Tea or Books? #38: male characters by women vs female characters by men, and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont vs At The Jerusalem

Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Bailey, and a bit of a debate about male and female characters. Here’s episode 38 – which is unusually short, but hopefully fun nonetheless. I’ve left in an amusing moment of drama…


Tea or Books logoMany thanks to Kaisha for suggesting men written by women vs women written by me – we had fun discussing it, and very much welcome everybody’s feedback. For the second half, we debate two books about old people’s homes – Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor and At The Jerusalem by Paul Bailey, which have a sort-of connection that readers of Virago Modern Classics introductions might have cottoned on to.

Do let us know any topics you’d like us to discuss – and which you’d pick from each category. Check out our iTunes page over here – ratings and reviews through iTunes or podcast apps always much appreciated. And hopefully we’ll back with a special guest next time…

Books and authors we mention in this episode are as follows…

The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells
Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Don’t Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Pamela by Samuel Richardson
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
Ian McEwan
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Mrs Harris series by Paul Gallico
Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Provincial Lady series by E.M. Delafield
Ian and Felicity by Denis Mackail
Charles Dickens
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli
Adam Bede by George Eliot
The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
Elizabeth Gaskell
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw
V.S. Naipaul
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
At The Jerusalem by Paul Bailey
Ivy Compton-Burnett
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster

8 thoughts on “Tea or Books? #38: male characters by women vs female characters by men, and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont vs At The Jerusalem

  • May 1, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    I cannot believe you have not used any of Colette’s writing here but chose no fewer than three by one of the Mitfords!

  • May 2, 2017 at 7:11 am

    A book I would highly recommend written by a man with a female main character is Theatre by Wm. Somerset Maugham. I thought he did an excellent job portraying a middle aged woman. This was the first book I ever read by Maugham and it definitely sold me on reading more by him.

  • May 2, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Great podcast — I thought you and Rachel had some excellent insights about men vs. women. I’ve thought a lot about writing outside one’s culture (it was first brought to my attention in library school during a class on multicultural children’s literature). I really liked Rachel’s point about how narrow it would be if authors only wrote about people like themselves.

    I’d also like to add that my favorite of Edith Wharton’s novels is Ethan Frome, which is a man’s story told in the third person by another man; and my favorite of Charles Dickens’ novels, Bleak House, is told partially in the first person by a young woman, probably the best of all Dickens’ women, Esther Summerson (and I agree with Rachel, most of Dickens’ women were pretty awful. He clearly had issues!) I also think that Anthony Trollope has a lot of great female characters.

    Looking forward to your next mysterious podcast!

  • May 2, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Well, I don’t agree with Rachel. I think Dickens created quite a few wonderful female characters: Bella Wilfer (Our Mutual Friend), Miss Flite (Bleak House), Flora Finching (Little Dorrit), and Jenny Wren (Our Mutual Friend) who is perhaps my favourite. Of course, they are less realistic than Trollope’s women, but you can’t deny that Miss Havisham is a creation of genius, can you ? Clifton Fadiman wrote in his Lifetime Reading Plan: ‘If Dickens’s characters are “caricatures”, as some think, why do they stick in the mind and continue to move us so strongly ?’ Couldn’t agree more.

  • May 3, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    I listened to your podcast about Jerusalem / Claremont, and thought you were a little hard on Paul Bailey. My reading was that Mrs. Gadny was slowly descending into madness, which started at the death of her daughter and was accelerated by the need to live with the hard edged and joyless Thelma. Even when someone in the home (seemed more like a relic of the Victorian workhouse) tried to reach out to her, Mrs. Gadny simply wasn’t capable of responding. Mrs Palfrey was a more sympathetic character (and Elizabeth Taylor is a more polished writer) but both characters were victims of age, circumstance and social attitudes to the elderly. Interesting that one book inspired the next.

  • May 5, 2017 at 2:14 am

    Wait Rachel, I cannot believe that you’ve never EVER read a book by a man written from a woman’s perspective that you thought contained things that a woman would never say. How can that be? Haven’t you read any of those unbearable books where the dude writer has his lady narrator waking up in the morning and being like “well here are my breasts, here they are” and being super weird about her breasts? Because I feel like I have read those books all the time and it’s SO WEIRD to me how obsessed dude authors are with lady characters’ boobs.

    Also, I don’t disagree with what y’all are saying that authors are able/should be able to imagine themselves into all sorts of different types of characters — but the problem with that argument is that its impact is to preserve a really shit status quo. It’s easy and feels sort of anti-censorship-y to say “writers should be able to write what they like,” but the impact of it — and we know this because we have decades and decades of proof — is that books about white allo cishet able-bodied people continue to comprise the vast majority of what gets published (and those are mostly by authors who have all those same privileges), and the few books with characters that stray from that perceived default ALSO are very frequently written by white allo cishet able-bodied authors. And many of those authors do not, in fact, successfully imagine what it’s like to be a person of color or a queer person or a disabled person, but instead perpetuate yucky stereotypes. The status quo and all the power is with privileged authors, you know? There’s never been a risk that we won’t have enough thoughtful, interesting, insightful books by and about privileged people; the risk has always been that we won’t have enough thoughtful, interesting, insightful books by and about marginalized people. And the second thing is what in fact is happening, and the #ownvoices and #weneeddiversebooks campaign are small ways of pushing back against that.

    *climbs off soapbox*


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: