Once, long ago, someone called me to tell me he’d written what he called a “picaresque” novel. I didn’t know what that meant so I had to look it up in the dictionary. It means episodic adventures described in realistic detail of an engaging, usually roguish character. Don Quixote is an example. Inman in Cold Mountain is another. The reason I bring this up is I just read the proof (a book before it’s published) of another kind of adventure, a young woman who is pregnant and isn’t married and doesn’t know what to do.
Her adventures are as engaging as Don Quixote or Inman’s, but they involve the attempts to find some security for herself and her child and the attempt to wrap her mind around the fact that there will be a child. Where is the term, like picaresque, for this kind of adventure? It’s been happening to women since forever, and it’s real and honest and desperate. I think of Ada and Ruby in Cold Mountain. They didn’t roam toward home like Inman. They were home, and they used every ounce of their intelligence and spunk just to survive, to make home real, a place of safety and sustenance.
Anyway, I feel irritated that there is this term that describes a guy’s adventures, adventures a woman couldn’t go easily on because she’d be beaten or raped (in the old days, anyway, though maybe that applies now), and here’s this whole other adventure, involving a new life, and there’s no literary term, and yet it’s a common, constant drama whose details we see played out in media stories about real people.
Picaresque, I believe, refers more to the episodic nature of a work rather than the “adventure.” Each vignette stands on its own and the moments are more colorful than plot points. True, the works tend to be focused on men (as most literature still is) but some women do feature prominently as the center of their novels, most notably Moll Flanders by Defoe.
The proof novel you write of may have a protagonist with an adventure, but I would say it’s likely not picaresque or any other termed genre. Given the emphasis on character and plot demanded of by post-Dickens novels have, most novels follow a tradition within their times. Even novels featuring characters moving about are called road novels rather than picaresque. Given the strong nature of your proof’s character, I would hazard a guess that no label is needed—It’s just the story of strong woman caught up in the drama of life.
It’s a nice question though. I love the entries. 🙂
from the O.E.D. “Picaresque: Originally: relating to or characteristic of a rogue or knave. Now chiefly:
designating a genre of narrative fiction which deals episodically with the adventures of an individual, usually a roguish and dishonest but attractive hero.”
Moll Flanders may be an exception, but this genre does seem to be more gender-specific than most, for practical real-world reasons as well as the purely fictional, as Karleen suggests. I understand the irritation of no word for the more female- oriented journey. (Though there are exceptions too, of course. Mr. Mom springs to mind.)