Review: “Hodgson’s Women”, Sam Gafford, 2014.
Gafford argues that we have to look at Hodgson’s fiction to deduce his attitude about women.
It’s a dubious concept, but we don’t have much in the way of letters or interviews from Hodgson.
Supposedly, Hodgson was spoiled as a child. Gafford argues that most of Hodgson’s fiction was written before he ever married or had much contact with women who were not his mother or sisters. His women tend to be meek and untrustworthy until they fall in love with a stronger male who will dominate them. I would offer “Judge Barclay’s Wife” and “Diamond Cut Diamond with a Vengeance” as counter examples though I’ll note the last was probably written after Hodgson’s marriage.
Gafford argues that when we see women in Hodgson, they are untrustworthy and faithless. The most cynical depiction of women, to Gafford, is “Kind, Kind and Gentle Is She”.
In the his novels, especially the earliest written, The Night Land, we get a romantic view of women that, in the later Captain Gault stories, becomes cynical. Perhaps more experience with actual women wised Hodgson up. You can complain about his cynicism, but you can’t automatically say it’s not born of observation if you argue the earlier depiction of women is the result of naivete.
Of course, you can escape this contradiction by acknowledging that maybe Hodgson was using his imagination and not experience for both depictions. Perhaps his own psychological situation changed through the years and thus his depiction of women.
Or, of course, you can argue that some combination and imagination led to the different depictions – a far more credible take than seeing Hodgson as always putting his personal attitudes in a story.
Not one of Gafford’s better efforts at Hodgson criticism.
I think perhaps the worst male author when it comes to depicting women I’ve ever encountered is Lovecraft. His stories are almost completely devoid of female characters, but, when they do appear, they seem to serve as no more than colourless, voiceless props who are obliging victims, e.g., of a mad-scientist husband conducting an unholy experiment or a deranged father who wants to pair his daughter up with a cosmic horror.
They do tend to be props in Lovecraft’s stories. Actually, I can only think of two Lovecraft stories with women without refreshing my memory. “The Dunwich Horror”, of course, and I think there’s a vague reference to a wife in “The Strange High House in the Mist”. Asenath Waite, in “The Thing on the Doorstep” doesn’t count because she’s actually possessed by her father.
I don’t think Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith had much interest in depicting realistic characters. Lovecraft the man lived a life full of women: his aunts, his mother, his numerous ghost-writing clients and amateur journalist colleagues, and, of course, his wife.
But the stories Lovecraft the writer wanted to tell, with doomed antiquarians and scientists and genealogists receiving mind blasting knowledge, didn’t have a place for women — or much variety of men, for that matter.
Now that I think of it, there’s the mother in “The Colour Out of Space” — but she’s just a doomed character like the rest of her family.
A writer’s personality and personal opinions and interests don’t always show up in their stories. Plenty of Lovecraft the man shows in his stories, but the women largely get left out.