Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sitting and Chatting with author Laura Brodie

I am pleased that Laura Brodie, author of The Widow's Season has stopped by to chat.





Widows and Sex: The Literary History

The Widow’s Season not only describes the relationship between a grieving woman and her husband (is he dead or alive?); this novel also contains a love triangle that includes the husband’s younger brother, Nate.

But why did I bring Nate into the story? He’s the least developed of the characters—handsome, rich, and charming, but not endowed with an interior life. In fact, both of the central male figures, David and Nate, are less fully formed than the widow, Sarah, because I wanted to focus the narrative on her mental journey.

But why include a love triangle in that journey? And why make a widow, who is less than a year into her mourning, into a sexually active person?

There are several reasons. First, love and sex are dynamic topics to explore in a novel, although anyone hoping for hot and heavy sex scenes should try another book. Second, I enjoy playing with the idea of Doppelgangers, or doubles. Nate looks like a younger version of David, so I occasionally used him as a mirror figure, an echo of his brother. David creates portraits with acrylics and watercolors; Nate uses chocolate body paint.

Still, the key reason for Nate’s presence has to do with literary history. This novel grew from my dissertation on widows in English literature, especially 17th century plays where husbands fake their deaths in order to spy on their wives. Anyone who has studied literary widows knows that these women have been stereotyped for centuries as sexually voracious. Think of Chaucer’s
Wife of Bath, widowed five times and ready to welcome the next husband into her bed. She’s a lusty woman who talks freely about sex, and Chaucer got the idea for her character from centuries of misogynist writings that depicted widows as lecherous. In one grotesque example, Gautier’s The Widow (written in 1275), the bereaved women is described as having “a bearded counselor under her skirt with an appetite for meat.”

Up until the 19th century, women were believed to have stronger physical desires than men, and widows were at the top of the list of sex-addicts. Many men thought that once a woman was introduced to sex, she would have an insatiable appetite, and if a husband was not there to satisfy her desires, she would become a socially disruptive figure. The Widow of Ephesus, who appears in Petronius’s classical work, the Satyricon, has sex with a young soldier right in her husband’s tomb, just after burying her spouse. And as for those plays mentioned above, where husbands fake their deaths? The widows inevitably take new lovers, and the not-so-dead husbands exact punishment.

In my novel I wanted to acknowledge a widow’s sexuality, but do so in a way that was sensitive and respectful. Sarah is not a Merry Widow, by any stretch of the imagination. Of course there is a little bit of Hamlet behind it all—remember how Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, marries her brother-in-law? But The Widow’s Season is not a tragedy, just the story of a woman working through the most mysterious and difficult months of her life.

1 comment:

Laughing Stars said...

This book looks terrific! Thanks for sharing the review and interview.