Writing women…

…is a thing at which I do not excel. 

Not only that, I’m deeply uncomfortable with it.  Profoundly.  And view the whole idea with a degree of alarm and suspicion.

Which is probably why I had intended to have my latest book womanless.  Not because I’m a misogynist–though  I might have been accused of that once or twice. 

But because I’m just so lousy at writing them and having them convincing.  I mean, I just don’t get it.  (Unlike my friend, Paul House, who’s utterly brilliant at it, the soundrel…) 

So yes, there I was, having decided I’d make this easy for myself.  No women. 

I don’t understand them.  I don’t get how their minds work.  I have to work twice as hard on their dialogue…and as for their motivations?  God give me strength!

Though don’t get me wrong…I have read all about them.  I’ve read the superlative Amanda Vickery on the subject of late 18th century women, and Rosemary Baird, and Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth.  I’ve even read the popular novels serialised in La Belle Assemblee, such as Zara; or the Adventures of an English Wife.

But my determination remained the same.

However, then, something happened.  A phenomenon described most efficiently by Terry Pratchett when he talked about the need to watch out for those secondary characters you allow into your work, because before you know it, they will have taken over the whole thing and it’ll be off in a different direction before you know what’s hit you. 

Er, yes.  True words.

So I did.  By accident.  Introduce a female character. 

And what happened?  Well, exactly what Pratchett described. 

Before I knew what had hit me, my protagonist was completely smitten, decaptitated even–which wasn’t meant to happen and which I didn’t see coming, not at all…so much so that it was someone else (to whom we shall refer as my muse) who had to tell me “of course, the he’s in love with her.  It was obvious from the first time he laid eyes on her!”

And not only that, but those who see this nonsense before anyone else (my muse, my daughter, et al.) were threatening me that if I did anything, anything at all to her, they were going to give me what for.  Messily and painfully. 

In the case of my muse, I’m not certain it would involve that much pain, more like sullen disapproval; in the case of my daughter, I can vouchsafe that I would suffer.  A lot.  (I’ve seen her race a horse; she’s afraid of nothing.) 

So here I am, writing a female character now.  And under instructions on pain of pain not to do anything to harm her.  Or else.  (The or else to be decided by a court definitely not rigged by me.) 

And at this very moment in the action, she’s, er, well…well, actually, she’s coming along all right.  And to my surprise, I’ve found I quite like her.  I certainly approve of her taste in men.  So there we are. 

And if you think this babbling was all just an excuse to put this picture up, you’re right.  It was. 

Because I think she’s rather smashing.

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57 comments on “Writing women…

  1. authorsanon says:

    love Raeburn’s lighting . . he does make me think of Romney, and vice-versa.For me, they both have that freshness which best illustrates the coming of age of whole Regency scene . . .

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I reckon both of them are seriously underrated. We all look at Lawrence–and don’t get me wrong, Lawrence is tremendous–but like Allan Ramsey before him, I think Raeburn was among the finest, yet doesn’t get his due.

  2. You can write women, MM – you just have to love them to do it.
    I mean, we love women. But understand them? Not a dog’s chance in the netherworld.
    Still, it follows that since we don’t have to understand them to love them, neither do we to write them…if you get my drift.
    Eh? You do?
    (Psst..do me a favour and email me a quick explanation before the wife sees this post).

  3. Well, to say I’m disappointed is putting it mildly. Been keeping an eye on this post all week, don’t you know, hoping against hope that one or more of your lady readers might enlighten us. Offer a few tips, if you like, on how women really think.

    So with your permission, I’d like to voice my opinion on female writers. They don’t do men very well, do they? Pythonesque characterisation, often – not ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’, more ‘Camelot!!(It’s only a cardboard cut-out)’.One-dimensional. Women never seem to be able to get to grips with the complexities of the male psyche. They can’t write action with emotion, unusual given their reputed ability to multi-task. Why do you suppose this is?

    There. That ought to do the trick.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      You want to get me ranting, don’t you? You want to witness a full-scale Bennetts rant. About how the early 19th century was the most dynamic period of British history–the age of our greatest heroes, of engineering, industrial, scientific, poetic and literary dynamism; and female writers about the period, generally have some testosterone-sucking vampires have a go at the male characters before they ever hit the page, so that all you have are these over-dressed mannekins with a load of arch mannerisms and little else…there, will that do for a start?

      And now, I shall go look for a handy wall against which to bang my head.

  4. authorsanon says:

    “I don’t understand them. I don’t get how their minds work . . .and as for their motivations? God give me strength!”
    My thoughts exactly. My mother would, I believe, also concur.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      You will understand, I spend a great deal of my time being dumbfounded by the female of the species. But what’s even worse, when I have tried to translate this onto the page, when I have, in fact, written characters straight off women of my acquaintance…indeed, have lifted things straight off their tongues and bunged it into dialogue, it comes across as wholly unbelievable. I had a character in May 1812 who was straight from life–literally straight from life. And I had to cut her out. No one, but no one, could find her in any way believable. At which point, I kind of gave up on the whole lark, you know?

      • authorsanon says:

        This sounds familiar. . .It is, I suspect, a recurring phenomenon. Not everyone appreciates looking through the microscope – or is it simply a lack of world knowledge ? Who knows, or dares to think . . .am racking my brains to recall a similar instance, but it was definitely along the lines of cutting characters, or being ridiculed, because people simply refused to accept that such people existed . . .but why else do we go around saying (well, on occasion, anyway)’you couldn’t make it up . . .’ Of course not. We don’t actually need to make anything up in fact, BUT other peoples’ perception of themselves and those around them . . . is one whole different kettle of fish. Haha. Well, you know what I mean. Wish I could read the character you were obliged to cut out . . .Whoops, feel a brief paradoy coming on : Hush,hush, nobody cares, Perception and Sense have fallen downstairs.
        (NOw where is my nightcap . .my slippers . . and my candle needs trimming. . .(rings bell, enter maid with snuffer)- and where is my cocoa, I should like to know ?

  5. authorsanon says:

    And look at Clarissa versus Tom Jones’s Sophie ? I have briefly toyed with the idea of scribbling at length about this, but I doubt I have the time : my point being that with Richardson, I feel he never actually ‘met’ any of his female heroines, whereas Fielding, I suspect, did.Fielding’s women are alive and very, very voluble. Richardson seems to be on another wavelength altogether – well, Pamela versus Shamela sums it up, evidently Fielding also felt Richardson was less than convincing.But I diverge, methinks. Or do I?

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Richardson, yes…I feel the need for another head-banging session coming on. I think one could argue that Richardson’s works were intended to be moral tales and as such were high mimesis. Whereas Fielding just wanted to mock Richardson–and who could blame him–and write ripping good stories, and as the one half of the founding fathers of the Bow Street Runners, he had vastly more experience of the world than did most other people.

      • authorsanon says:

        They both had concerns about social conditions, but as you point out, Fielding, with his face on experience of life as a magistrate etc,was able to make his characters well-rounded; one feels he took them from life and added dimension with a wry grimace. Richardson I fear had no sense of humour. At all. Which underlines on the whole the one-dimensional aspect of his characters. There. Now I am looking for a wall as well . . .

  6. M M Bennetts says:

    I always put it rather more crudely, I’m afraid. Richardson always struck me as constipated from the neck down. Whereas Fielding, as Aldous Huxley pointed out in his essay, Tragedy and the Whole Truth, never failed to tell the whole truth; even when that meant having his heroine, whom he modelled on his beloved wife, fall off the horse in the innyard, thus revealing her callipygean curves in their full naked glory to the delight of the assembled ostlers and other travellers.

  7. authorsanon says:

    Hmph. Well, they didn’t have to look . . surely one of them thought to come running with a blanket or folding screen or summat, to cover up the good lady’s discomfort – and meanwhile, what was Fielding doing ? Busy noting it all down in his notepad for future use, of course, already the Plot forming in his head for the Tale of Tom the Ostler (or A Misplaced Saddle) . . .

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Now that sounds like a book I could write…ha ha ha.

      • authorsanon says:

        The Tale of Tom the Ostler (or A Misplaced Saddle)
        Chapter One :
        Wherein various travellers arrive at an Inn, closely followed by cutpurses, buck-fitches and guzzle-guts, who proceed to indulge in Bristol Milk. – Also wherein Tom the Ostler saves one lady’s virtue, and another lady’s fortune, and is taken into the service of Lord Uffham, much to the chagrin of Mr Obadiah Thrupp, in the Lord’s employ as tutor to his son George. There is a brawl in a Tavern, and Susannah, Lord Uffham’s daughter favours young Tom, causing violent jealousy in the heart of their travel companion Sir Whuppet, who empties an Oliver’s skull over Tom’s head at the earliest opportunity.

        (Enter Lord Uffham, followed by various other travellers):Ho there, Landlord ! fetch us some viands, and send the boy out to tend the horses, and when you have done that, we shall take rooms for the night . .

        Landlord : (to himself)Why, ‘tis an owl in an ivy bush – (to the Lord) At once, milord, and how many rooms will that be ?

        Lord Uffham : SusanNAH!!! Devil take it, where is the child, always prinking, and where is that paper skull, my son George . . .and his dog-latinned bear-leader . . .Mr THRUPPPPPP!!!!

        Landlord : I will set the whole first floor at your disposal sir . . .

        (Over to you now, heheheheh)

  8. M M Bennetts says:

    Tom: (with a wink at the audience) She be a fine-looking lass, so she do, tha’ Miss Susannah. I wouldn’t mind a bit o’ the…”

    Landlord: TWAP! (The Landlord cuffs the back of Tom’s head)
    That’ll be enough out of you, young Tom Prideful. If I hear you talking like that again, I shall turn you from your position and into the wayside like the orphan you be and deserve to be.

  9. Ben says:

    Mifs Comely Dumplings: M’Lord? I ‘ave ‘eard as yer Lordship was disappointed by those in your service. Might it be ‘oped as you’d graciously take me on?

    • authorsanon says:

      Lord Uffham :Well, well, you are an article and no mistake – but we’ll have no followers, d’ye hear ? Don’t want any maids twisting their ankles and bantlings running about, d’ye hear ? SUSANNAH!!!!Come here girl, I’ve found a new maid for ye !

      Enter Susannah, fit to swoon, followed by a couple of the guzzle-guts who attempt to offer her some Bristol Milk.
      Susannah : Oh sir, oh sir, they tell me it is best milk, too, – they will not leave off – what must I do ?

      (Mifs Comely Dumplings runs out and returns with a blunderbuss, which she lets off, thus dispersing the crowd)

      Lord : Nay, lass, nay – thou must aim it more – thus (takes blunderbuss and points after guzzle-guts, Susannha shrieks and collapses . . .)

  10. Ben says:

    Mifs Comely Dumplings: Ooooh, m’lord! How straight you do aim your blunderbuss, to be sure! ‘Ere, let me at it. (Takes back blunderbuss from ‘Is Lordship and dispatches three passing cutpurses.)

    Lord: Damme, but you’re an accomplished piece at handling weaponry. What other accomplishments do you possess?

    Mifs Comely Dumplings: Well, me lord, I ‘as been a dairymaid, a barmaid, a chambermaid, a lady of easy virtue, a structural engineer, and I also ‘as a Master’s in comparative philology.

    (Mr Obadiah Thrupp convulses violently and falls to the floor, foaming at the mouth. Always wanted to see that happen to someone.)

    • authorsanon says:

      Yes.It’s the foam, isn’t it.As if they’ve been eating soap. Always think of Henry II, rolling about in the rushes. . .
      ” . . a structural engineer, and I also ‘as a Master’s in comparative philology.” Well, there were a lot of it about then, see, not like nowadays . . .

      • M M Bennetts says:

        Enter Tom Prideful stage left, followed by a horse.

        Tom: M’lord, I ‘ave seen to your horses and ‘ave bed ’em down nice and proper, I ‘ave. With fresh hay and a nice bed ‘o straw. But I did wonder m’lord, what was your daughter adoing out there with that horse?

  11. M M Bennetts says:

    Lord: Well, stap me vitals, child, you are making poor Tom Prideful blush. Look at him. Do you not see how your flirtatious ways are affecting the poor lad?

    Susannah: (turning toward Tom) Indeed I do, Father. Mr. Prideful, you must forgive me. But I did so wish to understand how to mount such a fine saddle as was in the stableloft…

  12. authorsanon says:

    Lord Uffham : And where, pray, didst you come by all this learning of Filly Lolligatings and Strumpet Near ?
    Mifs Comely Dumplings (looking doubtful) Um, that’s Comparative Philology – and it was by this very long, long, long distance tutelage, milord. Sometimes took the postchaise nigh six weeks to bring me the next scholar – mostly sizars and tender Parnells . . .

  13. Ben says:

    Sir Whuppet (erupting unceremoniously onto the scene): Egad! God’s gonads! Christ’s corsets! (Spontaneously combusts stage right.)

    Mifs Comely Dumplings (observing dispassionately): Now *that*, on t’other hand, is structural engineering. Or engineered destructing. Or some such. (Pulls out CSI kit and sets about gathering forensic evidence.)

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Mifs Comely Dumplings: Now, milord, if you’ll just open your mouth so I can test for…

      Lord: Of course, dear lady…Ahhhh…

      Susannah: (aside to Tom) Meet me in the stables while my father is thus engaged.

  14. authorsanon says:

    Enter George much dishevelled and holding a bottle of port : Where’sh the shellar, father ? (hic) – and I have an appetite now, for Alderman and oysters . . . (leers at Mifs Dumpling)Well, wench, is my bed made up ? No apple pies, now (hic) . . .

    Lord Uffham : By Bacchus, he’s in his altitudes again . . where’s that Tom – Here, Tom, take this stewed addlepate upstairs –

    George : Ugh . . .

  15. Lou says:

    Miss Lily Ekerslike* (narrowing eyes at Dumplings): Philology, eh? I’ll warrant t’was Ye Open University. Goodness, that poor Chihuahua has got a limp!

    *[a passing milkmaid whose vowels have a soupcon of ferrets]

  16. Ben says:

    Mr. Obadiah Thrupp: Stewed apples and port? I don’t mind if I do. It’s a long while since that I last dined off an alderman. *belches*

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Mifs Comely: Unhand me, sirrah! Though cruel misappropriator of women! (she turns on her heel) Do not attempt to deny it, neither, thou frowsty-lugs, thou ape! I knew you for what you truly are. A corruptor of fine saddlery!

  17. Ben says:

    Mr. Obadiah Thrupp: A chihuahua, eh? Just the thing to wash down this alderman.

  18. SarahJane says:

    In fairness you did warn me about beverages and visits to the water closet prior to reading…
    SNERT….

    Perhaps it is now clear why I write guys…

  19. Ben says:

    Squire Western: Sophie! SOOOOOPHIIIIIEEEEE!! (Spits decay’d Teeth into Audience)

  20. Lou says:

    Miss Lily Ekerslike: Sir, I fear that said digestif chihuahua may still be ribboned to Miss Susannah. Anyone care to spontaneously invent Gaviscon?

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Mifs Comely: But fie! Where’s the saucy wench got to? With that chihuahua? For that was my dear aunt’s chihuahua, lately stolen from her loving arms by a dastardly foreflusher who posed as a lord with his daughter!

  21. authorsanon says:

    George : Hic.
    Lord Uffham : By Jove’s cheeks, is there no one to remove this Admiral afore he turns narrow seas ?

    George : Er, father, I don’t think . .
    Lord Uffham : Indeed, thou never dost
    George : I don’t think I . . .feel . . . (lurches forward,leaving Tom and Lord Uffham to catch him)

  22. Ben says:

    Thrupp: (Ignores the delicious Miss Ekerslike as he works his way up Susannah’s leg)

    George: Is that man praying?

    Miss Ivy Bush: A VISCOUNTESS! She is a VISCOUNTESS! (Stamps foot)

  23. authorsanon says:

    Lord Uffham : Hold! Who giggles there ! Why, ’tis that naughty strumpet Madame Bustlé – pull her out by the ankles, ’tis all her fault !
    (Tom obliges, but in so doing, relinquishes George whose weight now pulls Lord Uffham to the floor)
    Madame Bustlé : Well, but this is a merry jig ! What’s for afters ? (Skips away, chased by Tom)

  24. Ben says:

    Mifs Comely Dumplings: You wishes for me to ‘old, me lord? Why, that I fhall. (Holds His Lordship in the manner to which he wishes to become accustomed)

    • M M Bennetts says:

      More giggling is heard from under the settle. Followed by the scent of saddlesoap and a rasp rasp rasp noise.

  25. authorsanon says:

    And the aroma of Lady Dacre’s Wine .. .

  26. authorsanon says:

    It’s the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mr Handel. They are rehearsing – a trifle out of tune, it must be admitted,but pretty game, until finally the Maestro can bear it no more and, tossing down the rolled up score he has been using in lieu of a baton, shouts ‘God Rot Tunbridge Wells!’ and stalks off . . .

  27. junebugger says:

    June: Holy Smokes…!!! Turn this into a screen play now why don’t you.

  28. Ah – ladies at last! But no insights.

    I give up.

  29. M M Bennetts says:

    *takes deep breath* Righto, then. Off you go.

  30. Ben says:

    Mifs Comely Dumplings (emerging toufled but fprightly from behind an arras): Ooh, mifs, bangers? I likes a nice banger mefelf. I’ve always faid, faufages muft be eaten. And does you like bacon too? (Exits in purfuit of happinefs in the kitchen.)

    (Enter Mafter Plaguey Saucebox. Susannah brightens perceptibly and glances in the direction of the saddle polishing accoutrements.)

  31. authorsanon says:

    Half the London Orchestra tramples through at this point, en route to the kitchen for bangers and mash . . trailing allegros and non troppos in its wake . .

  32. See what I mean, MM – ‘mysterious’ and ‘strapping’.

    “Are you saying a swallow can carry a coconut?”

  33. M M Bennetts says:

    I somehow fear that that Plaguey Saucebox reference is a nod in my direction. Let it be known that I have never been entangled with a female called Susannah…well, yes, all right, but she was a poodle owned by a dear friend of mine. (I’m in the hole, but where’s the spade?) [‘Struth, I just made it worse, didn’t I? It’s no wonder all my characters want to buy a commission in the cavalry…I’m thinking it’s not such a bad idea myself.]

  34. Ben says:

    Was there *licking*?

  35. AS B says:

    Beautiful picture.

    About understanding women. It works on the assumption that all women work the same. I’m not sure that they do. Likewise for men.

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