Saturday, December 03, 2005

Where Are All the Female Magicians?

Susanna Clarke does a Q&A about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

There was an interesting question about where all of the female magicians were in Clarke's book. And I have to admit, that question never crossed my mind. I felt Clarke was writing a certain sort of book, set in England during an alternate 1830s-ish sort of time and narrated in a written-in-the-1850s sort of way (I always read the narrator as male, though Clarke says that in her head the narrator was usually female). So the role of women in the book, as characters, would be pretty traditional. A male narrater wouldn't be much interested in what they did, or ask the question about where all the female magicians were. It wouldn't come up. When you have an opening about the boys' club of pseudo-magicians meeting together with the "boys only" sign on the treehouse door, you don't expect to see any women trying to knock it down when they're stuck wearing corsets and haven't had anything like a Seneca Falls convention and the entire book is about proper upper-crust sorts of people who wouldn't dare think to upset that particular status quo. Though magic may be another matter.

Sure, you'll have some female rebels in every society, but that's not what the book was about, and I think that concentrating on female rebels would have made it another book entirely, and that wasn't the book Clarke was set on writing.

So... no female magicians? Didn't bother me. She's apparently got some in a short story of hers - they just never fit in the book.

Because of the story she wanted to tell, and the way she wanted to tell it, I can forgive Clark for not going into the subject of female magicians.

However, forgiving the lack of relevant female Jedi in every single goddamn Star Wars movie? Especially the first three where there are tons of rebels, the perfect place for a rise in fighting women?

Not so much.

(via Meghan)

3 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Andygrrl said...

The short story with the lady magicians (and they are ladies, very genteel Englishwomen) is pretty fun. Like, if Jane Austen's heroines could turn all the cads in her novels into frogs, that kind of thing. And Jonathan Strange makes an appearance (is is just me or is he totally Clarke's version of Henry Tilney?). The title escapes me, but I found it in one of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Collections, I think when it was still edited by Terri Windling.
Anyway, the absence of female magicians in JS&MN didn't bother me either. I didn't expect them, any more than I would expect a Jane Austen heroine to try to join the local regiment. 

Posted by Andygrrl

a cornellian said...

I would point out that if you pay attention to the expande3d universe in starwars there are a fair number of women. And Mara Jade is definitly a jedi and definitly likes to kill things...Leia isn't a weak characher either, i mean she ends up running the new republic for a god chunk of time. There is a jedi who loses her arm and keeps going anyway. There are a good number of female piolts (see rouge squadren series). Dala, although she can't seem to keep track of supers but, Issard, nutso evil lady but strong, Mirax. One of Han Solo's girl friends was involved in getting the original death star plans. Winter basicly kept them going for a while, but she was more of a recon person, but. There are atleast two distinct clans of female assains, but they might be too clieche. There is aura sing who kills jedi for fun. There is the dark women who is this shadow female he causes touble/good depending on her mood, the witched of darthmoore (that is wrong, see The Courtship of Princess Leia), Calista, and such. And that is just what i came up with off the top of me head...

Padme is a pretty strong characther in the the first 2 movies...she just ends up dating a nut case.  

Posted by a cornellian

Anonymous said...

It also speaks to a larger issue than this. Seneca Falls was mostly an elite response to the official legal oppression of the times. It would take most of a century to become a more widely based popular movement. Still history and private dairies tell us of many, many remarkable, independent and strong women who asserted their rights and liberty in the face of stiff opposition, and in the almost complete absence of organized allies. Where the hell are these women in SF? They were there in the 1830's, in Crimea in the 1850's in the worst conditions imaginable, they ran the Sanitary Commissions during the Civil War saving lives and inventing the more successful wings of battlefield medicine. Where the hell are these voices in SF? Why the complete lack of imagination that seemingly is only happy to exclude such women in favor of nifty, reliable but severely constrained plot and tired character devices? This is why new voices are needed, and why you can be successful in exploiting this glaring lack. [This is a delayed comment that was just discovered after blogger ate it originally.] Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'  

Posted by VJ