While reading THE WILD GIRL by Michele Roberts the last week, I called the influence of the author’s worldview on her work into question. This prompted me to re-examine my motivation for writing as well as my approach to my subject matter.
The Wild Girl is written in a simple style that belies the complexities of the issues it raises. First published in 1984, the novel addresses gender roles and religion in a bold way that was courageous for its time. Rewriting the biblical history of Mary Magdalene and her relationship with Jesus from a female perspective could have been viewed as sacrilege at the time. Combined with the tenet of the female goddess as framework, this relative short narrative must have been a controversial work at the time.
I was intrigued by the publication. The narrative falls into a genre that appeals to me, namely feminist writing that challenges stereotypes, gender roles and positions in society as well as containing elements of religion and spirituality. These are all recurring themes of most of my writing.
I was however, to a certain degree disappointed with the book. The narrative holds the potential to explore a variety of social issues to an extensive degree. Almost from the beginning of the narrative I got the feeling that the author had a point to make and was in a hurry to get it carried across. The plot felt rushed and the characters underdeveloped. The viewpoint that formed the framework of the story was conveyed not by the narrative itself but by dream scenes and sermon like monologues which robbed the story from a richness that it could have had. My own personal religious and spiritual background made it possible for me to follow the train of thought but I am not sure whether an uninitiated person would be able to unravel the mystery that the main character claimed as her mission, which left me with the question: for whom was this book written?
The author became the preacher, the opportunity that was Mary Magdalene, not only in history but also in the novel, denied. Roberts made her novel her pulpit and her writing her ministry.
The way that the author made use of the novel to convey a point of view, made me scrutinize my own approach and writing style and it also made me more aware of the effect and influence of the author’s own worldview and belief system on fictional writing. Can the two, namely work of fiction and personal worldview, ever really be separated?
I, firstly, write for myself. I write about what I know. I write about what I enjoy. I write to explore my life, the world that I live in and to process my experiences and my life journey, therefore my writing is permeated with my worldview, my values and beliefs, as well as my religious and spiritual perspectives.
Writing is a double edged sword to me, not only does it challenge me but also my reader. In my search for and exploration of answers to life and existential questions and possible solutions, I write in order to hear myself think, to formulate my thoughts and give substance to things that I assume or suspect.
I also use my writing to challenge and influence the mindsets of others as well as to open up conversation to complex social issues. For this I take existing worldviews, opinions and stereotypes and place them in different context where they can be examined and explored from a different viewpoint. I do not dictate on how things should be, I do not give solutions or answer. I do propose alternatives that can be explored by the reader. I question, I reason, I argue, I poke and prod and dissect all in the search for knowledge, understanding and new insight.
Do I then deliberately convey my worldview and beliefs through my non-fictional writing? Definitely.
Have I used my writing to preach or advocate a certain point of view? Unashamedly so.
Does it show itself in my fictional writing? Unquestionably.
Does it enhance or hinder the quality of my writing? I don’t know.
Can I write with empathy or at best impartially about things or issues that fall outside of or are opposing to my worldview? I would like to think so.
In most of my writing I boldly put my worldview out there, not because I think I am accurate in my perceptions or that it is the only viewpoint but just as part of who I am, as a portrayal of my lifestyle and a description of the world that I live in. It is my opinion, my perceptions and my depiction thereof. My writing carries its own genetic code which makes it unique. It is pieces of me painted in words inseparable from my core.
I found The Wild Girl a worthwhile read in the sense that it inspired me to look at my own writing with fresh eyes – not only to style, creation of character and plot but also the complexities of the themes that I favor. It gave me food for thought.
I salute the author for tackling a difficult and controversial subject, boldly and barefisted and thereby inspiring me to keep on doing the same in my writing. I thank her for what I could learn from her work as I continue to grow in my own craft.
©Copyright Micelle Coetsee 2017