Since the passing of 72-year-old Maeve Binchy, the much-loved (and childless) Irish novelist, the Telegraph has published an essay by British novelist Amanda Craig that immediately blew the fuck up, and it's easy to see why.
Craig says it's much easier to find the time and energy to write when you don't have kids. Fair enough. But ultimately, she poses this question: "Do you miss out on something essential about the human condition if you eschew childbearing?" And although she spends a lot of time dancing around it with hasty justifications, it becomes clearer that her answer is basically "Yup!"
How come, Amanda Craig?
No matter what your experience of adult love, there is nothing as strong as the bond between a mother and a child... Putting yourself last is one of the best things that can happen to a writer. I make no moral claims for motherhood - which can bring out the worst in a person, in the form of vicarious rivalry, bitchiness, envy and even mental illness - but going through the ring of fire does change you and bring about a deeper understanding of human nature.
See, Craig and the "we" she uses to indicate female novelists with children have to toil extra-hard, wayyyy harder, than those selfish, layabout childless women who "work in Hawthornden Castle, the luxurious writers' retreat which offers a month of working time uninterrupted by cooking, cleaning or child care." But it's OK, because she also humblebrags about her kids' undisputed brilliance (Ancient Greek! Russian! Oxbridge!)
I can't help but feel that [Binchy's] detailed portraits of ordinary life might not have been so predicated on the relationships between men and women had she had a child.
That's true, and neither would Jane Austen's, George Eliot's or the Brontës—examples Craig herself brings up earlier, asking if Austen's fixation on romantic love would have lasted if she'd had a child. Is Amanda Craig dissatisfied with the novels that Jane Austen and her sad, unenlightened, empty womb produced? Does she read Pride and Prejudice or Middlemarch and think "This is pretttttty good, but it would be AWESOME with babies?" Craig's statement itself might be true, but it's the "I can't help but feel" that qualifies it: asserting that the focus on romantic love rather than the love of parents and children somehow reduces the importance of the writing is problematic.
Ultimately, Craig closes her essay with:
[Binchy's] first novel was about a 20-year friendship between two women [and she] didn't need the experience of motherhood to write about love and friendship in a way that charmed millions. But she might have dug deeper, charming less but enlightening more, had she done so.
Oh, shit, childless women writers! We have been banished from the bastion of Enlightened and unceremoniously dropped on our asses onto the slight Isle of Charming. Who wants to go to that castle with me? OMG, Hawthornden Castle 2012, WOOOOO!!!
'If Maeve Binchy had been a mother...' [Telegraph]