Inevitably, we’ve already had a couple of references to Helen DeWitt’s gender in the comments to the first week of The Last Samurai discussion, so I’d like to toss this point out there to everyone. I’m not one of those readers who thinks that an author’s biography is irrelevant to her work, and the fact is that several aspects of The Last Samurai make DeWitt’s gender germane to a discussion–in particular, the postmodern novel of information tends to be a boy’s club, so it is noteworthy that DeWitt is a woman; also, the plot of Last Samurai deals in no small part with fathers, sons, mothers, and parents in general, all things that will be seen in very different ways depending on which gender’s perspective you are looking from.
I thought Elise’s comments on DeWitt’s gender are interesting:
One of the comments above says “I don’t read many women authors and probably wouldn’t have picked this up without your suggestion.” Too bad, but one thing I love about DeWitt is that she quite bravely takes on a narrator and some subject matter (a mother and motherhood) that often confine women authors to women readers and does it in a way that rejects the gender corner.
I’d like to hear what other people think about this. Is DeWitt tackling these subjects in a way that’s significantly different from how most female authors would tackle them, and if so what should we make of that?
I don’t want to prime the discussion of this point too much, but I am certainly one of those readers with little interest in reading a book whose primary goal is to dramatize the dynamics of a parent/child relationship without leaving that Elise calls “the gender corner. (And this goes for writers of both genders; I have little taste for domestic drama regardless if it’s from the man or woman’s point of view.)
Now, obviously, parent/child relationships are one of the main themes–if not the main theme–of Western literature, and a lot of great books have worked this relationship in ways that expand–rather than diminish–it. And I think that’s certainly what DeWitt is doing here so far. So I have two questions: What is DeWitt doing right? And is this something that women authors in particular fail to do right?