Friday, June 22, 2018

Something in a Summer's Day

A something in a summer’s Day
As slow her flambeaux burn away
Which solemnizes me.

A something in a summer’s noon—
A depth—an Azure—a perfume—
Transcending ecstasy.

(Excerpt from Emily Dickinson, A Something in a Summer’s Day)

What are you doing these summer’s days? I find it's the perfect time to catch up on my reading. With this in mind, I recently read our own Carmela A. Martino’s Playing By Heart.

I love historical fiction, especially those stories that focus on the feminine experience. We are all familiar with Laurel Ulrich’s statement, well-behaved women seldom make history. The sentiment underscored the invisibility of women in history. Not long ago, Jo Eberhardt wrote  about her surprising discovery when, after counting the books in her personal library, she found that only a mere 27 per cent of her books had female protagonists, despite “her conscious intention for a 50/50 split.” Further researching female protagonists in other media, she found that over 70 percent of lead characters in popular movies were male. And even in those movies that feature female protagonists (Divergent, Hunger Games, Twilight), male characters speak more than female protagonists, and thus still dominate the story. 

Megan Leigh suggests that  among many stories claiming to have strong female characters, one overriding issue seems to be distinguishing between strong and weak, and passive and active characters. A female who is caring, vulnerable, even emotional tends to be considered a weak character. Yet, a strong female who is aggressive, abrasive, even with difficulty connecting emotionally, is considered negative. Both types are flat, negating their own flawed, complex humanity. In contrast, male characters are often allowed to play the full emotive spectrum. Says Leigh, in too many stories, the strong female protagonist is considered “special,” the exception or chosen one. If only one woman is ever shown to be capable and complex, and is presented as the exception, the “very framing of the narrative in a way that has men writing off most females as incapable, is an issue unto itself.” 

What about our favorite TV shows that feature strong female protagonists that dare to tackle male-dominated jobs? These include super smart spies, corporate lawyers, political leaders, even homicide detectives. And don't forget about the growing trend in super heroes and wonder women.  Despite the implied power positions, these jobs are often in the background. Their story-lines are often dominated by the unhappy state of their private life. Despite being labeled as capable, they are often rescued by their male counterparts. While their male counterparts are dressed in practical clothing that allows them to run, jump, and maneuver themselves effectively, the female protagonist tends to wear form-fitting clothes, with shirts buttoned down suggestively, and high-fashioned heels. Even their boots have heels. Meanwhile, those who weld their power are considered manipulative, shrill, even overly cold and emotionally disconnected, and usually it is because they are unhappy without a man in their life. I could go on, but you get my point. 

It would seem, according to Tasha Robinson, that “strong female characters – someone with her own identity, agenda and story purpose – has become more of a marketing term than a meaningful goal.” 

Sometimes it is not always about the outrageous or the rebellious. Sometimes it’s about doing the unexpected. While the feminine hero may follow a similar path as her male counterpart, the language, the ordeals and even the symbols are uniquely her own. They neither seek domination over another or ascendance into elitist power. 

Choices are made when life no longer fits into her definition. 

This is why I love Carmela's new book.

“The day I decided to take my fate into my own hands began like any other.” So states Emilia Salvani, who is destined by birth order as second born to become a nun. Gifted with musical genius, she struggles to find a way to earn the respect of the maestro, and find a way to avoid a life in the convent.

Set during 18th century Milan, Italy, the story follows two sisters who navigate a strict Catholic social construct. Her older sister, Maria, is a gifted linguist. While her father hopes to secure a noble marriage, Maria longs to join the convent and help the poor. 

Carmela’s attention to detail in her luscious imagery as she builds this eighteenth century city is captivating. Her characters are fully-realized, complex beings, making choices and facing consequences as they strive to make a life of their own. Carmela includes an author’s note, detailing the lives of the two sisters who inspired this story. 

This is a thoroughly engrossing, lyrical novel. It's perfect reading for a summer day in the garden.

Happy summer reading!

Bobbi Miller


Cynthia Cotten said...

One of my favorite recent female TV characters has been Elizabeth Jennings, in the FX series The Americans. Yes, she could be cold and detached when she needed to be. But she also loved her husband, Philip. (The show was as much about their relationship as it was about the spying-- they were KGB agents in the DC area in the 1980s.) She was a complex, layered woman, while at the same time absolutely unmoveable in her loyalty to The Homeland. A brilliant show that just ended last month. The final episode still haunts me, weeks later--to me, a sign of good writing.

Bobbi Miller said...

Excellent example! Thank you! ❤❤

Carmela Martino said...

I'm so honored by your comments, Bobbi. ❤ Mille grazie! Thank you also for the poem excerpt. I wasn't familiar with this one.
Hope you're having summer-like weather where you are. We definitely are NOT!

jan godown annino said...

Appreciations for this food for thought about women characters.
And for this look today at Carmela's novel.

For TV discussionI still miss Blair Brown in "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd".
But I love RobinEllacott the woman character in J.K. Rawlings detective series for adults. In Jess Kidd's 2nd novel, THE HOARDER, I love the main character Maud Brennan.

Thanks for the book club moment.

Happy summer solstice weekend

jan godown annino said...

MaudDrennan (spellcheck won't take Brennan unless I hitch it to Maud.... so, not Brennan...)

MAUD.DRENNAN (not Brennan)

Jarm Del Boccio said...

I’m enjoying “Playing by Heart” as well . . . savoring every page!

Bobbi Miller said...


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