View Single Post
Old 04-19-2011, 05:11 PM
MrFarFromRight MrFarFromRight is offline
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Ping-ponging around Europe, trying to get a publishing concern off the ground
Posts: 718

Originally Posted by BlackUnicorn View Post
One author I find really woman/alternative sexuality/gender/poly friendly is John Irving. One of his early novels focuses on swingers and how their relationship turns from swinging to a quad with some unforeseen consequences. Both Hotel New Hampshire and Cider House Rules are at least poly-friendly.
I’ve been thinking about this [polyamory or poly-friendly in the books of John Irving] for a few days (since reading your comment) and frankly I’m rather doubtful. I’m a fan of Irving’s, I read as many of his books as I can get my hands on (most of them more than once) and there’s only one I didn’t like (in fact, I thought it stank!) – his first novel entitled “Setting Free The Bears”.

John Irving is a writer who champions causes, ideas, and “marginal” groups and – I think – helps to make them more palatable, more acceptable, to his public. Several themes that he has taken up in one book reappear in later ones. (There’s a whole table of recurring themes on his wikipedia page - all of his books feature writers, all but 2 feature fatal accidents, all but [the same] 2 feature an absent parent…) An example is “a woman’s right to choose” / the idea that abortion is (in some cases) the best possible option. [Curiously, this theme isn’t listed in that wikipedia table.] This appeared in several books before being made one of the main pillars of “The Cider House Rules”. He has been sympathetic to homosexuality, incest (“The Hotel New Hampshire”), transexuality (“The World According To Garp”, “A Son Of The Circus”), and asexuality (again “Garp” – Garp’s mother has sex one time... because she wants to get pregnant – and the narrator in “A Prayer For Owen Meany”), single mothers (“Garp” and others)... and I’m thankful to him for challenging people’s prejudices.

But polyamory? Does he ever champion polyamory (even implicitly)? If we understand polyamory to necessitate the acceptance of your lover’s right to form meaningful, important loving relationships (including sexual ones if they so wish) with others, I – personally – find little evidence of this in Irving’s novels (the ones that I’ve read). Can you give me specific examples?

Garp’s wife has an affair with a younger man, but he asks her to end it and she does.
In the first part of the book, “A Widow For One Year”, (this early part was made into the film “The Door In The Floor”), the famous author’s wife has an affair with his gofer. She abandons them both (and her young daughter, the title character of the book).
I seem to remember that in “Setting Free The Bears” (a book I have no intention of ever reading again), the two main characters are interested in the same chambermaid (or one just pretends to be, to disguise his closet homosexuality?)... but one’s jealousy (he’s in love with the other) drives him to suicide.
In “A Prayer For Owen Meany”, Meany certainly accepts Hester’s right to a free sexuality, but Hester treats other men as “use and throw away”: the only meaningful sexual relationship she has is with Meany.
In “The Cider House Rules” – which you mention – two of the main characters start a relationship after they believe that her fiancÚ is dead. She gets pregnant and when the fiancÚ turns up alive (but in a wheelchair) the other two feel guilty about their relationship and end it. They pretend that their child is adopted. (Which gentle, protective lie the fiancÚ – later husband – sees through... and implicitly forgives. He’s a nice guy – which is one of the reasons that the other two feel so guilty about their “cheating”.)

I only read “The Hotel New Hampshire” – which you give as an example - one time (I’d like to read it again), many years ago, at a time when I wasn’t looking for examples of polyamory in literature, so I can’t be sure of that one.
I’ve also read “The Fourth Hand”, “A Son Of The Circus”, but can’t recall polyamory in any of them. Perhaps I overlooked it?

Irving’s cases of “cheating” usually end in disaster and heartache. He certainly doesn’t condemn, he generally shows compassion for his characters’ reasons for cheating (he’s sympathetic and understanding about the wife’s and the gofer’s cheating, but the famous writer is presented as a philandering, self-worshipping arsehole who uses people – and takes pleasure in humiliating them), and perhaps he’s gently hinting: “Wouldn’t we all be happier if jealousy and possessiveness didn’t exist?!” But I can’t recall any examples of polyamory being actively presented as a positive thing.

[I must admit that my reading depends on libraries and finding second-hand books, while living in a non-English-speaking country. (Some books I read in translations.) Perhaps Irving has been working towards expousing polyamory and has already reached doing so in later books that I haven’t read yet. In which case I’d be glad to hear it.]
Originally Posted by BlackUnicorn View Post
Back to the fantasy-land: Ursula le Guinn, specifically her novels on the planet of O and their strange marriage customs (quad hilarity ensues).
As for LeGuin: certainly one of the very best sci-fi writers of all time. I’m a huge fan. I also read anything of hers I can get my hands on. But again, haven’t got my hands on as much as I’d like. Which novels are set on the planet O?
Reply With Quote