Literary Reproductive Strategies

I quoted Margaret Atwood on “aliveness” in writing -- an image that ties in with Thomas Hardy's sense of a story as an organism -- and her proposal that all writing is motivated by a desire to bring something back from the dead.

Hilary Mantel’s Giving up the Ghost also develops the idea of writing as birthing:

“Even now I have a horror of someone standing behind my desk and looking over my shoulder as the words appear on the screen. There is a place, a gap, a hiatus, between the hatching words, flinching and raw, and those that are ready to take their place in the world, words that are ready to stand up and fight.”

From later in Mantel’s memoir --

“At one time, I was plagued by a spate of dreams in which I was a midwife who had let a child die; but when I got my first book on track again, and when, after many years in limbo, it was published at last, those dreams ceased. But time goes on, you think of more and more books you should have written, stories half-fledged and left in the file called 'Work in Progress.' I know some of these narratives will never be finished. I dream of half-formed, fetal beings, left abandoned on a cold floor. Sometimes they are blackened, like frozen corpses.”

A cold thought indeed. When we look back and compare Dickens to a seahorse, are we fantasizing about a lost age when high fecundity, low parental investment was a viable literary-reproductive strategy? Do we have a regretful feeling that the ecosystem we live in now forces us towards a strategy of higher parental investment, lower fecundity -- in other words, more marketing, less writing? Mantel describes having not only to hatch a work but also patiently to raise it, pull a strings on its behalf… not just midwife but foster-parent… we may fear that our adopted progeny are in danger or stillborn, that the oceans of fiction are dying…

Then again, the jury’s still out -- maybe Mantel will end up publishing more novels than Dickens did.

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