What have I learned after a month with older women?

So that was August and this is my final post on the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative blog. I was invited by Karen Van Drie to explore older women in fiction around the world.

I have published 25 posts altogether (including this one). Three were written by guests, and many of the book reviews were revised versions of posts that had previously appeared my home blog, Bookword.

In part I have fulfilled Karen’s brief. I have been helped along the way by Karen, readers and some writer friends. Thank you for all your likes and comments and suggestions.

Pilsbury, Harry Clifford, 1870-1925; An Old Woman Reading
An Old Woman Reading by Henry Clifford Pilsbury

What I learned

I have always enjoyed the interactions made possible by the internet, and specifically by tweeting and blogging. It is always encouraging when people like a post or retweet information about a post. There has been lots of that.

And the willingness of readers to share their experiences of older women in fiction has been especially rewarding. In the penultimate post I shared twelve suggested titles that were new to me and my lists and which came from readers of the blog and elsewhere during the month. The post also lists every title included in the month’s posts.

I was disappointed not to have my attention drawn to fiction about older women from every continent. But readers have recommended some Japanese titles and Barbara Witt volunteered a post on a Chinese classic. Nothing from Australia or New Zealand. This is a big disappointment.

The novels I included show the unromanticised aspects of women’s lives in old age. These novels avoid the stereotypes about older women: that they are waiting for death, that they are frail and dependent beings, that they are still motivated by events of a half century ago, that they are eccentric or magical …

Some fiction is lighter than others. We have Eleanor and Abel by Annette Sandford on the lighter side, and The Door by Magda Szabo, (tr by Len Rix) with its more intense and dark aspects. Many of the older women are difficult characters. Many endure challenging and lonely circumstances. What the titles in my lists have in common is that they contain characters with authentic attributes, making decisions and reacting as living humans.

25 Gerrit Dow older w reading
An Old Woman Reading by Gerrit Dow

When I first began to search out older women in fiction I believed that there were very few and they would be hard to find. I was wrong. The belief persists among readers I think, although I hope to have dispelled it. For this month (and the series on my home blog) reveals that there is a great deal of fiction about older women for readers to discover. In addition to the 32 titles on the previous post, there are about 80 on the page on my home blog called About the older women in fiction series.

25 old w reading M Knoop
An Old Woman Reading by M Knoop

Changing the world?

Karen suggested that this month with its focus on older women could change the world. That sounds ambitious and dramatic, but I perhaps I have made a contribution to incremental changes in understanding of older women by promoting fiction with realistic older characters, tensions and dilemmas. I have brought more realistic and positive examples before readers, to interrupt the relentless narrative that life after 50 is awful and that it’s ‘downhill all the way (to use Carole Vorderman’s recent observations. (For her comment on a report on ageist attitudes see the post Is there any hope?)

We need to take into account that change can be slow and it requires action by us, you and me. And I finish my month’s residency on this excellent blog by repeating Margaret Mead’s famous remark:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Happy reading! And please come and visit the variety of bookish posts on my home blog.

Written and posted by Caroline Lodge of  Bookword

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