Novel Houses

on September 16, 2011 in Misc

So yesterday I read Michael Offutt’s blog SLC Kismet (http://slckismet.blogspot.com/) and what he had to say about what makes men tick.  Why they do what they do.  What to bear in mind about men when creating them in your novels.

I can quibble about a couple of his points, but his main argument about how men need to be somebody and need to win really rang true for me.   Which led me to the question…

What about women? What are our most atavistic urges?

Now before you start throwing around words like nurturing, mothering, children, sex and romance and clothes and more sex and romance and whatever, I’m gonna cut you off.  Instead I want to focus on a single trait I see in most women.  And yes, this trait shows up in novels too.  To whit…

Many women have an obsession with houses.

How do I know this?  Because I don’t own a house, which absolutely flabbergasts a lot of females of my acquaintance.  In the eyes of some of them, it’s as if I’m an abject failure, an alien creature who has never known the joys of true domestic contentment.  I am unfulfilled.  They give me unasked for advice on mortgages or why I should buy a house NOW because the market will never be better (a lie I’ve heard for years).  If I had listened to any of them I would now be upside down in a mortgage.  Yet not once, except for a lone male relative, has any man ever questioned my domestic lifestyle or lectured me about home ownership.  Men just shrug.

And this difference between the sexes is right there in books and movies.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Then tell me about James Bond’s house.

Doesn’t have one, does he?  What he does have is an Aston Martin and he’s always driving really cool cars for which he must have a swank garage.

Lara Croft has a big old mansion, but the rough and tumble jock stuff she does in it shows you that she and her place were created by guys.  The houses in Stephen King’s novels?  You don’t want to go into them without an ax and an exorcist.  Batman’s mansion is generic and unmemorable; it’s the bat cave underneath that matters.  Indiana Jones’ house is just a stopover between adventures.  In Star Wars and Star Trek, people bunk in space ships and swamps and forests and anything but a suburban subdivision.  In noir novels and movies the male heroes have apartments; only the crooked rich live in big houses.  Charles Dickens’ most famous houses are dumps inhabited by Scrooge and Miss Havisham.  Jay Gatsby’s mansion is a lonely, loveless expanse of American excess.  Hemingway?  He was as domestic as a nomad.  Huck Finn has only a raft and no desire to get civilized and house-bound.  In Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy may be trying to get back home, but once she does the story ends.

Then again, I have to admit that Sherlock Holmes famously lived in a comfortable townhouse on Baker Street.

In many novels, a man might fight for his ranch, his land, his farm, his cabin.  But I don’t know of any books that describes, in loving detail how a man moves into and cleans up a house and puts flowers in the windowsill in the kitchen.  But that’s what happens in women-written novels, like anything by Alice Hoffman or stories like The Physick Book of DeliveranceDane.  Charlaine Harris’s series with Sookie Stackhouse (note the name) describes the house Sookie lives in, how she inherited it from her grandmother, how in one novel part of it burns down and it gets rebuilt and redecorated.  It mentions the new curtains Sookie buys for the living room.

Men do not write about curtains unless there’s a killer or a naked woman behind them.

On the other hand, it’s women writers who’ve created some of the most famous real estate in literary history.

Wuthering Heights, that shelter for overheated romance, comes to mind.  At the heart of Gone with the Wind is Tara, the home Scarlett has in her blood.  And what about Hogwarts?  No, it’s not a house, but it’s a home away from home for someone like Harry Potter, whose relatives’ suburban abode is a miserable prison.  To Kill a Mockingbird has Scout’s and Boo’s houses, memorable because of the vibrant life that goes on in and around them.

Anyway, this is my take on women and houses and literature.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, more like a tendency or instinct.  But what’s real about so many women’s novels is the real estate.

6 Responses to “Novel Houses”

  1. Ben says:

    This is just a guess, but I think women may love houses because that is what they control. In many relationships the man provides, and although the woman probably works as well, she controls the home. It is her territory – she is proud of her domain. She can entertain in it, serve, be hospitable, love, and live all in her own home. The man is perfectly OK with that, as long as he is respected and feels needed. The woman needs to feel needed, and in only one of the fulfillments of that would be providing for the man in the home they both reside. But, as I said, that’s just “spit-balling.”

  2. Ben says:

    P.S. I am in no way saying the woman belongs in the home – i’m just saying they “make the home work” in many instances.

  3. Ciara Knight says:

    This is interesting. I NEVER had a desire to settle down so people thought I was strange. Give me a backpack and a map or train schedule and I was out of there. I use to get made because people didn’t want me to travel alone because I was a girl. Ugh. Hated that! Even now, I like not having neighbors on top of me but I could sell my house and be happy somewhere else. I guess my friends were right, I’m not a typical girl. :)

  4. Helena says:

    Ben — Interesting reason. Then there’s also the home she needs to raise her children in.

  5. Helena says:

    Ben — Good p.s.

  6. Helena says:

    Ciara — We’re kindred spirits! I was backpacking alone through Britain and Ireland when I was fresh outta high school, map in hand. Isn’t it fun?