Friday, 22 May 2009

Friday Feminist - Ursula Le Guin

Cross posted

“Will you be about the house?” she asked him, across some distance. “Therru’s asleep. I want to walk a little.”

“Yes. Go on,” he said, and she went on, pondering the indifference of a man towards the exigencies that rule a woman: that someone must not be far from a sleeping child, that one’s freedom meant another’s unfreedom, unless some ever-changing, moving balance were reached, like the balance of a body moving forward, as she did now, on two legs, first one then the other, in the practice of that remarkable act, walking…

Ursula Le Guin, Tehanu, 1990


Danyl said...

I reread her Earthsea books earlier this year - they're REALLY good. I was amused to hear someone tried to adapt them into a TV miniseries. The majority of the second book takes place in a pitch black labyrinth.

Deborah said...

Ursula Le Guin was very unhappy about many aspects of the adaptation.

A Whitewashed EarthseaI think they are marvellous books too. I love Le Guin's meditative style, and many of her books make me think and think and think, slowly, and meditatively, over weeks and months.

Anna said...

I read the Earthsea books as a kid, and loved them. I think I need to revisit Le Guin as a grown up!

backin15 said...

I've not read much Le Quin but did read The Dispossessed at school. It remains one of my favourite books and I re-read it regularly.

hungrymama said...

I adore Ursula Le Guin - her writing does what IMO fantasy and sci-fi is meant to do which is allow us to step back and see our world with a fresh pair of eyes.

A Nonny Moose said...

I keep meaning to read more of her. I read Earthsea a long time ago, and it felt a little to fantasy cliche. Being a big SF/F fan I have been making my way through some of the masters - she is on my agenda.

Southernrata said...

Le Guin has written two fairly recent additions to the Earthsea quartet, which turn all the cliches on their heads - not that I would admit they were to begin with - too meditative and truly archetypal for cliche.

Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Of the books by her that I've read I most enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness. Particularly the envoy's impressions of his own kind when meeting them again after living with the hermies.

Frankie said...

Ursula le Guin is without a doubt one of the greatest writers of our time, full stop. She cannot be classified only as a sci-fi/fantasy writer.
She is formidably intelligent, insightful, and skilled.
The Dispossessed is a book that everyone should read. The Left Hand of Darkness likewise. Her essays are also great- Dancing at the Edge of the World is a feminist/writing themed collection of essays.
Seriously, please read those two novels at least. She has the rare gift of making you feel better about humanity just by clear seeing and disciplined beautiful prose.

Her website is

Anita said...


Yes yes yes! I've been meaning to write a comment to mention her non-fiction. I love _Dancing at the Edge of the World_, particularly the pieces on her use of male pronouns in _The Left Hand of Darkness_ and on abortion.

I also totally recommend The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. It captures the thing that drives me to try to make a difference more than anything or anyone.

Frankie said...

very good point,that essay is required supplementary reading to the Left Hand of Darkness.
Hard to believe how long ago Left Hand was written (1969). But when I read that essay and she addressed every single issue I had had with the book, my respect for her expanded significantly- also the way that she let the book stand as a holistic work and only published her analysis/criticism separately. (I hate it when authors go back and tinker with their previously published work and republish revised editions, it's so arrogant!)
In any case, yes, the gender-specific pronouns do colour that entire novel for me (a slight effort of imagination required every time I read 'he', when she means 'it' I guess, or 'they'), although I have spoken to a male friend who reckons that in his experience they made it MORE subversive.

Deborah said...

Anita, I regularly recommend The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas to my ethics students. It has very much the same ethos as that famous paragraph from The Brothers Karamazov:
Tell me straight out, I call on you–answer me: imagine that you yourself are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature, that same child who was beating her chest with her little fist, and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tears–would you agree to be the architect on such conditions? Tell me the truth..
It's not a knock down argument against utilitarian or consequentialist ethics, by any means (a competent student ought to be able to dismiss it in just a few paragraphs), but it certainly makes them think. And it drives a lot of my own ethical practice i.e. that it is unacceptable to leave anyone behind, or to create societies where some groups of people are permanently sacrificed for everyone else's happiness.

Frankie, I'm a huge Ursula Le Guin fan too. I first read Tehanu a few months after my eldest daughter was born, and that particular paragraph spoke to me.

Julie said...

I would not have got this excerpt when I read the Earthsea Quartet in my teens. Now it makes utter sense. Thanks for sharing it.