the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Women writers! How do you relate to your female protagonist?

on March 31, 2019

As part of the research for my PhD which accompanied the writing of my novel The String GamesI came across the work of Judith Kegan Gardiner who discusses female identity and writing by women. She suggests that where women write about female protagonists there is a special link and proposes the analogy ‘the hero is her author’s daughter’. When I first read this, the idea that I could regard Nim (my protagonist) as my daughter caused concern. While I recognised that other women writers may regard their female protagonists in this way, I resisted the idea of applying the analogy to my own situation. I was afraid that if I thought of Nim as my daughter, a natural progression would be to conclude that Jenny (Nim’s mother) represented me. This I did not want to think about. The character of Jenny is by no means an idealised mother: she is short-tempered, snappy, stressed, clumsy, resentful and all manner of other negatives. Her redeeming quality, however, is that she genuinely wants to try to be a good mother.

tsg final cover image for use on_web

The more I thought about the possible link between my protagonist and me, the more I came to realise that I was not her fictional mother – Jenny takes that role in the story – but I was her author-mother. This realisation enabled me to approach later drafts of the novel with deeper understanding of my characters and my role as an author in “mothering” my young female protagonist. It also brought into play the idea of separation–individuation, the process that girls and mothers go through in order that children can go onto to become unique, independent adults. I came to understand that by the end of my work on the novel, I needed to separate from the character of Nim I had created, so that she, as my protagonist-daughter could continue her life in a fictional context through the minds of my readers and I, as the author-mother, am free to go on and create other characters in new fictional writing.

As this is a special post to mark Mother’s Day in the UK, 31 March 2019, I wonder, how do other women writers feel about their female protagonists? Do the theories of Judith Kegan Gardiner chime with you? I’d love to know what you think – please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thank you.


8 responses to “Women writers! How do you relate to your female protagonist?

  1. jim bates says:

    Very insightful, Gail. I love how you separated out the mother/daughter relationship of your novel from a fictional mother to an author mother. I can see it applying to when I write about fathers and sons as well. I’m really looking forward to reading you novel and can’t wait to receive my copy in the mail.

  2. Paula Harmon says:

    I’m not sure – had never thought of it like that. I tend to think of them as extensions of aspects of myself (or more usually, an aspect I wish I had or wish I hadn’t!) I’ll have to ponder.

  3. Paula Harmon says:

    Actually – having contemplated this a bit longer, I’ve just realised that NONE of my main characters have mothers. Three of them have mothers-in-law. This is a worrying thing – I’d never even thought of it before.

  4. peggyaylett says:

    Really well expressed Gail

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