Article round-up... research never stops!
The last few weeks have been full of Covid-19 related articles. I’ve cut right down now and looked for more uplifting reading material. Well, articles that further background research for my writing anyway.
For instance, this one in the Irish Times about superstition, I would never disturb a fairy fort.
We’ve probably all got our little suspicions. The acts, thoughts, words we do or don’t say in certain situations. I don’t put umbrellas up inside because that’s bad luck (especially if you poke someone’s eye out or knock something over). I also don’t put new shoes on the dinner table (note I don’t put old shoes on the table either) or walk under a ladder (if you bump into it you could end up in a right mess). But are they really superstitions or practical common sense actions?
Is labelling an action or meaning as a superstition a way of trivialising a culture or social structure?
I don’t know but I certainly wouldn’t disturb a fairy fort if I came across one.
The next two articles I’m sharing with you are related. First up is Pat Barker on The Silence of the Girls: ‘The Iliad is myth – the rules for writing historical fiction don’t apply’.
And the second is a review of The Silence of the Girls by Emily Wilson.
The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, from the point of view of Briseis. Queen of Lyrnessus one day, Achilles’s sex slave the next. Throughout The Iliad, the women that are the catalyst (or excuse) for war have little to no voice. It’s all about the men, their trials and tribulations, and women are either a vague backdrop or trigger for yet more heroic adventures.
My main theme or prompt behind most of my own writing is giving women in history a voice. By looking deeper into the affairs of the men of the time periods I’ve researched, I’ve found that women were not as submissive, not as quiet, as history books and news of the day would have us believe.
Over the past few years, writers and historians have discovered many amazing women who worked in front of and behind the scenes of science, technology, medicine, history, literature, art, power and government (everything really). Women that were overlooked by the recorders of their time. At last, women are contributing to the research and recording of history and bringing more stories into the light where they belong. Even better is that the telling of women’s stories is becoming mainstream. We’re not all the way yet, but I can see and hear and read it happening.
Of necessity, many stories are fictionalized. It can be difficult to research people that have been deliberately hidden from society. The beauty of retelling the Iliad is that its fiction too so Pat Barker has a certain amount of leeway – especially when the point of view is from a character all but ignored and given little depth of personality.
Emily Wilson’s review recognises that the women in the story weren’t completely silenced. However, their words were formed and shaped around the men in their lives.
Barker keeps the main bones of the Homeric poem in place, supplementing Homer at the end of the story with Euripides. His heartbreaking play The Trojan Women is, like Barker’s novel, a version of the story that shifts our attention from the angry, des-tructive, quick-footed, short-lived boys to the raped, enslaved, widowed women, who watch their city burn and, if they are lucky, get a moment to bury their slaughtered children and grandchildren before they are taken far away.
This is an important, powerful, memorable book that invites us to look differently not only at The Iliad but at our own ways of telling stories about the past and the present, and at how anger and hatred play out in our societies. “The defeated go down in history and disappear, and their stories die with them.” Barker’s novel is an invitation to tell those forgotten stories, and to listen for voices silenced by history and power.