Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

by Gordon Dahlquist

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:51 am

What is your opinion of how the female characters in the story are portrayed?
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby trygirl » Mon Jan 12, 2009 2:33 pm

I feel great sadness for the women in this story. All they want is to feel less powerless in a male dominated society. They just want a semblance of strength and control but instead find themselves exploited for sex and pseudoscientific experimentation. The prostitutes are nothing more than guinea pigs subject to the whims of the men in the book. And it's not as if the Victorians provided a lot of options for the women of the time, for the most part it was either be a wife or a whore.
In fact, I think a common theme among the women is a shared sense of powerlessness and a will to do anything to acquire it [power] at all costs. I say this because Miss Temple is not a prostitute yet she too has been exploited in some way and wants to be "subject from her own body." (pg. 263) And while she hasn't spent a lot of time exploited for lascivious reasons, her heart has been used against her on several occasions. This is why she makes such a rash decision to go to the St. Royale because she's trying to severe ties with her body, metaphorically speaking, and violently if she has to. I also feel that all the women in this story are subjects to their body. The men use their bodies for sex, experiments, demonstrations, etc. And the women use their bodies to undergo the "the process" in the hopes of obtaining more status, more respect, more power.
The exception to all this feeling of powerlessness could be the Contessa Lacquer-Sforza; therefore, debunking my theory. :lol: But she too is subject to the whims of men and her body. She is also being exploited, except she's the one doing the exploiting. She uses seduction and sex and wields it like a gun or a knife. She's aware of the effect she has over men with her beauty and uses it against them. And in doing so, has turned a pleasure into power. But contrary to Mrs. Marchmoor, she has no disillusionments and is still free to think for herself like Miss Temple. But unlike Miss Temple, she's aware of how far she will go.
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby ladylinn » Mon Jan 12, 2009 4:03 pm

I am having trouble answering this question. I agree with trygirl that the women are being used for sexual pleasure and experimentation by men. But I also see 2 destinct types of women. One type strong and controlling using everything they have (bodies, charm, wiles) to manipulate the situations - including the men. The other type is weak and submits easily. Possibly because they are in a position that doesn't allow them any other choice (ala Angelique). There are times that I would put Miss Temple in both catagories. She seems to be able to pull strength from within when she needs to - that way she does survive.

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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby Liz » Mon Jan 12, 2009 5:10 pm

trygirl, you’ve summarized it quite well. But ladylinn, you bring out a good point, that Miss Temple fits into both categories. She, like Cardinal Chang, is a contradiction.

I think Dahlquist paints the women in this novel as very sexual beings, but also as ambitious creatures…their ambition being their downfall (along with the men). I haven’t quite figured out Angelique, though. She doesn’t seem to fit into any category….maybe that is because we don’t know enough about her.
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby trygirl » Mon Jan 12, 2009 5:23 pm

ladylinn wrote:I am having trouble answering this question. I agree with trygirl that the women are being used for sexual pleasure and experimentation by men. But I also see 2 destinct types of women. One type strong and controlling using everything they have (bodies, charm, wiles) to manipulate the situations - including the men. The other type is weak and submits easily. Possibly because they are in a position that doesn't allow them any other choice (ala Angelique). There are times that I would put Miss Temple in both catagories. She seems to be able to pull strength from within when she needs to - that way she does survive.


I agree ladylinn, the women are both in the same boat and on different ships altogether. There are those who use what they have, to get what they want and those who are used and get nothing. And then there's Miss Temple who straddles the fence.

Liz wrote:trygirl, you’ve summarized it quite well. But ladylinn, you bring out a good point, that Miss Temple fits into both categories. She, like Cardinal Chang, is a contradiction.

I think Dahlquist paints the women in this novel as very sexual beings, but also as ambitious creatures…their ambition being their downfall (along with the men). I haven’t quite figured out Angelique, though. She doesn’t seem to fit into any category….maybe that is because we don’t know enough about her.


And thanks, Liz. I really enjoyed answering this question. The women are one of the most fascinating parts of the story...in fact, they're at the heart of the book. And it's too bad Angelique is such a mystery because her life is probably a great tale.
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby nebraska » Mon Jan 12, 2009 5:33 pm

One of my strongest thoughts while I was reading was that the author was obviously a man! Some of the early scenes in the dressing room, for instance, definitely sounded more to me like a male fantasy than anything else. With most of the women in the book, I think a female author would have drawn the characters differently - if only to make them less one-dimensional. Even with Miss Temple, who is one of the main (if not THE main) character in the book, her life story is never revealed as clearly as Chang's or the doctor's.

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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby suec » Mon Jan 12, 2009 6:24 pm

nebraska, I agree with you. I would add that I struggled with the way the women were depicted and at one point, nearly gave up reading the book altogether. I only persevered with it because I get so much out of the discussions about the books and wanted to participate having missed the last one. Early on I got the impression that the author was less successful at portraying women. But there was one particular point that really got to me, where it seemed to me I was reading a nasty little male fantasy and I found the episode offensive, because of the woman's reponse to it. I don't know how to do the spoiler thing so I won't explain further.
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Jan 12, 2009 7:03 pm

I'm having trouble with this one too, with a foot in several camps at the moment. While they were a mirror of their times some were a bit like caricatures to me. They seemed to fall into one of two camps without much in between. Of course looking at the male characters some of them come off that way too. suec, I'm glad you stuck with it! :cool:
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby suec » Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:02 pm

Thanks DIDHOT.I wanted to declare my strong feelings about it because they are colouring my perception somewhat and that will show. Can't help that. Who knows. Maybe I'll be able to view it differently by the end. I'm glad this question came up early though.
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby stroch » Mon Jan 12, 2009 8:49 pm

It's hard to answer this question -- I thought most of the characters were supposed to be comic book type creations.

Most of their personalities were painted with broad strokes, with no shading, no subtlety, and no motivation for their behavior.

I felt no connection with any of them, and was not invested with their fate at all.
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby nebraska » Mon Jan 12, 2009 10:49 pm

stroch wrote:It's hard to answer this question -- I thought most of the characters were supposed to be comic book type creations.

Most of their personalities were painted with broad strokes, with no shading, no subtlety, and no motivation for their behavior.

I felt no connection with any of them, and was not invested with their fate at all.


Interesting observation! :idea: This book was much different from my usual fare, maybe I was expecting too much from a book that is largely science fiction/fantasy. I hadn't stopped to think that writing cardboard cutout characters might have been an intentional device on the part of the author because of the genre and how the story needs to move. There was a lot of action and it moved so fast.

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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby fansmom » Mon Jan 12, 2009 11:03 pm

I didn't think the characters were deliberately unrealistic; I thought they were portrayed that way because this is the author's first novel, although he's written a lot of plays. In a play, he can move characters around onstage and let the audience guess at their motivation. In a novel, we're usually allowed to get into a character's head. In Glass Books, we tend to know a character's thoughts only when he or she is speculating about a particular situation: "If I strike here, this might happen," or "If he's on my side, then she's against me." We get hints as to why Miss Temple takes so readily to violence, or why the Doctor is afraid of heights, but for such a long novel, there's very little backstory.

Or have we strayed too far from the original question?

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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby gemini » Mon Jan 12, 2009 11:59 pm

fansmom wrote:I didn't think the characters were deliberately unrealistic; I thought they were portrayed that way because this is the author's first novel, although he's written a lot of plays. In a play, he can move characters around onstage and let the audience guess at their motivation. In a novel, we're usually allowed to get into a character's head. In Glass Books, we tend to know a character's thoughts only when he or she is speculating about a particular situation: "If I strike here, this might happen," or "If he's on my side, then she's against me." We get hints as to why Miss Temple takes so readily to violence, or why the Doctor is afraid of heights, but for such a long novel, there's very little backstory.

Or have we strayed too far from the original question?


It is funny that you mention that you may be venturing off from the original question.
I have been pondering my impression of the women while reading everyone else's and your comments gave me a bit of insight. Your comments that the characters were not so unrealistic, made me think while considering this, that it's the women who seemed more unrealistic to me, not the men.

The men seeming taken with the erotic part of the process doesn't seem as much of a stretch as it was for the women. I think women especially in that area would be more shocked and repelled which might be why they tend to choose prostitutes for many of their first experiments. The audience seemed too easily compelled to join in the conspiracy .
I also agree with Nebraska that the feel of this book was certainly from a mans point of view and this may have made the women feel a bit more alien to me. I do see different types of women, but whether weak or strong they think like men, (especially the Contessa.)

When we discussed Miss Temple some of us were surprised how easily she took to taking life and I think this is because of a feminine point of view which Dahquist didn't share. I don't mean to seem faint of heart in not being able to handle defending ones self but there is a difference in killing in self defense and initiating it.

I guess Dahlquist view of women in any era would be different from mine.
I also agree that with all those pages more time could have been spent on the backstory unstead of stalking around corners in great mansions.
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby Liz » Tue Jan 13, 2009 2:18 am

gemini wrote:
fansmom wrote:I didn't think the characters were deliberately unrealistic; I thought they were portrayed that way because this is the author's first novel, although he's written a lot of plays. In a play, he can move characters around onstage and let the audience guess at their motivation. In a novel, we're usually allowed to get into a character's head. In Glass Books, we tend to know a character's thoughts only when he or she is speculating about a particular situation: "If I strike here, this might happen," or "If he's on my side, then she's against me." We get hints as to why Miss Temple takes so readily to violence, or why the Doctor is afraid of heights, but for such a long novel, there's very little backstory.

Or have we strayed too far from the original question?


It is funny that you mention that you may be venturing off from the original question.
I have been pondering my impression of the women while reading everyone else's and your comments gave me a bit of insight. Your comments that the characters were not so unrealistic, made me think while considering this, that it's the women who seemed more unrealistic to me, not the men.

The men seeming taken with the erotic part of the process doesn't seem as much of a stretch as it was for the women. I think women especially in that area would be more shocked and repelled which might be why they tend to choose prostitutes for many of their first experiments. The audience seemed too easily compelled to join in the conspiracy .
I also agree with Nebraska that the feel of this book was certainly from a mans point of view and this may have made the women feel a bit more alien to me. I do see different types of women, but whether weak or strong they think like men, (especially the Contessa.)

When we discussed Miss Temple some of us were surprised how easily she took to taking life and I think this is because of a feminine point of view which Dahquist didn't share. I don't mean to seem faint of heart in not being able to handle defending ones self but there is a difference in killing in self defense and initiating it.

I guess Dahlquist view of women in any era would be different from mine.
I also agree that with all those pages more time could have been spent on the backstory unstead of stalking around corners in great mansions.

I want to comment on so much here.

First, I don't feel that fansmom has gone astray because I think her comments are relevant to the subject at hand.

Second, gemini, your point struck home for me about the women being unrealistic as opposed to the men. I think that is how I viewed them. I, like yourself, think that the women were more into erotica than would be expected for that era. Maybe that says a lot about me and my attitude toward men. But I do believe that Dahlquist may be portraying women the way he would like them to be....not necessarily how they are. If I were a novelist, I would probably do the same with regard to men. :lol: On the other hand, the fact that they were more into it than we would expect makes it all the more shocking and intriguing, from the reader's perspective.

Finally, back to fansmom's comment, although I would have liked more info on the backstory, I do believe that the plot and action scenes kept the story moving and of interest to me. And there are some readers that only care about the action and others that care about the backstory. If you were to ask my kids, they could care less about the backstory. So I think it all depends on the audience.
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Re: Glass Books Question #8 ~ The Women

Unread postby teacher » Tue Jan 13, 2009 4:41 am

I agree with most of you, Dahlquist doesn't seem to have the same depth of understanding for his female characters as he does for his male ones. Even when he tries to describe a motivation, like Miss Temple's reasons for fleeing, the reasons seem based in a male ego and fall a little flat. Perhaps my knowledge is limited, but proving to be "man enough" seems to me a distinclty male motivation.
I also agree that most of the female characters are described as male fantasies (Nebraska, I think you're right and that scene had no purpose in my view. There were several other such annoying little scenes with female characters and the glass books). Sometimes all female characters blend in together, especially the strong, powerful women: Dahlquist does little to give characters individual voices though that's understandable to a degree with a book of this format.
The Contessa herself I actually liked, I think she was successfully portrayed as someone alluring yet deeply menacing, and not for the typical reason of a woman belonging to a clique of powerful men, but because of her personal character traits. She was, to me, the most interesting female character in the book, much more so than Miss Temple herself.
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