Thursday, September 14, 2006

Can men write romantic fiction?

The poetry anthologiser and television producer Daisy Goodwin has suggested that "men...don't figure very largely as writers in the romantic fiction pantheon."

Is that accurate?

Boyd Tonkin gives the question a good working over at the Independent: click here to read his interesting commentary.

Included with Tonkin's thoughts are reflections by seven women writers on male-created female characters that worked well (or not) on the page. Here are three of the responses.

Kathy Lette, author of Dead Sexy and other books, suggested:
"Becky Sharp," William Thackeray
For the most part, men cannot write female characters convincingly. The exception is Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Becky Sharp was a literary antidote to all the wet and wimpy female fictional characters of the time; heroines who were polite and one-dimensional and invariably got rescued by something tall, dark and bankable... With tongue in chic and lashings of chutzpah, Becky Sharp was the Madonna of her day, flaunting tradition and challenging hypocritical sexual mores. OK, she had a few minor faults - snobbery and sexual kleptomania (Becky climbed the social ladder lad by lad); husband-hunting (she wasn't interested in Mr Right, but Lord, Sir, Marquis Right at the very least). But we're talking 1810. With no vote, no union, no fixed wage, no welfare state, no contraception, what options were available to women? Apart from governessing or domestic service, it was prostitution or marriage. (Often a tautology in those days.) And what a survivor. After the nuclear holocaust, all that will be left are a couple of cockroaches and Becky. Now that's a real woman!
Katie Fforde, the best-selling author of Highland Fling, came up with one of my favorite minor characters in a great series:

"Sophie Aubrey," Patrick O'Brian
Patrick O'Brian was a fantastic portrayer of intimacy. He produced the most tender romantic scenes and really got under the skin of his female characters. In Sophie, Jack Aubrey's romantic interest in the Aubrey/Maturin novels, he captured the complexities of women, showing the maternal feelings women can have towards men and the fact that women don't expect constant heroism from them - men can have their failings. O'Brian was fantastic at characterisation - very, very good at reading people, whether male or female. There are a lot of men who know a great deal about women but aren't able to convey this on paper. But not O'Brian. I think the theory that men can't write romantic fiction is wrong. A lot of men are very romantic and would go to the ends of the earth for the people they love. Women can often be more pragmatic.
Amanda Craig, author of Love in Idleness and other books, named one of my favorites:

"Anna Karenina," Leo Tolstoy
There is a clear difference between what we call "ChickLit" and the broader sense of romantic literature. But in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy got totally inside the mind of a woman who is prepared to lose everything for the sake of man and who is so much in love that she commits suicide. I don't like her as a woman, but I think it is a brilliant portrait, unequalled in literature. However, while many male writers, such as Nabokov, can write wonderful love scenes, I do not think they ever get how important love is for women and how their entire life hangs on it.
Click here to read the other comments.

--Marshal Zeringue