The Feminine Presence in Recent Literature

16 December 2021

Authors of fiction and non-fiction have long addressed gender issues and their real applicability to social and factual contexts, perhaps, even before it became of public interest. Some interesting examples are examined below.

Firstly, talking exclusively about the world of literature does not fully cover this area of interest. Given that reality is dominated by multimedia, entertainment, and in-depth analysis (excellent and recent mix), the topics are also touch upon in communications, cinema, visual arts, science, and journalism among others. We don’t have to look far to think of well-esteemed female figures with who we may also have a personal connection. Think of pedagogical stories or fiction for children, there are world-renowned authors. Joanne Rowling (speculative fiction) and Wendy Orr (adventure fiction) are two exceptional writers albeit from different fields. Joanne Rowling created and managed excellently the great Harry Potter saga (all volumes are published in Italy by Salani), thus benefiting from a worldwide success that began at the beginning of the century. In fact, the saga currently celebrates its twentieth anniversary. Wendy Orr, who also suffered from physical problems, is the creator of novels with an exotic setting and that present unusual, sometimes metaliterary structures. Think of Nim’s Island, North-South, 2008. The plot examines the paranoia, and obsessive and fearful behavior of an action novelist who rarely ventured out of her apartment (!). The novel is particularly exciting to read, when you imagine embodying certain roles that are beyond your means.

Also, in the field of education and childhood, Ursula Le Guin, who recently passed away, created one of the greatest sagas of speculative and the fantastic. Being a daughter of linguists, Ursula Le Guin’s work shows a clear anthropological stance. Whereas in her essays, her feminist positions subtly emerge. The great storytellers have, in fact, often drawn on the unconscious, primitive (such as Jean M. Auel) and mythological.

At times, they become exploration subjects of other scholars. Think of the incredible lives of Mary Shelley, or of Agatha Christie, whose novels stored in every home library on the planet. Marie Benedict sketched the figure of the English mystery writer in her latest novel, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie (Piemme, 2021), who she believed married a man who was not in her league. There are many essays or biographical volumes also dedicated to Frida Khalo (C. Bernard, “Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida”, tre60, 2021) and other women, artists, institutional personalities who marked history.

In this sense, the historian Eric Jager sets out on more slippery ground, describing the so-called last trial by combat (Bur, 2021), which took place in France in 1386 between the knight Jean de Carrouges and the squire Jacques Le Gris, in which the latter was accused of violence against de Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite.  The fight would have ended with the death of one of the two factions.

From the point of view of the history of law, it is an opportunity to analyze the institution of the judicial battle or trial by combat, putting one’s life at stake in a mortal duel in front of the ruler and divinity. Obviously, if the applicant for justice (the woman’s husband) had been defeated, the life of her spouse would also have been taken by burning, as she too was guilty. This brings to light those obscure and frightening times.

Ridley Scott’s recent film stages everything from an actualistic outlook in that Marguerite’s actions are read as current, hinting at female dignity in the face of imposed silences and abuses. Ridley Scott, therefore, uses the interpretative historical method, in which events occurring centuries apart are compared to current issues. This is brilliantly presented by the great director. However, as mentioned, there is a problem regarding the approach.

The issue of women (as well as that of gender, inclusion etc.) within cultural processes suffers from an excess of conflict–in this context, to be understood as the presence of an overly heated debate–that is unable to foster a debate aimed at providing clear proposals and solutions. Even the most effective communications channels (i.e., wanting to be oneself, to rebel) present a poorly concealed intent of dialogue, or are even explicitly aimed at creating a tense climate. This is incorrect or, at least in the writer’s opinion, it does not take us anywhere because this very approach is the first cause of human and political immobility. Not surprisingly, at the beginning of this reflection, we discussed children’s literature and pedagogy where readers are encouraged to explore experiences of wonder, ecstasy, and imagination (which is essential to distinguish fantasy from reality). It is possible to sway from imagination to reality through the skills of the thinkers and artists abovementioned as well as those of many others.

Claudio Mattia Serafin, Professor of Juridical – Cultural Deontology and writer

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