On the train home from the airport, I was thinking about something Vince (my post-colonial professor) said during my defense. I chose to read "The Princess in the Forest," and he mentioned, not as an actual criticism but more a comment on himself, that he'd found himself disappointed that I had chosen that story, because he'd read lots of stories about academics having affairs, and he'd hoped I'd read one of the first stories in the collection, the ones that seemed much more 'foreign.' It was an interesting and perceptive comment -- Vince went on to talk about how he thought his own reaction revealed that even he was subject to the desire for the exotic that he taught us to be wary of in class.
So all that is well and good, and a totally interesting and worthwhile comment on his part. And yet it startled me in context, because I just don't think about that story as a story about an academic having an affair. I mean, yes, my protagonist's professor husband does have an affair with one of his grad students, and it's a turning point in the story. But it's not about the affair, not really.
If I were going to characterize this story, I'd say that it's an attempt at a post-feminist story. That the protagonist, a woman who left academia to have children and try to be a good wife in the 1950s, realizes by the end of the story that she has lived her life as if it were a story -- twice. The first story started with her falling in love and getting married, and is a classic love story. And when that fails her, she becomes aware of how she has become trapped in wifehood and motherhood, demonizes her husband, and tells herself that it's his fault that she gave up on her dreams. I hope that by the end of my story, she's managed to walk away from both of those framing narratives, and has some hope of actually living a life she can be happy with. But whether she does or doesn't manage it, the story is about her realizing the limitations of the two very different fairy tales. And as such, I suppose it's my comment both on the terrible binding force of the male patriarchy and on the dangers of a too-simplistic kneejerk feminist reaction to it.
There. I don't usually feel the need to explain my stories, but somehow, I felt like Vince misread that one, and I wanted to set the record straight. He may well have gotten all of that and not been interested or not thought it was the important part of the story. It may not be the important part of the story. If you ask me tomorrow, I might tell you the story is about something else entirely -- like whether romantic love can survive resentment, or how a daughter's desire to satisfy her dead father can twist into something he would never have wanted for her. So feel free to ignore that whole long paragraph. I just needed to get it out. :-)