25 April 2013

+JMJ+

Character Connection 40


When I first dared myself to do as many Character Connection posts as possible that fit this month's theme of In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog, I imagined that I'd be focussing on non-humanoid aliens. That was the very reason I picked up the book I'm featuring today--and I think that if I were stricter about following through on my original objectives, I'd have a fantastic post toward that end today. But it was another character who made me sit up and take notice, and so this character profile is credited toward my "Girls and Adventures" theme instead.


Miss Elphinstone
The War of the Worlds
by H.G. Wells

"[My brother] heard . . . screams, and, hurrying round the corner, saw a couple of men struggling to drag [two women] out of the little pony-chaise in which they had been driving . . . One of the ladies, a short woman dressed in white, was simply screaming; the other, a dark, slender figure, slashed at the man who gripped her arm with a whip she held in her disengaged hand.

My brother immediately grasped the situation, shouted, and hurried towards the struggle . . .

He would have had little chance . . . had not the slender lady very pluckily pulled up and returned to his help. It seems she had a revolver all this time, but it had been under the seat when she and her companion were attacked. She fired at six-yards' distance, narrowly missing my brother. The less courageous of the robbers made off, and his companion followed him, cursing his cowardice.

Like that pretty pink cover? I chose it especially for this post! =D

Based on some comments made by male friends who read the kind of "old school" Science Fiction written for twelve-year-old boys (or so it seems to me), it is a genre with many interesting and worthwhile women characters. I'm not sure why I ever had the impression that it wouldn't be. Perhaps it's all the women who are now writing SF for twelve-year-old girls, as if to compensate for a deficiency. Perhaps it was my School of English's policy to have a special unit in every paper just for women characters--and the "old white male" professors (who had clearly loved H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, etc. in their youth) being really awkward during those lectures. Whatever the reason, I was surprised to reread the canonical War of the Worlds and to find a character like Miss Elphinstone.

We are introduced to this plucky, presumably pretty lady in a full-out Action scene. Three men are trying to steal her ride and she is refusing to give up without a fight. They outnumber her and weigh more besides, so she doesn't really have a chance until the narrator's brother steps in to help her. Then the would-be robbers turn against him, and it his her turn to come to his rescue. She may not satisfy the modern "kick-butt" conventions, but as I've been arguing, those conventions are ultimately meaningless.

It is better to see Miss Elphinstone as Wells himself does. Referring to her turning back to help a stranger and to her ability to keep her head in the pandemonium of London, even after seeing a man crushed to death in a virtual stampede, he says that she "proved her quality" twice in a single day. He doesn't mean ability; he means character.

There are no fancy martial arts and crack shooting involved: in fact, the only time Miss Elphinstone fires the revolver, she not only misses her assailants but also almost wings her rescuer. And as if that weren't enough of a sin against "strong womanhood," she also hands the gun and the reins of the pony cart over to the narrator's brother, as soon as she judges him to be a decent sort. She is courageous, capable and sensible--exactly the sort of person, male or female, you'd like to have your back when one of the biggest cities in the world is in absolute panic. But she is also quite vulnerable, which is why her ability to work with, and to trust, the narrator's brother reads like a prelude to a romance.

That Wells never follows through on that possibility is not the only issue I have with The War of the Worlds, but it's one of the top ones.


Image Source: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

4 comments:

Introverted Jen said...

I must confess I've only seen the Tom Cruise movie. I'm not a fan, so that left a bad taste in my mouth for the book. I'll have to give it a try.

As for Miss Elphinstone handing over the reins, if she feels that the brother is better able to handle the horses, why not? There's a point where it's more self-sufficient to ask (or accept) help that you need. It sounds like she's practical enough to see that.

I definitely smell a romance in your description. What an opportunity Wells missed!

Sorry it's taken me so long to wander over here!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

It's definitely Miss Elphinstone's practicality that I admire! =)

I'm still a bit sore at Wells for not writing a romance into the story, but perhaps he didn't find human love as compelling as Martian invaders! =P

Sheila said...

She seems free of any hangups about gender roles -- neither fainting like a "traditional" woman, nor going on an empowered rant against men like the feminist heroines in modern fiction. She's not trying to prove anything. She's just trying to deal with the situation. I admire that a lot.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Exactly, Sheila! There's nothing about Miss Elphinstone that seems to be a thinly-veiled message about women--or worse, for women.