Elayne Chantrell is the author of Factory Bride. This interview discusses women in literature, starting with the female characters in her own novels and moving to the portrayal of women in books.
|Factory Bride: A Novel|
Factory Bride followed the journey of Elizabeth from a small village in Cheshire to becoming one of the richest women in Australia. I found that regardless of the challenges in
life, particularly the prostitution, was not detrimental to her likability as a
character. Why do you think this is? Elizabeth
I think perhaps that it is not the work she undertook, but the reasons behind the decision to become a prostitute.
Elizabeth is naïve and headstrong but she has
an innate responsibility to her son and Sarah. This caring side to her nature
shows through many times in the book. I think the reader wills her on to
succeed and fulfil some of the dreams and wishes she has, although they never
really come through and she does whatever she has to in order to survive. It is
not unlike present day when lots of us stay in situations that are not the best
whilst waiting for that lottery win. I also think that the reader gets as
frustrated with Elizabeth
and the situations she finds herself in as she does herself. Every time it
seems that things will go right for her, something goes awry and we are right
behind her offering our support because she is never complacent and picks
herself up dusts herself down and gets right back in the fray. I believe that
these are qualities we admire in others.
I think women always underestimate their strengths in which ever era. I don’t believe Elizabeth thinks of herself as strong or independent, after all she spends a lot of her time looking to others for support; Uncle James for example, or even Arundel. In the period that this is set, the circumstances that the majority of women found themselves in was something we could never contemplate today.
as we know it was only suffocated in effect by the patriarchal society - strong
women know only too well how to manipulate that sort of society, both then and
How do you think women are portrayed in literature?
I gave this a great deal of thought. When the main protagonist is female, then she is not unlike
Elizabeth, but peripheral female characters
seem to be imbued with ‘female’ traits’ – think the contrast between Scarlet
O’Hara and her sister in law?
I am not a great lover of ‘chick lit’ so would not be able to confidently give an informed opinion of current trends, but my view is that great books which are recalled immediately to mind seem to have a strong female character. I also wondered whether this was mitigated by the gender of the author. I am particularly thinking of Thomas Hardy’s Tess. And I believe that it does have a part to play in that it is a characterisation of its time, without doubt. I however, found her emotionally restrained. Even the final act was shrouded in a paucity of description. I concluded that female authors portray their main female characters filtered by their own emotional state at the time of writing, which is fluid allows the vagaries of portrayals to become more complex. Thus readers can identify with strands of the heroine’s personality and resulting actions which others may not relate to, and are therefore, when well written, three dimensional.
So in answer to your question, and without delving into a deep cultural and sociological diatribe I think on the whole women are portrayed in literature as much as they are viewed in real life, by which I mean, through the life experiences of the author. Whilst this might not seem like a definitive answer, take ‘Valley of the Dolls’ and strip it down for example, in essence Jackie Collins wrote about what she observed and or experienced. This lifestyle is shocking to some readers perhaps. It could be said that in the main the women were weak and subjected to male dominance. You have to ask how other readers understood their situation.
Are there any books where you haven't agreed in how the female lead has been portrayed?
It would have to be Tess. It has raised many discussions on who was to blame for her downfall. I felt as I mentioned that she wasn’t given the right emotional qualities that I thought she would have had. I think she was emotionally stunted and repressed yet he gave her a level of honesty that ultimately led to her spiral downwards. This is a debate.
Who is your favourite female character in a book and why?
This may be an unusual choice but I really relate to Jane Marple. I like the way she uses her own microcosm of village life to understand the wider issues and complexities of human nature. Now there is an independent woman of her times (I assume she was left money by parents) but there is more to her than first appears. She is an enigma.
Which female personality traits do you think are generalized too much in literature?
Sexual submissiveness. Almost as if all women desired was to be ravished and adored or to lie back and think of
I think women, I am not including the recent spate of ‘Mummy Porn’ are individuals
with individual needs.
Would you class Factory Bride in the genre of feminism?
I appreciate the great strides feminism has had in my time to reach a sort of equilibrium. I am not a feminist in the true militant sense of the word. I am fortunate in that I was brought up to know that women are as important as men. I know I am more intelligent than many men I know. On the other hand I guess I am really grateful that I have not had the full responsibility of having to work in order to provide a roof over my families head and food on the table. I have always thought that women of my generation had it all. Unless of course you want to go and run a major conglomerate and bring up a family of five kids, two dogs and all that jazz…. Before you are inundated with the screams of women out there, Feminism is not a working class priority! So no – I don’t class it in a feminist genre in a modern interpretation of the word. Women don’t have to be better than men; they have to be the best they can be. And
Elizabeth did the best that she could do.
Do you think female leads in books or a predominantly female dominated novel can appeal to a male audience?
It depends more on the subject matter of the book rather than male or female leads. I believe that Lisbeth Salender ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ was very much a book for men. Although the lead was shared it was Lisbeth who was very much predominant within the narrative.
Do you intend to write strong female characters in any future works?
I guess my background is dominated by strong northerly women. I admire the tenacity and compassion of women who have dealt with a great deal and still carry on stoically. It is not in many of our memories what it was like to live through the blitz… to get your family through the great depression… to wave your sons off to a war which took far too many young lives. Yet those women, the backbone of our society carried on. My next book is about one such family. Historically it is set in the 1920’s to the Second World War, but hopefully the issues that are dealt with are still relevant today.
And finally a random question: If you could be any character in any book who would you be?
Perhaps ‘The Wife of Bath’.
So ends a thoughtful and insightful interview with Elayne Chantrell. Factory Bride is out now and available at most major online retailers, including Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes and Barnes & Nobel for Nook. If you'd like to find out more, please visit her author page on GoodReads and Smashwords.