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April 1, 2011 5:03 AM   Subscribe

Help me prove my friend wrong. What are some works of fiction (novels, short stories, even poetry) written by women, but from the first-person point of view of a male character?

In one of my literature classes today we were discussing Virginia Woolf and her concept of the writer as a sexless being. My friend brought up the point that she'd seen many examples of a male writer writing from the first person PoV of a female character, but she couldn't think of any examples of a female writer writing from the first person PoV of a male character. Of course, in the moment I couldn't think of any either- I could think of lots of well-rounded, believable male characters in fiction by women, but the ones that came to mind were all written in third person perspective.

Help me prove my friend wrong. What are some works of fiction (novels, short stories, even poetry) written by women, but from the first person point of view of a male character?
posted by Nixy to Writing & Language (61 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Several of Agatha Christie's Poirot novels and short stories were narrated by the character of Arthur Hastings.
posted by Gator at 5:06 AM on April 1, 2011


I'm pretty sure The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin is male, first person.

Back Roads, by Tawni O'Dell is male, first person.

There are tonnes, but I'm away from home and can't look at my shelves.
posted by smoke at 5:07 AM on April 1, 2011


I have no idea why, but the first thing that came to mind is The Outsiders by S.E. (Susan Eloise) Hinton.
posted by craichead at 5:17 AM on April 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:17 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amy Levy's dramatic monologue "A Minor Poet."

Augusta Webster's dramatic monologues "A Preacher" and "A Painter."

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Charlotte Bronte's first novel, The Professor.

A substantial chunk of Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, as well as part of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:18 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles are written from the perspective of male vampires, with the exception of Pandora.
posted by King Bee at 5:30 AM on April 1, 2011


Games of the Blind by Evelin Sullivan

Forgery by Sabina Murray.
posted by Lame_username at 5:31 AM on April 1, 2011


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
posted by not that girl at 5:39 AM on April 1, 2011


The Epicure's Lament by Kate Christensen.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 5:39 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the Woods by Tana French
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Glachen
posted by neushoorn at 5:41 AM on April 1, 2011


In the Woods by Tana French
Her latest one, Faithful Place, is narrated by a man, too.
posted by craichead at 5:47 AM on April 1, 2011


These are some of my most-loved books/writers too, so I highly recommend them. :)

Note to the previous post about Agatha Christie: one of the most celebrated examples of the unreliable male narrator is in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is partly narrated by a man (implied to be Rochester). A must-read for Jane Eyre fans.

The Black Prince and The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (pretty sure there are more by her with male narrators but I don't remember right now).

Some SF: China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh. I don't remember its sequel well enough to say who narrates it. Also, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) often featured male narrators in her works. At the time, many people who knew she used a pseudonym believed there was no way that she could be a woman--she was so convincing.
posted by methroach at 5:56 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel like I'm always mentioning this book here but I'll do it again: Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai is largely narrated by a boy, Ludo.
posted by mlle valentine at 6:00 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.
posted by Morrigan at 6:08 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


My first writing professor assigned the anthology Our Mutual Room--which included one of his stories-- as one of his texts for class. It also had work by Louise Erdrich, Alison Lurie, Robb Forman Dew, Ann Beattie, Gail Godwin, Judith Guest, Josephine Humphreys, Gloria Naylor and Anne Tyler.
posted by brujita at 6:12 AM on April 1, 2011


Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.
posted by sinnesloeschen at 6:12 AM on April 1, 2011


sinnesloeschen -- My first thought was also Oryx and Crake, but I'm pretty sure it's written in the third person, though clearly from the perspective of the male main character.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 6:19 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Emma Donoghue's Room is narrated by a five year old boy.
posted by peppermind at 6:23 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, your friend's claim sounds like a clear example of confirmation bias. Instances of men writing as female characters are more salient, because American culture finds it amazing when a male author can convincingly inhabit the persona of a woman (because women's experiences are so particular and unique!). When a woman writes as a male character, it isn't considered as remarkable (because the male experience is, to a large extent, considered the default, unmarked version of life).

Not to mention the fact that books by male authors are more salient in general, so for any characteristic X, it will probably be easier to think of books by men that have that characteristic.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 6:25 AM on April 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


March by Geraldine Brooks.
posted by castlebravo at 6:31 AM on April 1, 2011


Jeanette Winterson does this often. Definitely in The Passion.
posted by hermitosis at 6:42 AM on April 1, 2011


George Eliot's The Lifted Veil.
posted by chinston at 6:52 AM on April 1, 2011


The Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend.
posted by Ted Maul at 6:53 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dorothy L. Sayers: The Lord Peter Wimsey series, which is delightful.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:59 AM on April 1, 2011


Lois McMaster Bujold has believable male characters in most of her books ... they tend to be a mix of 1st and 3rd person.

Miles in the Vorkosigan series
Dag in the Sharing Knife series
Cazaril in the Chalion series
posted by Metasyntactic at 7:00 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have actually done some research into this. Or rather, I was in the position to read every science fiction novel published in the UK in 2010 and I made some notes:

Bringing Home The Stars by Jennifer Kirk: third person male and female
Feed by Mira Grant: first person male and female
Zoo City by Lauren Buekes: first person female
A Matter Of Blood by Sarah Pinborough: third person male
Above The Snowline by Steph Swainston: first person male and female
Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan: third person male and female
The Birth Of Love by Joanna Kavenna: first person male and female and third person female
The Meat Tree by Gwyneth Lewis: first person male and female
Guardians Of Paradise by Jainne Fenn: third person male

So I think we can safely conclude a) your friend is wrong on this one and b) not many women are publishing science fiction in the UK.
posted by ninebelow at 7:06 AM on April 1, 2011


Jodi Picoult's novels tend to be structured so that you get chapters in first person from just about everyone involved in the story. Including men. I've read most of them (guilty pleasure; LOVED picking these up in airport bookstores before I had my Kindle) and off the top of my head, I can't think of any that don't qualify.
posted by terilou at 7:08 AM on April 1, 2011


Gilead by Marilynne Robinson came to mind.
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (although it switches narrators 2/3 the way through, both are male).
Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy isn't first-person, but is entirely male third-person and amazing.
posted by questionsandanchors at 7:10 AM on April 1, 2011


Any female mystery writer with a male detective-- and there are lots.
posted by BibiRose at 7:20 AM on April 1, 2011


To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (also, it's excellent).
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:31 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


When a woman writes as a male character, it isn't considered as remarkable (because the male experience is, to a large extent, considered the default, unmarked version of life).

YES. This is true, to an extent, as a result of feminist movements and social progress. Today, few if any aspects of 'the male experience' would be considered so far outside of the female realm that it would be impossible for a woman to write convincingly about it. Women can vote, earn an education, work in any field they want, and generally succeed in life--at least in privileged societies--so do any areas of the male experience remain an exclusive club in fiction?

With James Tiptree Jr., some people found it incredible that she was a woman because what she wrote about was so stereotypically masculine in tone and subject matter: sex, military, science/technology. In her personal letters to writers and editors, she often alluded to her (true) past of African safaris, war, and other macho 'huntin' and fishin'' types of activities, which sealed her reputation as a real man's man. And this was in the late 60s/70s--not that long ago. Now, a few decades later, it's acceptable and encouraged for women to transcend traditional gender roles--not so with men.
posted by methroach at 7:36 AM on April 1, 2011


Willa Cather's My Antonia. She also did a lot of third person male, and some of her short stories might be in fp male as well.
Bessie Head's Maru has portions that are first person male, I believe.
Joyce Carol Oates' We Were the Mulvaneys
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, mentioned earlier but worth repeating
Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog
Diana Wynne Jones' The Homeward Bounders
Bronte's Wuthering Heights is actually first person male.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 7:36 AM on April 1, 2011


The Sword Dancer series by Jennifer Roberson fits that criteria. Some good ol' fashioned sword and sorcery fantasy fun.
posted by Osrinith at 7:37 AM on April 1, 2011


Ruth Rendell, An Outside Interest
posted by tel3path at 8:02 AM on April 1, 2011


On the YA front, there's Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief (excellent book for all ages, btw).
posted by bettafish at 8:05 AM on April 1, 2011


Also, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) often featured male narrators in her works.

Beat me to it, but her short story "The Women Men Don't See" was a particular one I was thinking of that fits what the OP is looking for.
posted by deanc at 8:07 AM on April 1, 2011


I have to second Anatoly Pisarenko's comment about The Epicure's Lament. At some point the main (male) character's internal monologue was so ... just ... amazingly perfect I had to look again to make sure I was remembering correctly that it was penned by a woman. Christensen did a fantastic job.
posted by komara at 8:10 AM on April 1, 2011


Kate DiCamillo has at lest a few children's books written from that POV.
The Tale of Despereaux
The Magician's Elephant (mostly, though the POV does shift a bit)
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane Although the "gender" is a little debatable I believe the protagonist does decide he is a he at one point.
posted by edgeways at 8:24 AM on April 1, 2011


Someone pointed out The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula by Ursula K. LeGuin.

I would also like to add her Wizard of Earthsea series. The vast majority of the series, if I remember correctly, is written from the perspective of Ged, a male.
posted by delosic at 8:26 AM on April 1, 2011


Under the Net by Iris Murdoch.
posted by phonebia at 8:26 AM on April 1, 2011


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
posted by synaesthetichaze at 8:36 AM on April 1, 2011


The poet, Ai, has apparently written many soliloquies in male first person voice, e.g. "The Kid". The information page I linked cites her collections, Sin and Fate. (I think I have some new poetry to explore now .. !)
posted by phonebia at 8:37 AM on April 1, 2011


One of my favorites: Children of Men by P.D. James.
posted by theraflu at 8:48 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Elizabeth Moon, Speed of Dark
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:53 AM on April 1, 2011


Jodi Picoult's novels tend to be structured so that you get chapters in first person from just about everyone involved in the story.

Small nitpick, but all the ones I've read (which, ahem, are most of them) are written in the third person from the various perspectives.
posted by lwb at 9:06 AM on April 1, 2011


The Time-Traveler's Wife is written in the first person, alternating between the two protagonists (male and female).

Dorothy L. Sayers: The Lord Peter Wimsey series, which is delightful.

Another small nitpick: the Peter Wimsey books are in the third person, and mostly from Harriet's perspective at that.
posted by torticat at 9:12 AM on April 1, 2011


Two of my favourite short stories fit this bill: The Ant of the Self from ZZ Packer's (amazing) Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, and the title story from Lydia Davis' Break It Down, which is performed (by a man) at about 41:30 minutes into this episode of This American Life.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:13 AM on April 1, 2011


The author Rob(yn) Thurman writes most of her books from guy POV's, impressively so.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:03 AM on April 1, 2011


Lindsey Davis writes a mystery series that takes place in ancient Rome and is narrated by a male. Well worth reading.
posted by natalie b at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2011


The first thing that popped into my head is Octavia E. Butler's "Bloodchild", though she has other novels written in first person male voice as well.
posted by of strange foe at 11:56 AM on April 1, 2011


Someone pointed out The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula by Ursula K. LeGuin.
I would also like to add her Wizard of Earthsea series.


The Left hand of Darkness is in first person, A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels aren't. Someone else mentioned Lois McMaster Bujold's books - I'm only familiar with the Vorkosigan series, which does feature a lot of pretty close third person PoV, but I don't think it has any actual first person.

Melusine by Sarah Monette is in first person PoV of two male characters. A female PoV character is introduced part way through the four-book series, but it's mostly about Felix and Mildmay.
posted by Lebannen at 4:01 PM on April 1, 2011


Donna Tartt's The Secret History.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:19 PM on April 1, 2011


Also on the YA front, Maggie Stiefvater's "Shiver" and "Linger" are each half-told by male narrators.
posted by sarajflemming at 4:24 PM on April 1, 2011


Jennifer Roberson who wrote the Sword Dancer series also did the Chronicles of the Cheysuli series, several of which were from a male pov.
posted by stubborn at 5:52 PM on April 1, 2011


Hannah Pittard's recent The Fates Will Find Their Way is written in first person plural from a male POV.
posted by 1901gunner at 5:59 PM on April 1, 2011


Briggs - Dragon Bones, Dragon Blood
Jones, Diana Wynne -- Has several in first person male, but The Merlin Conspiracy (young adult) is interesting because it switches back and forth from male to female. It is in the form of journal entries written after the fact.
Renault, Mary -- The Bull from the Sea, The King Must Die, probably others
posted by anaelith at 9:03 PM on April 1, 2011


^^^ Should be "Briggs, Patricia", sorry.
posted by anaelith at 9:04 PM on April 1, 2011


Lebannen - I think you're right about Bujold just doing really close 3rd person. I went back and checked a few of my favorite scenes, and the character never narrates. I just feel like I'm inside his head, helped along by liberal bits of his inner monologue.
posted by Metasyntactic at 10:49 PM on April 1, 2011


If you've never read Jeanette Winterson, you and your friend are in for a treat.

The first-person narration in Sexing the Cherry switches between Jordan, an orphan plucked from the Thames, and his "finder," The Dog Woman.

Similarly, parts of The Passion are narrated by Henri, a young Frenchman.

In Written on the Body, the narrator's gender is never specified.

Most of her works are "gender-bending" in one way or another. And the prose is magnificent.
posted by Paris Elk at 2:09 AM on April 2, 2011


Water for Elephants! i think the author's name is sara bruen, or something like that, and the protag is definitely a guy
posted by CookieNose at 7:37 AM on April 2, 2011


The Astral, by Kate Christensen.
posted by chinston at 6:21 AM on July 27, 2011


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