Gender Occupations

I am a huge fan, in many ways, of John Scalzi. I love how often he plays with my brain by not specifying the gender of someone at first, and because they are the captain or the doctor, my conditioned brain is thinking male. And they turn out to be female. Of course, Scalzi is writing in his own future universe, but he still had me spinning when a character that I assumed was human turned out to be not human. Very well done.

In writing historical novels, the limits on women are many. Wife, prostitute, seamstress, governess, lady’s maid, spinster, and wet nurse pretty much sums up the options for a Regency era woman. Further back, there was less class distinction but more expectation that a woman would do all of these things for her family without pay.

041016 lizzie and darcy

Regency men could be doctors, lawyers, politicians, and scholars if they had the money to attend the university. Also religious training could be found there. Poor men had to settle for being clerks, stewards, and possibly coal miners and farmers.

I love the novel A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley because it follows a fourteenth century woman from a simple beginning through an arranged marriage, surviving the Black Death, being accused of witchcraft and of saving women from some pains of childbirth (a sin because the Bible says it’s the punishment from Eve that women suffer) and eventually finding a place of her own in the world. It may be the first women’s fiction I read. I’m so glad I looked it up for this blog because there are two more books in the series! Who knew?

061616 vision of light

Back to the twelfth century, I expect many of you have read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Full of great references for how building was accomplished by men before laser levels and steel girders, there’s also a wealth of romance and love woven among the bricks and mortar. I have to keep looking up books I read long ago, because I found out there’s a sequel to Pillars.

061616 pillars

I’m stopping at the eleventh century before I lose my way back to the present. Or the Regency. Amazing book that I knew had sequels, The Physician by Noah Gordon explores medical science of the time, religious boundaries, and what a man will do to fulfill his dream. Like Vision of Light, there’s a paranormal element through the book, and an ending that makes up for all the trials and tribulations experienced by the main character. And again, it shows the differences in opportunities available to me and women.

061616 physician

This has been a fun chance for me to revisit books I loved, and think about how that story influenced my own writing. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.


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