Diana Brackley from The Trouble with Lichen
Go back far enough and few fictional characters, especially those written by men, pass muster as truly feminist. Like the mainly white US suffragettes are tainted by the whiff of racism, most writers are products of their time and even the most benign intentions drag the patriarchy behind them like oversized luggage with broken wheels.
However, it is possible for a progressive reading of some of these texts to take place and for us to marvel at the insight of some of the minds behind them, long before they’d be reasonably expected to have got their sisterhood on.
One such work is John Wyndham’s The Trouble With Lichen. What he manages, in his own flawed and very 1950s manner, is to create a feminist character of quite remarkable fortitude, vision and single-mindedness.
Diana Brackley is not like her mother. She is unwilling to define herself solely as someone else’s wife or mother, or to remain in a state of perpetual dependence. But time, she is assured, is the enemy. Time ticks on for women. Their value, their attractiveness, their desirability and their fertility, all are falling away by the second. According to her mother, there isn’t time for a career, especially not for chemistry…whatever that is.
Diana knows that these things are a distraction at best. They’re something to relegate to the future, but she cannot quite shake the sense of the running clock. Men do not have these limitations, so why should she? If only there was more time…so when her diligence and scientific abilities uncover an anti-aging elixir – made from a rare lichen with a critically limited supply – she leaves her research lab and vague love interest, taking her discovery with her.
She creates a beauty clinic. While that appears literally superficial, it’s a wicked subversion of the concept, and since she’s treating these women without their specific consent, it’s a deeply transgressive act. Diana takes on the female condition – as seen through a 1950s filter – and disrupts it for her needs.
She has a vision, not just to extend lives, but to reshape the world. She uses the limited supply of lichen to create a long-lived group of female leaders, untouched by the rigours and judgements of age, who could exist on a level playing field with the men for whom the usual limitations do not apply. Such a cabal could change the world for women, forever.
In comparison, the love interest’s decision, to test it on his children, without their consent, seems small-minded, parochial and even cruel.
Of course, all this is deeply flawed. The restrictions society placed, and still places on women are entirely artificial and don’t hold up to scrutiny. Even fertility can now be reasonably extended, if indeed the woman chooses that path. Game-changing women do not require eternal youth. Yet even this generation of women still can’t shake the patriarchal obsession with appearance.
But as a product of the late 1950s, with the Second Wave of Feminism in its infancy, Diana Brackley is a game-changer and a formidable warrior for equality.
ORPHAN MONSTER SPY
by Matt Killeen
A Jewish girl-turned-spy must infiltrate an elite Nazi boarding school in this highly commercial, relentlessly nail-biting World War II drama!
After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah--blonde, blue-eyed, and Jewish--finds herself on the run from a government that wants to see every person like her dead. Then Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons. He's a spy, and he needs Sarah to become one, too, to pull off a mission he can't attempt on his own: infiltrate a boarding school attended by the daughters of top Nazi brass, befriend the daughter of a key scientist, and steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe. With years of training from her actress mother in the art of impersonation, Sarah thinks she's ready. But nothing prepares her for her cutthroat schoolmates, and soon she finds herself in a battle for survival unlike any she'd ever imagined.
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