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Maeve Binchy: Can Childless Female Authors Create Good Mom Characters?

Maeve Binchy: Can Childless Female Authors Create Good Mom Characters?

Best-selling author Irish novelist Maeve Binchy died last week, aged 72.

Binchy was an Irish novelist, playwright, short story writer, columnist and speaker best known for her humorous take on small-town life in Ireland, her descriptive characters, her interest in human nature and her often clever surprise endings. Her bestselling novels were translated into 37 languages and sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

Tributes have poured in, including this one in The Daily Telegraph from Mary Kenny:

Today we have lost a national treasure.

(….)

Maeve metamorphosed from the sometimes sharp reporter into a novelist whose take on life was sunny, warm, generous, even wholesome. Hemingway once said that a writer must find an inner truth, and Maeve found her success through a truthful pursuit of her own instincts.

Immediate media reports described Binchy as “beloved”, “Ireland’s most well-known novelist” and the “best-loved writer of her generation”. Fellow writers mourned their loss, and politicians also paid tribute. President Michael D. Higgins stated: “Our country mourns.”

Amanda Craig in The Daily Telegraph took a different tack: in an essay published last week, Craig makes the unfortunate argument that Binchy would have been a better writer had she been a mother, giving her a “deeper understanding of human nature,” she explained.

The sad truth, which Craig doesn’t even mention, is that Binchy had deeply desired to be a mother but struggled with infertility. She openly shared her story in a 2008 article for The Daily Mail: “Of course I wanted children. Bright, gorgeous, loving children. I could almost see them. But it was not to be…”

This article has spurred a violent debate in the UK: who does Amanda Craig think she is, to write an obituary questioning whether bestseller Binchy’s writing could have been improved if she had been a mother?

Does anyone question whether male writers could have created better father characters if they had been fathers themselves?

This sexist approach is part of the reason for the outrage. And then who writes an obituary about a bestselling author questioning her achievements as a writer, based on her history as a parent? This is mean-spirited and spiteful.

Clearly, Maeve Binchy applied her great, full heart to write books that touched and enlightened her readers. There are, after all, many ways to mother, just as there are ways to find fault with women who are not mothers.

The struggles involved in being a writer as well as a parent are worthy of being documented, but they don’t belong in an obituary.

What do you think?

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101 comments

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3:10PM PST on Feb 11, 2013

Binchy is one of my inspirations as a writer. Just as an actor doesn't have to be an axe murderer to play one on TV, as writer does not need to be a mother to understand human nature. Most writers, if they are good and can write believable characters like Binchy did, have an insight into humanity, because they pay attention to people.

5:41AM PST on Feb 10, 2013

I cannot have children because of health issues. I write parents quite well despite the fact that my upbringing was harsh and often I didn't have a clear parental unit.

I have a niece, now, and by caring for her, it brings out my maternal streak. Mothers should beare self-sacrificing, brave, and despite loving their children, can sometimes do bad things "for the best". They are human, just as anyone else, and make mistakes.

I remember one time in particular, my little niece (I call her my baby though, because she acts so much like me) was sick with the flu and though I knew I shouldn't get close to her because of my terrible immune system, I did anyway. I snuggled her because she was sad and felt terrible, and I kissed her because I knew it would make her feel better.

I still got sick, but it was worth it because she needed it. Good mothers sacrifice everything for their children. It's what they were made for.

9:53AM PST on Feb 9, 2013

Heavens to Betsy! Of course childless women writers can write "Mom" characters -- we've all had mothers ourselves, bless them!

5:27AM PST on Feb 9, 2013

Motherhood doesn't magically confer any sort of wisdom any more than being a mom or mommy makes someone a better person in any way.

9:10PM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

Binchy wasn't hatched -- she had a mother and was able to see what a woman does or doesn't do, as a mother. What a stupid comment Amanda Craig made.

12:10AM PDT on Aug 11, 2012

I see loads of women who are mothers who are HORRIBLE at it!

11:13PM PDT on Aug 10, 2012

Is this a serious question? Surely not.

You might as well say "how could William Shakespeare have had such a profound understanding of the human condition?"

5:57PM PDT on Aug 10, 2012

One does not need to be a mother to create a good mother character. I know people who write short stories, who are childless, and have a believable mother character that they based off a friend who is a mother, or their own mother. Just as a mother who writes can make a mother character that is not believable. Writing styles plays a big roll.

If only a mother can write a believable mother, then does that mean Tolkien became each of his characters or Rowling became a 11-year-old boy living under the stairs who receives a letter that changes his life or C. S. Lewis became 4 children trying to escape their war-torn reality in the country side and wind up falling into a world of wonder or Jean M. Auel traveled back in time and lived out the life a prehistoric woman and her struggle of self-discovery and finding her place in life?

4:01AM PDT on Aug 10, 2012

Sad.

Especially when being childfree is very environmentally friendly -

the world needs more child free people.



3:25AM PDT on Aug 9, 2012

I have always enjoyed her books thru the years.

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