At book club yesterday, one of the discussion questions was, “Do writers ignore the concerns of older women?”
We stepped away from the book we were reading, The Jane Austen Book Club, which had turned out to be rather slight. Each of us had books in mind in which there had been memorable older women. We were reminded of movies, as well.
“What I don’t like,” said the retired schoolteacher, newly returned from Italy, “Is how fluffy and harmless old women always are in books and movies.”
“They’re always secondary characters,” said La Bella. “Never the heroine.”
Again, we were able to come up with counterexamples, but the fact that they stood out in our minds made it seem likely that what the book club ladies were saying was true.
“It’s because the stories need to end up with a marriage,” said one, referencing Shakespeare as well as Austen. “It’s all about sex.”
I offered them the cradle-robbing algorithm which the Jewels of Knowledge recently explained: you can date someone who is half your age plus seven years, but no younger.
“So,” I explained, “if you are sixty, you could date a man who is 37.”
The older ladies frowned a bit.
“Younger women might end up with older men because of power and wealth,” said the schoolteacher, “but there are so many younger women available… I guess you could cook for him.”
She shook her head. The conversation continued in this vein. Some of the ladies are married and some are single, but none felt it likely that a May-December match would make good theater. Nor did any of them feel that they would want a younger man in their own lives.
I suggested that the pairings of old men and young women were not really any more plausible. La Bella mentioned Clint Eastwood.
“In his last couple of movies,” she said, “those women were only ogling him because he was the director.”
The Piano Teacher brought up Something’s Gotta Give, with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. We had a bit of noisy agreement that no one in her right mind would choose Jack Nicholson over Keanu Reeves.
We had, at this point, strayed a bit from the topic.
I didn’t really want to bring up Agatha Christie, but I think she is a good example. Her early books had plucky young girl heroines, since she was herself a plucky young girl, but the elderly lady Miss Marple became one of her most popular creations. People tend to write about younger people when they are younger and then to write about the concerns of older people when they are older. It makes sense.