In March, we introduced a new service: the Reading Doctor. Read more about Dr Louise here. And do feel free to request further prescriptions, as needed!
Prescription #16: I'm interested in stories that shine a light on those traditionally kept in the background in literature. What do you recommend?
Into the foreground
There are a number of novels which have sought to shine a light on the characters from history and literature who have traditionally been kept in the background. Many of these who have been brought to the fore have been women, the object of the gaze made observer, the silent given a voice. Such re-presentations allow us to think about the familiar from a different viewpoint, to recognise that stories are products of their time and place, and to encourage us to think about who is seen and not heard in our own narratives, and why that might be.
· Rather than the evil temptress who unsuccessfully tries to disrupt Odysseus’ journey home, the Circe in Madeline Miller’s novel is a woman alone in the world who must draw on her own resources to survive and thrive.
· The women behind their more famous husbands are the subject of Margaret Forster’s collection of biographies, Good Wives?: Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001, in which she interrogates the changing idea of what it means to be a “good wife”.
· Translated from the German is Christa Wolf’s retelling of the story of Medea and her chilling acts of murder, fratricide and infanticide, reframing her from in the light of the modern age and its concerns.
· The heroism and glory of the Trojan war is undercut in Pat Barker’s retelling of the story from the perspective of Briseis, the slave whose appropriation by Agamemnon sent Achilles into the sulk which had him withdraw from the fighting, in The Silence of the Girls, a magnificently feminist Iliad.
· Imagine how Gulliver’s Wife felt when he reappeared after being presumed dead, spouting nonsense about his travels, and dissolving her hard-won independence: Lauren Chater’s book does exactly that.
· Tracy Chevalier imagines the life of the figure from a painting by Johannes Vermeer in her book Girl with the Pearl Earring, giving voice, agency and subjectivity to a young woman held in suspension as the object of the gaze.
· Referred to only briefly and sometimes described as the most mysterious woman in the Bible, Mary, Called Magdalene is the central figure in Margaret George’s fictional biography.
· In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys tells the feminist and anti-colonial story of how Mrs Rochester came to be the madwoman in the attic so feared by Jane Eyre in Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel.