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?