By Rosemary Erickson Johnsen (auth.)
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Additional info for Contemporary Feminist Historical Crime Fiction
In reading books that bring together authorial and narrative audiences, Rabinowitz argues, it is “more likely that the lessons learned as narrative audience will stick for the authorial audience too—and, unless the authorial audience is very distant from the actual audience, for the actual audience as well” (133). This means that even though the most unrealistic of medieval series can entertain their readers, only those that achieve credibility can truly be feminist. Those that focus on more ordinary people—not queens and courtesans—have an extra hurdle in readers’ ignorance but, paradoxically, a much greater chance of creating a feminist impulse if they can provide enough information, naturally linked to plot and character, to overcome that gap.
Their social standing does permit the inclusion of important, and often surprising, information about the circumstances of medieval women’s lives. After an introductory section surveying and discussing some of the characteristics of Newman’s, Frazer’s, and Robb’s series, I focus on three of Newman’s narrative strategies, each paratextual in some way. The first of these is a categorization of her use of epigraphs, followed by consideration of her use of real historical figures, most notably Heloise and Peter Abelard.
Character stereotype serves as a screen, rather than an aid, to the transmission of historical information. As readers are introduced to the Fenner marriage, Frazer embeds a concise summary of the property laws regarding women, but the effect of this summary is to promote sympathy for Robert rather than outrage at the fundamental legal inequalities. Robert is musing on the time periods they spend at his wife’s various manors: The pattern was an easy and familiar one after all these years but Robert doubted he could have brought Blaunche to any such change so easily now; 28 FEMINIST HISTORICAL CRIME FICTION her pleasure in having won him was too far in the past, and she remembered too easily now, when it suited her, that the manors she had brought to their otherwise landless marriage had been hers before they were his.