Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Strong and independent women: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

If Penelope Lively’s heroine Claudia Hampton is not Exhibit A in the case against ‘strong and independent woman’ leading fulfilled lives, then I don’t know who is.

‘Strong and independent’ in this context are synonyms for abrasive, sexually rapacious, incapable of motherly or wifely love (never married, but a daughter she cannot love), socially outrageous, and so on and on. Hampton is an atheist, of course, except when the only man she falls in love with goes missing in action during WWII.

Lively won 1987’s Booker Prize with Moon Tiger, and critics appear to have mistaken Hampton – a renegade popular historian whose dominant lifelong personality trait was anger – for some sort of exemplary model of female comportment.

This feminist reading misses the emptiness of Hampton’s life, ending it in a hospital bed writing her own history, and wondering whether it has all been worth it. The icing on the cake, revealed late in the book, is that she carried on an incestuous relationship with her brother while they were both in their teens. Which explains a lot. 

Lively either trolled the Booker Prize judges, or believed Claudia Hampton lived a life worth living. I think it’s the former, and love her for it. Read it like that and you’ll see how we ended up with Western women wearing pussy hats and clamouring for the right to invite migrant rapists into the West. 

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