How many of us have never walked even a few yards in Edwinna’s wanton high heels?
With regard to writing my novel, The Inheritance, I have been asked two other important questions:
– What was the most challenging part of writing the book?
– What was the most fun and rewarding?
The answer to the first has to do with plot and structure and the classic need for tension, conflict, and crisis. Since the story was inspired by my childhood memory of a woman whose sexuality had wreaked havoc within a family, the villainess Edwinna became the foundation of the novel. Then I needed another woman, Martha, the heroine of the story, to confront the threat posed by Edwinna.
It was easy to create one incident after another that would concern Martha. Most women have probably had this experience, this suspicion of the beloved’s unsettling interest, even if innocent, in another woman. The mind and the senses go on high alert, one becomes watchful, distracted, anxious. Has the imagination taken over or is the danger real? Is the other woman unwittingly appealing or a determined seductress?
In The Inheritance, Martha is soon certain that her life could be destroyed by Edwinna. I needed a showdown, and I had to do this within the span of the one-week visit central to the story. As Martha’s apprehension rose, so did mine; and it wasn’t until her visit drew to a close that I knew where the climax waited.
So that was the hard part. The fun part was simply Edwinna. Even before Martha meets her, she has heard a story about the day she was first introduced to her husband’s family. When I described that incident, Edwinna seemed like an image in an old color photograph. However, when I actually introduced the two in the Stahlings family living room, Edwinna took off with a life of her own.
I have heard this before, meaning that characters tell the author what to write. Martha’s character was known to me from the beginning; Edwinna emerged. Auburn-haired, fit and athletic with the pale green eyes of a seedless grape, she had a personality I could not anticipate. It was as though I were just watching her, a little fascinated, a little appalled, sometimes thinking, “You’re going to make me write this?”
She does very clearly represents the dark feminine, the wicked seductress both feared and lusted after by men since biblical times. “Do you want to reinforce a stereotype through Edwinna?” one might ask, but alert readers will note a point that suggests a reason for her obsession with her body and her beauty.
Edwinna is nearly fifty years old as the book opens, and she has accessed all the means so readily available today to maintain feminine pulchritude. Most of us do that to some extent, reluctant to quit the game early. And how many of us have never walked even a few yards in Edwinna’s wanton high heels? Is there even one of us who has never been a threat to another female?
Late in the novel and during a tense moment with her husband, Sam, Martha has to defend her unease over Edwinna. “You would have to be a woman to understand,” she says. We recognize our shadow.
That brings me to the search for an image in art that could represent Edwinna, and I failed to find one. Eve, supposedly the first of us to create problems, seems to look rather modest and demure in paintings. In the course of my search, however, I learned about Lilith.
According to one version of the story of creation, Lilith was Adam’s first wife but refused to be subjugated by him and was thus replaced by Eve. I found a painting of Lilith by John Collier that is certainly suggestive of the danger lurking in the beautiful feminine. However, Lilith seems unaware of her power, even bemused. If anyone knows of another image in art that better represents the feminine as sexual predator, I hope you will share. Then I will also.