I got a telling off recently by a woman who said or implied I was a male chauvinist.
(The pig part of that soubriquet, fortunately, was omitted. Though she may have been thinking it. I don’t know.)
This accusation was levelled at me (I believe) because I don’t write about women much and I haven’t much experience with the female end of the historical fiction market. I don’t read it either.
Also I kind of gained the impression that the individual I had offended lived and worked in the US, whereas I live in Britain–and the market, whether one likes to accept it or not, is different in these two countries.
(Whether I work in the UK is open to question–there are those who would tell you I rarely work…at least not if I can help it.)
So anyway, rather stung by this, I meandered into my book room a.k.a. the Growlery to try to assess if it was in fact true. Am I a male chauvinist?
I looked up and down upon my walls of book–all history and biography. And I shall be honest, there are very few female authors to be found there. Elizabeth Longford is there. Antonia Fraser is there. So is Mrs. Adkins. And Evangeline Bruce. And the wonderful Amanda Vickery who is a delight in all ways. (Yes, I’ve met her.) But the overwhelming majority of the authors are male.
I then made my way to the music room–the room into which another era of historical research has spilled. (You just can’t get the wall space these days!) That’s got all the Restoration history. And there, one fares slightly better. Chiefly because of the stellar work of Jenny Uglow and Prof. Lisa Jardine.
So then I got the cunning idea of producing a pantheon of queens for a blog. A kind of why I don’t write fiction about queens blog–with their pictures and bit of why I don’t write about them.
But that? That just depressed me more.
Because starting with Caroline, the wife of the Prince Regent, (with few exceptions) these creatures were among the least moral, least faithful, least inspiring group of individuals one could hope to find anywhere.
And I don’t want to write about one or more women who run a revolving doorful of lovers through their days and nights. (I honestly don’t want to read about it either…)
(In Caroline’s case there was a scent issue too as she was unaccountably averse to bathing.)
Yet what makes it worse somehow–at least to me–is that they were indulging in these endless rounds of shagtasmagoria at a time when hundreds of thousands of people–their subjects–were homeless refugees, displaced, starving, taxed with their livelihoods and their blood, their lives and the lives of their children sucked into wars, dying in their thousands…
I just can’t do it. Even thinking about it depresses me beyond measure.
Don’t get me wrong. There were tremendous people living in the early nineteenth century. Individuals of outstanding heroism, vision, vibrancy, tenacity, leadership, sensitivity and sheer bloody-minded courage. And I love and honour them to bits. They just weren’t the crowned ladies of the period, and often they didn’t wear frocks at all.
And if to say so makes me a male chauvinist, then I’m sorry for it, but so be it.