On being a writer...

A celebration of the writing process, of being a writer, of all the weird things that pass through a writing brain...

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

What do you do with your time, dear lady?

I went burrowing through the library for a good old-fashioned read over Christmas and found a Trollope I'd never heard of called Miss Mackenzie.  Crazy book.  Clearly a bit of a potboiler, if you'll forgive me for saying so, Anthony. With weird, completely redundant chapters such as one entitled 'The Negro Soldiers' Orphans Bazaar' - which our heroine attends in figured muslin.

The novel is purportedly about two things:  money and matrimony.  But to me its theme is what on earth  are genteel women supposed to do with their time - especially if they have the merest smattering of cash?  Miss Mackenzie inherits some money which makes her prey to a set of despicable, money-grabbing suitors, including a clergyman with a squint and a chancer called Rubb, and her own cousin who's a fifty year old widower with nine children.  While Miss Mackenzie waits for a lawsuit to be settled she spends acres and acres and acres of time in a room, doing NOTHING.

What was Trollope thinking of?  Miss Mackenzie
stays in lodgings or other women's houses so there's no housework.  She doesn't read or write or sew or receive visitors.  She does NOTHING.  And this is the source of my frustration with the novel.  I like my heroines, even Victorian ones, to be busy.  Jane Austen ladies are ever busy - even if just engaged in sniping at each other as in P and P.  They walk and talk and sew and play the piano.  If they are poor they work.  What did Trollope think a woman did if he simply placed her in a room, without purpose and without books?  How can you suspend a heroine in time and space like that and give her nothing to do?  Or was the reality that thousands upon thousands of genteel women of limited means actually did NOTHING all day.  I don't think so.  My burrowings into history have taught me that women with busy minds are rarely still. They might get into mischief like Miss Woodehouse or the younger Bennetts but they are certainly busy.

Women have always had minds.  A mind must feed on something.  And if it does not, then that is a theme of a novel in itself. So come on Trollope, think again.  Give Miss Mackenzie something to do, or let her howl with the pent up frustration of a prisoner in solitary.  Don't just suspend her in time.

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