Where Fiction Fails, Revisited

Some of you might remember my post entitled Where Fiction Fails. I expressed a concern about a lack of strong, beautiful-on-the-inside female characters in fiction. Someone like the Proverbs 31 woman. Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility came up as a possibility, but her spiritual character might not fit my profile.

I attend a Charlotte Mason book study (Miss Mason was a gentle, wise educator in England around the time of Charles Dickens), and a quote from her book Towards a Philosophy of Education posed an answer to my problem. Listen to this:

Perhaps we are so made that the heroic which is all heroic, the good which is all virtuous, palls upon us, whereas we preach little sermons to ourselves on the text of the failings and weaknesses of those great ones with whom we become acquainted in our reading.

The reason fiction fails to produce a perfect lady is because we readers would despise her. Who is my favorite female literary character? Probably Jane Eyre. Is she perfect? No. She’s a little stubborn, becomes too attached to certain people, does things which might not be wise. Hmmm. Those things could describe myself. Perhaps I can conclude that fiction fails to produce a woman of very high standards because so few of us reach such high standards. How could an author make it seem real? And how could a reader sympathize with such a woman? It’s not the answer I was originally looking for, but it is the best answer I can come up with.

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5 thoughts on “Where Fiction Fails, Revisited”

  1. The perfect man is skin-deep in fiction too. The almost universal hatred of perfect in every way characters is embodied in the Mary Sue concept, but I feel it’s deeper than a trope name. Characters have to be relatable to us as people, and none of us are perfect. As a result, seeing a perfect character irritates us, since there is no way we could ever “suffer” the same “problems”. Flaws are part of what makes us human, and characters without them will never feel real.

    1. It seems a little ironic. You’d think a perfect person would be really nice to be around and listen to. You’d think we’d like a perfect character. But how does a writer write about perfection in depth? It’s like going fishing in a perfectly clear lake without any fish. Boring.

  2. Why is it that people relate to Holden Caufield from “The Catcher in the Rye” so much? It is because he has so many quirks and faults that are relatable to the common reader. The quote which you shared in this article is treading on grounds that angels fear to tread, but I agree with it. People think they may want to find the epitome of the perfect man/woman in literature but they truly do not. If it were found, it would cause the reader to begin a fierce introspective of themselves.

    Literature is so grand because novelists can give a window into their own hearts through fictional characters. The novelists are imperfect and the character will display that imperfection in their depiction. Authors know that the books which sell are the books which are relatable to us. The characters, therefore, will not be perfect, but realistic.

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