freeman (ironically named by her author) uses the term ‘naming’ to mean speaking honestly and revealingly. To ‘name’ somethingJANE ROGERS is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, and radio dramatist. She is author of nine novels, including The Testament of Jessie Lamb, Man-Booker longlisted and winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award 2012. She is Emerita Professor of Writing at Sheffield Hallam, and teaches ShortStory forFaber Academy.Herlatestnovel is ConradandEleanor.www. janerogers.infois to describe it accurately, and thereby to know it. Listening to a man talk about her friend Molly, Anna says, ‘I was struck by how he spoke of her, extraordinarily acute about her character and situation... He was “naming” her on a level that would please her if she heard it’.This set me thinking about how we ‘name’ ourselves, as women writers. How do we depict our own experience of being women? Obviously, women can write great male characters (Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell, Marilynne Robinson’s John Ames) and men can write great female ones (John Updike’s Janice in the Rabbit books, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Kathy in Never Let Me Go). But are there female stereotypes which even the best of us sometimes fall back on?A rhetorical question, because clearly there are; you have probably already come up with a list. For example:► The Victim (of an abusive relative, of an uncaring partner, of patriarchal society, or maybe all three)► The Ingénue whose innocence is cruelly crushed (or is she just another victim?)► The Heartless Career WomanIt’s easy to reduce any character to caricature but, conversely, I think it’s interesting to examine some of the women writers who succeed in ‘naming’ us by moving beyond type into real complexity. In a sense The Golden Notebook (1962) provides a blueprint, because Anna is interested in exploring her own contradictions. She is a ‘free’ woman, who has rejected the idea of marriage; yet she is heartbroken when her lover of five years leaves her. She sleeps with a range of other men: sexual liberation is both freedom and misery. She is a writer who cannot write and has scant respect for the successful book she has written. She is a communist at the moment when the truth about Stalin emerges.The novel’s structure reflects the deep divisions in her life. It consists of four notebooks: blackfor her writing life, red for her political life,yellow for stories where she tries to make senseof her experience, and blue for her diary. Her greatest struggle is to keep herself open to every experience and to be willing to be changed42 Mar/Apr/May 2017 mslexia


































































































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