The Invisible Women

The Idiot

Seriously, every cover of every edition of The Idiot and The Magic Mountain feature some brooding, intense looking dude. Where the ladies at?

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!


  1. Kristilyn (@ReadingInWinter)

    I’m not sure how I feel about books where nobody lives happily ever after. I mean, I know not EVERYONE can be happy in a book, but I feel if the characters are happy, even if they’re leaving me wanting more, at least I finish the book with some closure.

    That’s hilarious about the fan fiction bit … it’s like reading a disappointing book thinking, “I can do better than this,” or, “If I wrote the book, this is how it would go …”

    • lauratfrey

      I love books where no one ends up happy! If you ever decide to read Mercy Among the Children you will understand. He writes the most depressing books ever and I love them.

      With these books, I was curious about the specific characters, and they disappear for years of the story, but I also got to thinking about sexism and how females are portrayed in literature… heavy stuff 🙂

      • lauratfrey

        Mine, too. It’s a top five all-time book for me. Lost Highway would be a distant second. I’m just finding out he had a book out last year. Did you read it, and is it any good?

      • Rick MacDonnell

        I haven’t read it, no. Actually, I haven’t read Richards in a few years. Embarrassing. Actually, now that I come to think of it, I have to read at least four more books by Canadian authors this year. Richards should be on the list.

  2. Brie @ Eat Books

    Haha oh my god, I laughed out loud at the fan fiction part! Also, your reads are making my reads look bad 😉

    Every time I’m reading a book and wish I could see the story from another characters point of view, I think “then maybe you should read Jodi Piccoult.” Seriously though, it depends on the book – I think when the book isn’t as good, or I’m not enjoying it, then I wish more of the character’s perspective’s were included. BUT when the books is GOOD, I don’t think I think this. (Does this even make sense?!)

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah, that totally makes sense! If the books is so great, it should seem “whole.” BUT maybe these characters were supposed to make you feel this way. Unfortunately, we can’t go ask the authors… the whole dead thing… 🙂

      I’ve never read Jodi Picoult. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing! So does she have chapters alternate between characters or something?

      • Brie @ Eat Books

        You’re not missing out on much. I’ve enjoyed a few of her books because the story-lines are interesting, but each book is the same, just the plot and characters name’s change. Every book of hers alternates between all the characters in the book…it’s a neat concept, but I find there’s often no distinction between the characters except for the font..meaning, any children in the story often end up sounding just as old as the adults. And any author that can churn out books as quickly as she can raises suspicions with me.

  3. Rick

    “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?”

    Hands down the funniest paragraph I’ve read in weeks. Actually laughed out loud.

    • lauratfrey

      Wow, thanks! Your blog is amazing, and I really appreciate the compliment 🙂

      I Googled Magic Mountain fan fic and got a bunch of Final Fantasy stuff. Yeah. Video Game fan fiction. I’m not sure why I was surprised.

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