- Posted by Johanna on October 2, 2007 at 7:33 am
- Category: Meta
Guest post by David Oakes
I have just finished Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, a critical analysis of all literature from the dawn of civilization to the current day, and I am prepared to present a list of all adventure stories featuring an active Heroine, one that takes charge of her own destiny and moves the plot:
Gerda, of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, who saves her love from an eternity of doing math, and
Solveig, of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, who stays in a cabin behind
an impenetrable wall until her lover finally travels all the way around the
world and is saved by her love.
Yeah, I don’t know about that one either. But he insisted she was an active Heroine more than once. The next best choice was Ariadne, who gave Theseus some string to find his way out of the Labyrinth. Considering that in most stories, they don’t marry, and in fact she curses him for using her love and kills his dad, I am thinking not much of a role model.
Of course, Booker’s age shows as he deconstructs what has gone “wrong” with Literature over the past 200 years. His hypothesis is that as society focused on the secular, the transcendent qualities of “emotional feeling” and “seeing the whole” were marginalized. Since these are (his) traditionally “Feminine” characteristics, women were similarly marginalized.
Now to be heroes, female characters had to emulate men, which was “wrong” because this made them too Masculine and imbalanced. Of course, when male characters came into their inheritance and “saw the whole” Kingdom, ruling wisely with regards to the “feelings of others”, they were made complete. But women were just imbalanced. (Though to be fair, if men showed concern for another’s feelings outside of trying to be a wise ruler, they were “too feminine”.)
In fact, he is not only able to link this “failure” to the Romantic Movement, he pinpoints the exact beginnings of the “Persecuted Maiden” archetype: Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748). It then takes off in Marquis De Sade’s Justine (1787) and lasts pretty much through today. Again, he simply dismisses current trends as “wrong” and longs for a day when Men can be Men again, like during WWII. Me, I’m Hegelian, so I see it as Women on a Pedestal (Thesis), Women in the Mud (Antithesis), hopefully leading to Women as Equals (Synthesis). Only another two hundred years, right?
But barring his attempts at cultural relevance, it is still a massive undertaking of critical theory, tremendous in scope and simplicity. So I still recommend the book. Maybe just stop reading half way through.