Two of my major reads of the past six months were Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. I knew very little about either going in, and was surprised to find they have similarities beyond the obvious (long, difficult, written by dead white dudes.) Both stories are written from the perspective of a young, naive male protagonist on the fringes of society. Both young men have a complicated relationship with a beautiful, mysterious, and morally suspect young woman. And of course, no one lives happily ever after.
Months after finishing these books, I’m still thinking about those mysterious women. They are mysterious because we never hear their side. They come and go from the story as needed, and with little or no explanation as to where they’ve been. They are both notably absent from large sections of the story.
Were these characters merely there to move the plot along? To help the hero reach his goal? To personify the usual madonna/whore view of women? Remember, both books were written in the 1800s. Feminism wasn’t really a thing.
Whatever the authors’ intentions, they left me wanting more. In particular, I want to know what happened to The Magic Mountain’s Clavdia between leaving the mountain and returning as the mistress of the equally eccentric and mysterious Mynheer Peeperkorn. She`s married, too, so presumably she`s juggling a husband in addition to her lover(s).
Oh god. I just realized this is probably how fan fiction started. Well, that, and the need to make various characters have sex with each other. Don’t worry, I have neither the time nor the inclination to write Magic Mountain fan fiction. Can you imagine?
Is there a character who left you wanting more? Have you ever wished a book was written from another character’s perspective? Have I just rationalized the existence of fan fiction?
PS: While Google image searching for an “invisible woman” picture, I discovered that a movie about Charles Dickens’ secret mistress will be released in 2013. A post about literary movies is coming soon!