A Girl and a Half in All Directions
I’m a little discombobulated after a week with company in town, so nothing groundbreaking today, but I wanted to post something lest I get out of the habit and abandon the writing part of this little project.
My title comes from Orin’s description of Helen Steeply (whom we know to be Hugh Steeply). She’s a large, mannish woman (actually a man, of course, but she’s a woman from Orin’s perspective, at least), and it turns out that she’s one of a number of such women in Wallace’s work. For example, earlier in Infinite Jest, we’ve met the S.S. Millicent Kent. The short story collection Oblivion starts and ends with stories featuring large women (though only one of them is described in mannish terms, if I recall correctly). And once again in Infinite Jest, we have Poor Tony, who isn’t large, but who surely blurs the gender line. In Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, we get a distinctly masculine set of perspectives. Avril is of course parodic. Are we to draw the conclusion that Wallace simply wasn’t willing or able to confront authentic female characters?
His Broom of the System stars a female character in search of another female character, so I don’t think we can conclude that he wouldn’t write from a female perspective (or for a reasonably normal female character, at least). And of course we’re starting to get a view from behind the veil of Joelle van Dyne, and it’s feeling like her role in this book will be non-parodic and somehow authentic. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how strong or round a character he makes of her (I’ve read it all, but it’s been long enough since I’ve read past the current milestone that I’ve forgotten a lot of Joelle’s portrayal), with these other weird female(ish) characters as a backdrop.
I’ll leave you with an interesting quote from a part of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity outlining some of the earlier parts of the book (p. 45):
Consider the roles of women in this chapter: the attache’s wife is generally servile; the women in Clenette’s world are objects of love or lust and are beaten and afraid (fatally pretty); and Bonk — although put on a pedestal — is won by Green when he develops “a will.” Later in the novel, a female character will appear who is veiled like the attache’s wife, who has scarred flesh like Wardine, and who is fatally pretty and a drug-user like Mildred Bonk.