Is Offred, the main character in The Handmaid’s Tale from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel and the current Hulu adaptation into a TV series, a New Woman? Is she any different than the literary characters from the late 19th century when the term was first coined, such as Henry James’ Daisy Miller or Henrik Isben’s Nora Helmer from The Doll’s House? Or is she simply a Woman? An educated, independent thinker seeking to define her own role in society with her own rules and expectations that she sets for herself to suit her own needs?
The emergence of the Hulu series led to a re-energized interest in the book, leading to the #1 spot on Kindle for fiction in 2017, 30 years after it was first published. So sometimes a broadcast adaption can lead people back to reading. If that’s what it takes to get people reading, then great! In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, the stellar performance by Elisabeth Moss, helped drive this renewed interest. People want to see if her interpretation of Offred would match their own interpretation. For me, Ms. Moss excelled. She has brought the character to life with fire and fury while at the same time exuding a quiet smoldering. I loved her as Peggy Olson in Mad Men, and I love her as Offred.
One fun guessing game my book club used to enjoy was “Cast the Character”, which current actress or actor would you cast as the primary characters of the book we had just read. Elisabeth Moss was only 3 years old when The Handmaid’s Tale was first published, so I don’t think anyone would have thought of her. What about my book and my main characters? I wonder who would be cast as Eliza? I hope my book is published before Julianne Moore is too old to pull off the aging of a woman from 18 to 68. Yes, her red hair authenticates the physical description of Eliza, but it’s her success in roles as strong, female characters which would translate well to portray Eliza. Plus, she is one of the only actresses I have ever met, for an endorsement event with Procter & Gamble of all things! Her interest in the event at a public school in the Lower East Side of New York and her interaction with the students was so genuine, I know she could pull off the role of a caring, interested and involved career woman and mother.
A final note on the “New Woman”. I learned of the term from an author interview with Kim van Alkemade in the end notes of her book, Bachelor Girl: A Novel by the Author of Orphan 8. After completing a quick Google search to better understand the term and its construct, I realized, without any prior knowledge, that Eliza, the main character of my work in progress, is a New Woman who is influenced by her aunts, all independent thinking New Women of the late 19th century. In fact, I had already written a scene where Eliza’s Aunt Florence makes mention of reading the new release of Dracula (published 1897) with her housemates at her boarding house. I had no idea that Dracula included mention of the New Woman with its two main female characters discussing the topic of women’s changing roles. What a convenient coincidence to strengthen my story line and Aunt Florence’s character development!
P.S. Thanks to Peirce for sharing his Hulu account with me. Queue up Season 2, Episode 3 for tomorrow night!