Of Female Agency and Self Discovery
Do you sometimes feel as though there’s another life out there that you’re not living? Maybe if you just made one change in your life then maybe your great purpose in this life will be revealed to you? Maybe if you changed jobs, or the way you wear your hair, or a particular scent, then maybe you would finally start to feel more aware and a tune to your own life? If you must feel this way, then know that this feeling is not unique to you. This is where books of self discovery find their meaning.
To start us off, we have Jodi Pioult’s, Harvesting the Heart. Here, we are introduced to Paige O’Toole, a new mom, who feels as though she is losing herself to the traditional roles that she has been forced to plat i.e. Mom, and doting wife. Before she became all this, she was an artist, a very talented one at that. Some even say that she could read auras. But now, between changing diapers, and making sure that dinner is ready when her doctor husband, Nick gets home, Paige barely has anytime to herself. This is what makes her up and leave one day.
In Laurie Colwin’s Happy All the Time, Holly Sturgis leaves town with determination and calm. She’s not fleeing her husband so much as simply claiming space for herself, distance from which to gain perspective—and adding a dash of daring to the familiar. (Gloriously, her husband’s resulting fear and nerves do nothing to dissuade her.)
Some writers are famous for their recurring theme of giving agency to female characters. One such writer is E.M. Forster. In her book, A Passage to India her female lead Adela Quested joins an older widow on a fateful trip to the fictional Chandrapore and discovers that an adventure in a new country should probably take into account the people who already live there.
In her other book, A Room with a View, Forster also follows a young woman on her quest for autonomy. I don’t even know what it is about book and the redeeming nature if Europe, but, as you read this book you will find that Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin travel to Florence and Rome, in search of a great adventure. However, life happens, and they experience a failed engagement, an elopement, and they even bear witness to a murder.
The search for the self is not always easy. If you’ve read The Children Stay, by Alice Munro, you’ll understand this better. Pauline, the female protagonist is on vacation with her family in Vancouver, when, without putting much thought into it, decides to leave her family, husband et al. for a younger man; one who she met in the most cliché way possible, at a motel. Her departure away from her routine life as a mother and doting wife doesn’t fill her up with guilt, or feelings of regret, if anything it just makes her happier than she’s ever been in years. This new found identity is both liberating and a testament to the fact that human nature may not be inherently good at all, and that’s okay.
Solitude leaves you with no one to decide for you, and no one to please, cater to or argue with. When you’re the one person you answer to, these books remind us, it’s only a matter of time before that authority starts to feel just right.