Etymological discovery of the day:
Self-pity is not a recent term. And by “not recent,” I mean older than sibling, hello, and aristocrat. It goes back to the 1620s (!).
I checked because I thought it might be some modern pop-psych formulation. Apparently not! It seems we’ve needed to describe this particular phenomenon for a very long time.
On Tumblr, there was a discussion of race in fiction, kickstarted by the suggestion that people (read: people of colour) should identify with characters of any race, and are shallow if they need specific similarities.
My take (originally here, but in case of the Tumblr apocalypse):
And it’s been shown that, for instance, girls will readily identify with girl or boy leads, whereas boys struggle to identify with girls. POC are used to identifying with white characters, but white people will often resist identifying with POC characters (particularly ones they can’t mentally editorialize as white: for instance, white fans often conceptualize Japanese characters in Japanese media produced by Japanese creators directed at Japanese audiences as European or North American).
So the issue at hand is really, really, really not POC who call for more diversity being unable to identify with white characters. Most of them can and do identify with them all the damn time, because that’s what’s overwhelmingly there and what everyone is socialized into doing. It’s white people who struggle to identify with characters of colour, and/or dark-skinned characters particularly.
(Remember how people screamed bloody murder over a sweet, innocent, murdered child being played by a black girl? Even though she was obviously written that way? Because suddenly it was harder to see her as pure and sweet and childlike? God.)
My friend India Valentín has a great discussion of “the fallen woman” in the Victorian years. Something I found interesting, if horrible, is how similar it is to the mores and tropes around the issue in the eighteenth century, which had very different conceptions of women in many ways.
Of course, the ultimate discussion of this in England is Mary Wollstonecraft’s famous treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She discusses multiple scenarios for how women could become unwed mothers—teenage ignorance, seduction, exploitation by predators—and then moves onto the shaming of rape victims:
When Richardson makes Clarissa tell Lovelace that he had robbed her of her honour, he must have had strange notions of honour and virtue. For, miserable beyond all names of misery is the condition of a being, who could be degraded without its own consent!
I’m studying for the GRE-Literature, and this is one of the few things Wordsworth said that I agree with:
Hence I have no doubt, that, in some instances, feelings even of the ludicrous may be given to my Readers by expressions which appeared to me tender and pathetic. Such faulty expressions, were I convinced they were faulty at present, and that they must necessarily continue to be so, I would willingly take all reasonable pains to correct. But it is dangerous to make these alterations on the simple authority of a few individuals, or even of certain classes of men; for where the understanding of an Author is not convinced, or his feelings altered, this cannot be done without great injury to himself: for his own feelings are his stay and support, and, if he sets them aside in one instance, he may be induced to repeat this act till his mind loses all confidence in itself, and becomes utterly debilitated.
—William Wordsworth, 1802
The more I write, the more I feel that “Oh, but it’s a fantasy world! You’re not actually depicting any real cultures” is not at all useful or productive. For one, if you can’t see the connection between something like Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire and medieval West Europe, I don’t know what to say to you. They are not direct depictions, but they are very, very evidently rooted in history and culture—and the baggage that comes with them.
It’s true that the connecting fibres are much thinner for some works than others, but while most are certainly not on the scale of Middle-earth or Westeros, many follow in that kind of tradition. In my day job (such as it is), I study the early Renaissance in western Europe along with the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain, and those interests constantly pervade my fiction. I did as much historical research for the first chapter of The Timewalker as for straightforward historical fiction, because most aspects absolutely are drawn straight from history.
At the same time, of course, it is a fantasy and a secondary world, and those are never going to be directly analogous.
I don’t think of myself as a gamer. I’m … someone who plays a small selection of video games on the “normal” setting. In my misspent youth, I was even known to play on Easy.
That said, the character-focused ones are 1) fun! and 2) weirdly useful writing tools.
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll see that most of my posts are transferred over from my Tumblr account. This one, however, is a WordPress Exclusive, entirely because … let’s say, it’s not the sort of discussion where Tumblr shines.
My best friend and I have been having a conversation lately that could be summarized as Writing Problematic Material (and How to Avoid It* (Without Floundering Eternally in a Mire of Doubt)). How do you avoid writing problematic** things? How do you recognize when you’re doing it?