I’m not sure many people think about the gender of their book while they are writing it, but when I began The Earl of Brass as an undergraduate, it crossed my mind. While reading other steampunk novels, I was rather surprised by how the books seemed to either be very masculine (G.D. Falksen’s Blood in the Skies) or very feminine (Gail Carriger’s Soulless). I wanted to write a book that was androgynous, that had no defining gender for itself or its audience.
As part of my research for writing The Earl of Brass, I read through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World as well as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland in order to better understand Victorian and Edwardian adventure novels. There again, I found the gender gap. In Conan Doyle’s novel, the men leave their women at home and go on an adventure full of dinosaurs and savages, and while Gilman infused her work with feminist ideals, it was very much an us-versus-them mentality with a muddled ending where the women and men fall in love and go back to America.
I couldn’t stand it. Why does a book have to gravitate so strongly toward one gender? While writing The Earl of Brass, I tried to keep this in mind, and I think it ended up manifesting in my two main characters. Both Eilian and Hadley are rather balanced in terms of their gender identities. He is not a he-man who traipses into foreign lands and drains them dry for king and country, and therefore, he does not fit the Victorian ideal of what an Englishman should be. Hadley ends up going against the Victorian ideal of the idle woman when she takes on her late-brother’s prosthesis business. She also goes to the archaeological dig disguised as a man (a fop to be more precise, which ends up walking the gender line as well). When writing, I like to stay true to the Victorian way of life in terms of manners and decorum, and a woman at the dig would simply not happen unless she was married to one of the men and stayed out of the way for the most part. One of the solutions I found, was to bounce back and forth between Eilian and Hadley’s perspectives, eyes, and story-lines. I will admit that I was a head-hopper to begin with, but Virginia Woolf did it so masterfully that I wanted to do the same with my characters. Why can’t I bounce between their eyes and give a greater perspective on a situation rather than stinking to one person per chapter? As long as the reader knows who they are embodying, is there a problem with it? No. Much like camera angles in a movie, it changes a scene and gives a greater depth and sense of perspective in any situation.
Now that I am into The Winter Garden, I am not dealing with the issue of gender as much. It’s set in Victorian London (so no traveling and dealing with a cross-dressing character), but sexual orientation is now the focus and how in society certain sexual desires are “taboo” while others that are often much more perverse are allowed. That is fodder for another blog post, but I must ask my readers, while reading or writing, have you ever considered gender? As in the gender of the characters (beyond the Bechdel Test) and the story in general. Does the story slant to a very male or female audience?