Girls through the looking glass
November 13, 2008 11:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for both films, books, and short stories where the story of a girl or a woman is told solely through the perspective of a male narrator.

I finally got around to reading Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides last week and subsequently watched the Coppola film. I realized that, like, Lolita, the story of the Lisbon girls is distilled through the eyes of male narrators. It's entirely possible that the scenes with only the Lisbon girls and their parents are confabulations imagined by the boys. If that's the case, both Lolita and the Lisbon girls have no control over their own stories. Are there any other works of literature that tackle this refracted narration?

Film examples are perhaps trickier, since "perspective" can turn into the broader form of "cinematography," so I'm not looking for movies in which a girl's story is simply filmed by a man, but the narrative is otherwise hers. Obviously, I'm already counting both Coppola and Kubrick's adaptations.

Bonus points for any film/lit criticism about this subject that goes beyond the simple "male gaze" theories.
posted by zoomorphic to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Group Portrait with Lady by Heinrich Boll is fantastic. Also The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum by the same author.
posted by shamble at 12:09 PM on November 13, 2008


Not really what you asked for, but Memoirs of a Geisha, while written from the female perspective and is incredibly attuned to women, was written by a man. I can never quite believe that.
posted by gwenlister at 12:20 PM on November 13, 2008


One story that really jumps out to me is Brief Interview #20 in Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. This is the story of the hippie chick hitchhiking, getting picked up by a murderer and realizing she's going to have to get inside the killer's head to make any sort of empathetic connection she can in order to save her own life. I guess it's a man telling the story, but it turns into a story about getting inside a female's head--a female who is forced to get inside the mind of a killer rapist. Also, Michel Chion has a book about Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut in which he talks about some of the issues you raise above. From whose point of view is the movie told? Why are the two main characters only shown together two or three times? etc.
posted by mattbucher at 12:20 PM on November 13, 2008


It's been a while since I've read it, but to my recollection, My Ántonia is the story of a woman, as told by a male narrator, as written by a female author.
posted by kittyprecious at 12:34 PM on November 13, 2008


Interview with the Vampire tells the story of Claudia's birth, life and death from a male perspective... insofar as vampires are gendered.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:37 PM on November 13, 2008


Would Sophie's Choice count? It's not only Sophie's story, but Sophie's story is at the center of the narrative, and the whole thing is narrated by a male character who is overtly a stand-in for the author, William Styron. It's also, if I recall correctly, a pretty misogynistic book. At least, that was what I thought when I read it years ago.
posted by craichead at 12:45 PM on November 13, 2008


Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind takes place (for the most part) inside Joel (aka Jim Carrey)'s head and the representations of Clementine are mostly from his memories of her.

Also, the movie Iris is an interesting case, because it's a husband recounting his wife's descent into dementia, and I suspect that there would be issues of perspective there, since (in the beginning of their relationship, at least) he's much more uptight about her sexual behaviors than she is. It's a great film, even if it isn't exactly what you're looking for.

Finally, the title of this post leads me to think that you've already thought of Alice in Wonderland?
posted by Kiablokirk at 12:47 PM on November 13, 2008


Does Inventing the Abbotts fit the bill?
posted by juliplease at 12:50 PM on November 13, 2008


They made me watch Walkabout in a film class. Supposedly a classic but extra super male-gazerrific, and bugged the shit out of me.

London Fields has several male protagonists but the whole story is about the girl.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:52 PM on November 13, 2008


Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is arguably about three main characters: Gatsby, Daily, and Nick, as told by Nick. Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess" is a classic example of male distortion of the female story.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:54 PM on November 13, 2008


Daisy, not Daily. And gosh, what a great book London Fields was!
posted by onlyconnect at 12:56 PM on November 13, 2008


Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age is subtitled 'A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer' and chronicles a girl's maturation as guided by a man's invention.

Bad Monkeys and Sewer, Gas & Electric by Matt Ruff both follow female protagonists.

Salinger's Franny & Zooey isn't specific to the Franny character, but might fit.

Turn of the Screw by Henry James tells the story of a frightened woman as told by a fireside storyteller extraordinaire.
posted by carsonb at 12:56 PM on November 13, 2008


It's been a while since I read it, but Tristessa by Jack Kerouac might be something for you to check out.
posted by o0dano0o at 1:13 PM on November 13, 2008


IIRC, Amelie has a male narrator. She even interacts with him sometimes.
posted by kidsleepy at 1:14 PM on November 13, 2008


Almost every Tom Robbins book. He's often praised for writing women well, and he does some MeFi-level overthinking about it, too:

In general, I've found female protagonists more intriguing to work with than males. The female characters in my books tend to be independent, frisky, spunky, witty, emotionally strong, erotically daring, spiritually oriented and intellectually generous; in short, the kind of women I admire in real life. It takes me 36 to 42 months to complete a novel. If you're going to be shut up in a room with someone every day for more than three years, it might as well be someone whose company you enjoy.

Equally important is the fact that employing women as my primary protagonists has allowed me to step outside of myself, to distance myself from my own personality, far more easily than were I to look at events from a masculine perspective. And I've almost always sought to avoid the stain of autobiography. Although the narrator of Another Roadside Attraction was a male, he was looking through the eyes of the young woman, Amanda. My new book, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, is the first in which the narrative voice is thoroughly masculine--and let me tell you, writing from a male perspective really changed the energy of the enterprise.

posted by rokusan at 1:24 PM on November 13, 2008


Wow, these suggestions are great. I'd never heard of Group Portrait with Lady.

And just to re-emphasize: I'm looking for a film/text in which the entire plot centers around a male narrator as he (or they) recounts a woman's story. Alice in Wonderland/Memoirs of a Geisha/Amelie wouldn't fit the bill because they're not depicted via male voices within the text or film.

I need stories in which the girl really doesn't get a say in her own tale--someone else is telling it for her. Sophie spills her story in the middle of Sophie's Choice, so she definitely has agency in the narrative.

So this isn't about male auteurs portraying women accurately, but any author writing about (or director depicting) a female character as described by a man.
posted by zoomorphic at 1:33 PM on November 13, 2008


endymion and the rise of endymion by dan simmons might fit the bill, the protagonist is male but the books tell the story of his life as the protector of a girl named aenea.
posted by lia at 1:33 PM on November 13, 2008


Lila Says is kind of a coming of age story about a boy, but the narrative pretty gets framed in his relationship and observations about a girl named Lila. Sounds a bit tenuous, but if you watch the film you get more of Lila's story than you really do of Chimo's (or rather, Chimo's story and realizations about himself and his life is intertwined with her) and the story he writes to win his scholarship that helps him change his life is him writing about her.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:34 PM on November 13, 2008


Oh, and I gave the example of the film rather than the novel, because I haven't read the latter. I've only watched the former. The novel's description sounds like it might fit as well, but I didn't want to say that without firsthand knowledge, so maybe check the book out as well?
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:35 PM on November 13, 2008


Paul Theroux's Picture Palace and Steve Martin's Shopgirl are both written by men about women. I was also coming in to recommend Gatsby, one of my top five favorite books ever.
posted by Brittanie at 1:40 PM on November 13, 2008


I thought about recommending "Turn of the Screw," too, because it plays exactly the sort of mind games that I think the poster is looking for, but I think that at least part of that story was told through the governess' letters, so she arguably does get some say in how her story is told.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:47 PM on November 13, 2008


Breakfast at Tiffany's, the novella. Holly's story and persona - that version of her persona, anyway - exist only within the unnamed male narrator's line of sight.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:52 PM on November 13, 2008


Can't believe I forgot Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I'm currently reading. The written version is so much more complex than the movie, and it's very good.
posted by Brittanie at 2:02 PM on November 13, 2008


I'm not sure if this fits the bill 100%, But Dalva is one of the strongest portrayals of a female character by a male writer I have ever read.
posted by timsteil at 2:23 PM on November 13, 2008


So this isn't about male auteurs portraying women accurately, but any author writing about (or director depicting) a female character as described by a man.

Maybe it was tucked too much in the middle of my answer, but yes, that is Another Roadside Attraction.
posted by rokusan at 2:36 PM on November 13, 2008


Lincoln's Dreams by Connie Willis tells the story of a woman, Annie, solely through the narration of the male protagonist. It's a fantastic book (I'm not interested in Civil War history at all, but Willis made it interesting for me). I can't really explain without spoilers, but I think you'd find interesting.
posted by creepygirl at 3:18 PM on November 13, 2008


James Joyce's Molly Bloom bit in Ulysses.
posted by TheRaven at 4:17 PM on November 13, 2008


Anna Karenina?
posted by chicainthecity at 4:18 PM on November 13, 2008


There was a book called The Book Thief recently that was about a girl, narrated by 'Death' and the narrator had a very masculine presence. It's very self-consciously 'pop-literary' though - which might actually be a good thing if you're looking to write about it. There's a whole mess of achingly obvious devices and symbolism in it - one of those books where you can tell the writer had a checklist pinned to the corkboard with 'Things that will get me an award/on a book list' written at the top. Don't read it for pleasure, it's pretty terrible.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 3:06 AM on November 14, 2008


Bonus points for any film/lit criticism about this subject that goes beyond the simple "male gaze" theories.

okeedokee, from the Femist Film Theory perspective, there is a ton here. I'm eschewing out and out narration as necessary to play with this subject, though there are probably some good examples of films that use them, Orlando for one. I think Hitchcock's female protagonist films (just take Rebecca, Notorious, The Birds, and Marnie) are a great body to study, as his manipulation of them demonstrates a sadism and creates a voyeurism that is interesting to consider as an influential exemplification of or as a reaction to undercurrents of gendered representation in Cinema, in general. I think there's a deliberateness to his creation and observation of female protagonists that goes beyond simple portrayal and shows a startlingly obvious amount of manipulation and control, creating images of strangely impossible women, complicated but empty, frenzied women with whom it is impossible to identify, but imperative to puzzle over and examine. Embodiments of "the feminine mystique." It verges some kind of queerness, I don't mind telling you.

"The Gaze" has a lot more to it than people give it credit for, and Kaja Silverman's book The Threshhold of The Visible World is the place to look to begin a deeply theoretical analysis of gendered spectatorship, but yeah, we're talking about Lacanian psychoanalysis now, so it's pretty dense stuff. She has a very interesting postulate about women's inherent transvestitism as spectators, which denatures the idea of male dominance in spectatorship as simply a result of male hegemony.

Another fascinating film in terms of female subjectivity and desire is Eyes Wide Shut. I'm not sure how much has been written on this take, but I relish it as Alice's film (she is A, after all, and Bill is B), as an examination of the uncanny shock, the pandora's box of horrors, that opens to the (default male) viewer and Bill, when real female desire is examined.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:42 AM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Willa Cather's My Ántonia fits perfectly; Ántonia's story is told completely through the eyes of young Jim Burden, a male narrator Cather gave many of her own childhood experiences, which creates an odd, relatively complex relationship between male and female throughout the book. It's been discussed a lot over the years by critics in different schools, more so in recent decades as speculation has grown about Cather's probable lesbianism.
posted by mediareport at 5:57 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


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