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The New Narcissism in Women's Fiction

April_H

New Member
Okay, I'm expecting to get worked over pretty thoroughly for posting such an unpopular opinion, but I believe dissent is a necessary part of valuable exchange so here goes...

I've just finished reading The Mermaid Chair, and came away from it with mixed emotions. It's well-written and I can relate to the protagonist's feeling of having lived a life that's too small, as I believe many wife-mother types can. But in the end the point of the story seems to be that the woman's betrayal of her husband was a necessary, and therefore acceptable, step toward breaking through to a broader sense of herself and her possibilities. This, despite the fact that there was nothing truly objectionable or controlling about her husband; she simply seemed bored with him, and bored with the life they'd built together. A similar scenario seems to pervade Eat Pray Love, and many other popular women's fiction titles nowadays.

In The Mermaid Chair, Jessie and her lover are portrayed as having made some great sacrifice by giving up their affair, but in fact the greater sacrifice was forced upon Jessie's innocent husband and daughter. While Jessie herself admits what she did was wrong and wishes she hadn't hurt her family, she clearly does NOT regret the affair and just as clearly views it as her salvation---not only in life, but ironically, in her marriage as well. As a fortysomething woman myself, I'd like to believe it's possible to have that mid-life breakthrough without breaking my husband's and kids' hearts in the process, but if I take my cues from the popular literature of the day, my best bet is to find a lover and get busy. :confused:
 

GERBAM

New Member
Ok
As a fortysomething woman myself, I'd like to believe it's possible to have that mid-life breakthrough without breaking my husband's and kids' hearts in the process, but if I take my cues from the popular literature of the day, my best bet is to find a lover and get busy. :confused:


LOL LOL LOL PLEASE FORGIVE ME FOR LAUGHING BUT YOUR COMMENT IS SO HEARTFELT AND I APPRECIATE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR!!

Since I am not familiar with the book and never read anything by this writer I went to Amazon to read a review of it. From what I saw the novel sounds like 'chic-lit' which is maybe why you reacted to it the way you did. And yes it seems to fit into the 'popular/bestselling genre' of the day.

If you would like to read a different book about a married woman and mother who is facing her future I can recommend THE SUMMER BEFORE THE DARK by Doris Lessing. True to form Lessing gives us a fascinating portrait of a woman who embarks on a journey to her soul. The story is allegorical and treats the choices she makes with pragmatism and understanding. The end is left ambiguous which further intrigues the reader.
This is really a literary novel.

ENJOY
 

funes

New Member
I won't pretend to have read a great deal of "chick-lit", but I have noticed a worrying degree of what you describe in many of the books I have read. I can remember many years ago having a female friend tell me that I should read Fear of Flying to help with my understanding of women. Halfway through, I put the book down and thought that if this is really what women are like our species may be doomed.
What may be more to the point, though, was reading a Billie Letts book - the title suddenly escapes me - which was recommended by a girl I was dating at the time. The gist of the book seemed to me to be that, having fled an abusive relationship, and found a good, decent, caring man, the heroine should then dump the decent fellow, for no discernible reason, post haste and run off on her own.
I'm not sure if this is a sort of self-destructive impulse - the emotional equivalent of self-mutilation - or what. Or, maybe, "happy" doesn't sell books.
 

HPMelmoth

New Member
I've just finished reading The Mermaid Chair, and came away from it with mixed emotions.

I haven't read the book, but from your description of it, I feel that I can understand what the author is getting at. I of course could be wrong since I have no idea how narcissistic the language it is written in is, but perhaps the author isn't necessarily prescribing other women follow the protagonist's reactions to her situation.

It seems to me that the author may be simply trying to shed some light on the emotions and motivations of those who do have affairs. The protagonist IS narcissistic herself, but then, all humans are. We just all show varying degrees of restraint.

People have affairs all the time. While it is not pretty for those who get hurt and often for those involved in the affair, it happens. The author seems to me to be getting at the idea that it does not always have to do with how well treated one is in a relationship; the protagonist finds being locked in a marriage stifling and needs to get out. Her affair was a step in that direction. As I said, you're right that it IS narcissistic and it offends our sensibilities, but that cannot change the protagonist's need. The cultural norm of "being tied down" in marriage just isn't working for her. The author may or may not be in favor of this dissolving this norm, but I suspect that is not necessarily so. Monogamy is healthier for the society as a whole, but sometimes the needs of the society and the needs of the individual are at odds. The author is trying to get at an understanding of one who chooses the latter.

Again, I could be completely wrong, so since you've actually read the book and I haven't, just understand I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about if the tone of the writing negates everything I've said :) These are just some thoughts I had about the subject.
 

BeerWench13

Active Member
I've found this plot to be the case in many books I have read, however, most authors justify the action by making the husband out to be either abusive or apathetic toward his wife.

I have not read the book to which you are referring, but I have found the same thing you have based on other books that I have read. I've been happily married for over a decade, and, while things are not always warm and fuzzy, I cannot imagine any reason to cheat on my husband. If he was abusive to me, he would only be that way once, for I would not stand for it, nor would I stay with him. If he were apathetic (as many men can be after a long relationship), I would address it with him and hope that he would come around to my way of thinking. I still would not cheat on him. I don't believe cheating to be right under any circumstances. My mother always told me to finish one thing before you start another and I feel that also applies to relationships.

Remember, however, that this is a work of fiction and I don't believe that you should really take a fictional story to heart in the real world. After all, I don't know about you, but I read fiction to escape reality. If I learn something, it's usually vocabulary or history, not practical advice for how to live my life since my situation will always be different, even if it is similar.
 

GERBAM

New Member
I've found this plot to be the case in many books I have read, however, most authors justify the action by making the husband out to be either abusive or apathetic toward his wife.

I think this depends upon the writer and his/her mission in writing a book about a relationship between a man and a woman. Literary masterpieces are in abundance for readers who want to stay away from the formula you mentioned above ... chick-lit​

Remember, however, that this is a work of fiction and I don't believe that you should really take a fictional story to heart in the real world. After all, I don't know about you, but I read fiction to escape reality. If I learn something, it's usually vocabulary or history, not practical advice for how to live my life since my situation will always be different, even if it is similar.

Actually fiction is a reflection of the real world. Nobody writes any kind of book without the collective unconscious kicking in and guiding the writer to reflect on current mores and the world as it is in the time frame of the story. Fiction often tells us more about how we are living and what is going on around us than non-fiction.​

A few posts above I recommended THE SUMMER BEFORE THE DARK as a great novel in which a woman has to come to terms with her middle aged empty nest life and her stodgy husband. Her journey is so rich in discovery and freedom that readers feel teh heat. The ending is left ambigous.

Personally I think we all need a break and should read a popular beach book from time to time. But for me real enjoyment and fulfillment from my reading comes in the form of wonderful writing, outstanding characters, a believable plot and understanding what the writer is trying to say. Such as ANITA BROOKNER
FAY WELDON
DORIS LESSING
MARGE PIERCY
A. S. BYATT
JOHN FOWLES
JOHN IRVING
TONI MORRISON
LOUISE ERDRICH
All of these writers put their heart and soul into their books and readers come away with the hum of the novel in her/his head for a long time. I can make you a list that would go on forever ............

Anyone have any other writers to recommend?
 

BeerWench13

Active Member
GERBAM said:
Actually fiction is a reflection of the real world.
Noted. However, I said the following:
BeerWench13 said:
If I learn something, it's usually vocabulary or history, not practical advice for how to live my life since my situation will always be different, even if it is similar.
I was not stating that authors aren't trying to make a point about certain aspects of life or society, just that I'm not going to read a fictional book and decide that since it was okay for the hero or heroine to act as they did it would be a good idea for me to do so. There is nothing wrong with gaining inspiration from fictional mediums, but many are not practical for everyday life and each person must make decisions based on their own experiences and situations.
 

fabkebab

New Member
Could it be that the idea of a wife upping and leaving the family is just terrifying to us (which makes the whole book seem unsettling)? The womans life takes flight, but only at the expense of a husband who no longer has any value?

When I see these books (I think i read the amazon reviews of this particular book after seeing a review in something like the Observer) it certainly makes me feel a little uncomfortable
 

SFG75

Well-Known Member
Okay, I'm expecting to get worked over pretty thoroughly for posting such an unpopular opinion, but I believe dissent is a necessary part of valuable exchange so here goes...

No, you won't get "worked over." You'll just see some posts to an interesting thread.:)

I've just finished reading The Mermaid Chair, and came away from it with mixed emotions. It's well-written and I can relate to the protagonist's feeling of having lived a life that's too small, as I believe many wife-mother types can. But in the end the point of the story seems to be that the woman's betrayal of her husband was a necessary, and therefore acceptable, step toward breaking through to a broader sense of herself and her possibilities. This, despite the fact that there was nothing truly objectionable or controlling about her husband; she simply seemed bored with him, and bored with the life they'd built together. A similar scenario seems to pervade Eat Pray Love, and many other popular women's fiction titles nowadays.

In The Mermaid Chair, Jessie and her lover are portrayed as having made some great sacrifice by giving up their affair, but in fact the greater sacrifice was forced upon Jessie's innocent husband and daughter. While Jessie herself admits what she did was wrong and wishes she hadn't hurt her family, she clearly does NOT regret the affair and just as clearly views it as her salvation---not only in life, but ironically, in her marriage as well. As a fortysomething woman myself, I'd like to believe it's possible to have that mid-life breakthrough without breaking my husband's and kids' hearts in the process, but if I take my cues from the popular literature of the day, my best bet is to find a lover and get busy. :confused:

O.K., so a few books feature this kind of template-a woman is bored and has an affair, life then blooms into some self-realization as to who she is and who she wants to be. Is that indicative of the entire sector of fiction writing by women today? I think you just found a few books along the same line and it looks as if that is what the majority of books is about. Is there some "cheating genre" out there? If so, why isn't it more noted in the media? I would think it would be, especially by those who would be shocked and horrified by it. I guess I would personally look for more confirmation as to whether or not this is the case.

Obviously, having an affair would not be the route to go if a person is looking for enlightenment, and the book you read was a piece of fiction writing. However, when such a thing occurs, do not the people involved reassess who they are and what they want out of their relationship with the other person? Could that not lead to a new life direction and sense of mission on the part of the woman, the lover, or the jilted husband as well? In real life, would that not occur?
 

GERBAM

New Member
'feminist fiction' ?

Noted. However, I said the following:

I was not stating that authors aren't trying to make a point about certain aspects of life or society, just that I'm not going to read a fictional book and decide that since it was okay for the hero or heroine to act as they did it would be a good idea for me to do so. There is nothing wrong with gaining inspiration from fictional mediums, but many are not practical for everyday life and each person must make decisions based on their own experiences and situations.

Of Course! You are correct adn I agree.
I took what you had originally written too literally.

But may I ask if anyone can give me a couple of examples of the particular writers or books that struck you as supporting a 'femininst narcissism'?
Hope to talk more.
 

GERBAM

New Member
O.K., so a few books feature this kind of template-a woman is bored and has an affair, life then blooms into some self-realization as to who she is and who she wants to be. Is that indicative of the entire sector of fiction writing by women today? I think you just found a few books along the same line and it looks as if that is what the majority of books is about. Is there some "cheating genre" out there? If so, why isn't it more noted in the media? I would think it would be, especially by those who would be shocked and horrified by it. I guess I would personally look for more confirmation as to whether or not this is the case.

HI
I think you are stating the case well. I do take issue with the presumption that it's only women writers who write these kinds of stories ... Nicholas Spark whose work is very popular seems to write on this side of the issue too. IMHO it depends upon the writer and the message or architecture of teh book. I listed quite a few writers who would pass the 'smell' test of this thread and i also asked if any of you can give examples of what books or writers you are talking about.
I have not read THE MERMAID CHAIR because I choose not read that author or her writing. She is enormously popular and millions of people read her books ... just not my style.

Obviously, having an affair would not be the route to go if a person is looking for enlightenment, and the book you read was a piece of fiction writing. However, when such a thing occurs, do not the people involved reassess who they are and what they want out of their relationship with the other person? Could that not lead to a new life direction and sense of mission on the part of the woman, the lover, or the jilted husband as well? In real life, would that not occur?

AGain I agree with you wholeheartedly but maintain the writer and individual book make the difference. It's not a question of a writer using an unhappy woman/man in a marriage taht is no longer fulfilling and one of them has an affair, or leaves etc. RAther it's how the writer frames this.
If you go back a few posts you can find just a few writers who do write about deep relationships, the woman/man connection, families, children ane while the writer is not giving anyone a cookbook by which to live she/ he may just hit on something that touches you deeply and sets you thinking about your life and relationships.

If you are talking about novels by writers like Jackie Collins or Sidney Sheldon than we are talking two different languages. Certainly the Mermaid Chair and her other writing is on a higher level than those two but we can find writers of literary fiction rather than popular fiction that treat the same subject in very different ways.

Just to name a few more writers that come to mind who tackle these kinds of problems and are write contemporary literary fiction
i listed these writers with my 3/3/ post
ANITA BROOKNER
FAY WELDON
DORIS LESSING
MARGE PIERCY
A. S. BYATT
JOHN FOWLES
JOHN IRVING
TONI MORRISON
LOUISE ERDRICH


and I would add
Rosellen Brown
Jodi Picoult
Thea Astley
John Updike

any other suggestions?
 

Sybarite

New Member
... Obviously, having an affair would not be the route to go if a person is looking for enlightenment...

Why not?

Why does enlightenment preclude anything that is relevant to an individual?

Immanuel Kant said:
Enlightenment refers to man's departure from his self-imposed tutelage. Tutelage means the inability to make use of one's own reason without the guidance of another. This tutelage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in intellectual insufficiency, but in a lack of will and courage. Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own reason. This is the motto of the Enlightenment.

If one has, for instance, lived a sexually repressed life, then sexual liberation can be the enlightenment – or can lead to the enlightenment – that one might need or be searching for.
 

Jez

New Member
Seems like this is a popular subject among many books/movies geared toward women. The Lifetime channel is filled with crap like this. My boyfriend's mother devours these kinds of books. It's really pathetic. I have a pretty low opinion of these types of books/movies, as well as of the women who enjoy them.
 

Sybarite

New Member
So, women having affairs is new and people writing and reading about it are deserving of a "low opinion"?

Nobody's read Flaubert's Madame Bovary or any Zola, I take it?
 

Leyland

New Member
I was excited when I first started reading TMC because I've lived most of my life at one point or another where the author set the book. Ugh. She took too much license with the geography of the islands for me so I wasn't thrilled about that, but kept going. I didn't finish the book because the herione and her family were just too conveniently southern-eccentric for me and while it is fiction, I thought the characters' actions and motivations were too self-cented in a very non-interesting way.

In short, I was bored with Jessie's affair.
 
Reminds me of movie "Little Children"

I would not take it too close to one's hart. It is not only women, but also men who find lovers while married. I think it is completely symmetric. No female narcissism as such - just life

And besides, here is a healthy look on the situation:

1). ALL of you live only once, on average 60-70 years long.

2). You are going to spend with ONE certain person all your life, while the marriage could have been just a mistake.

3). Isn't it a pity that we make ourselves think that there is NO OTHER CHOICE? What is the meaning of the life other than enjoying it? Just spend it? Reach your 60-70 and die knowing that you MIGHT have done better?

4). The problem is the kids. Once you decide to have some, you are responsible. So - produce them as late as possible. Till then, you are already 1/2 a life through, you've done all of your mistakes, you loved with all possible lovers... So one can breed.

And - if you are a man - take care that your wife will be employed, and very busy... All of the lovers (for female) come from boredom. Staying at home with kids, all the time - what can be better than sex with a stranger to brake the routine?

Besides, I suggest to read some Steven Pinker stuff - makes lots of sense, his theories on us, humans.
 

Jez

New Member
So, women having affairs is new and people writing and reading about it are deserving of a "low opinion"?

Nobody's read Flaubert's Madame Bovary or any Zola, I take it?

Were you talking to me with the first part?
 

Leyland

New Member
Reminds me of movie "Little Children"

4). The problem is the kids. Once you decide to have some, you are responsible. So - produce them as late as possible. Till then, you are already 1/2 a life through, you've done all of your mistakes, you loved with all possible lovers... So one can breed.

There's a lot to be said for personal freedom and keeping busy, especially within a marriage. Not to say it equates to serial adultery, just that spouses with the freedom to try careers and hobbies etc, without being joined at the hip to one another or chasing after the kids makes for interesting lives and reduces boredom! But kids do tend interfere with personal freedom. Pretty much kills it for women in the very beginning unless mommy has a nanny and can get free.

Women are more biologically restricted with the timing on reproducing - too late might be no breeding ability at all. Men - now they can sire babies until they're really old and doddering, but just can't pick them up! ;)
 

silverseason

New Member
Thanks for reminding us of Madame Bovary. We can also consider Anna Karenina.

I think there is another side to this. In a novel with the basic plot of a bored wife who finds herself - or the meaning of her life - in an affair, the point may not be the affair, but the woman's lack of resources, of imagination. So life is not so great as she hoped. (Maybe his isn't either.) Is the trouble in the marriage or in her lack of imagination or in a social structure which makes the marriage her reason for being? Writers can develop any of these possibilities, and they do.

For that matter, how many men with perfectly satisfactory wives also have affairs?
 

Sybarite

New Member
Were you talking to me with the first part?

Not specifically, no. I would quote you directly if I were. :)

Thanks for reminding us of Madame Bovary. We can also consider Anna Karenina.

I think there is another side to this. In a novel with the basic plot of a bored wife who finds herself - or the meaning of her life - in an affair, the point may not be the affair, but the woman's lack of resources, of imagination. So life is not so great as she hoped. (Maybe his isn't either.) Is the trouble in the marriage or in her lack of imagination or in a social structure which makes the marriage her reason for being? Writers can develop any of these possibilities, and they do.

For that matter, how many men with perfectly satisfactory wives also have affairs?

Good points.

I also remembered Shirley Valentine – book and film.
 
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