Elantris

Never before have I been struck by a character so much like me.

Sure, I frequently see characters I can relate to, particularly INTJ characters making hard and distasteful decisions, but not much beyond that. I’ve never had a character resonate with me to the extent where I almost could have been looking in a mirror.

Sarene is a woman who, though a king’s daughter, has been made unmarriageable by her own strength of character. Now before I go on, I should qualify by saying I am married, but that dating was never easy for me. I was even advised once or twice to ‘tone’ myself ‘down’ on first dates – advice I find completely counter-intuitive, because if someone doesn’t like me as I am from the start, it seems unlikely they would warm to me after discovering I’m not at all the person they thought I was!

Sarene did attempt to do tone herself down, even going so far as to find herself betrothed to the one man who would risk her attention – only to break it off at the last minute when she recognised she would do them both a grave disservice if she went through with the marriage.

So what is it that got Sarene into this position? Put simply, she is:

  • Intelligent;
  • Outspoken;
  • Always challenging authority;
  • Inclined to take charge;
  • Not content to be told what to do;
  • A feminist.

These are qualities that she recognises as being undesirable to her male peers, and alas I don’t believe it’s much different now. A recent study even found that the majority of men who profess to want an independent, intelligent and strong-willed wife later expect her to change upon marriage, to let her career take a back-seat, and to become the primary child-carer.

That stacks up against my personal experience, where most men wouldn’t even approach me because I was ‘intimidating’ (from the lips of a man who actually did strike up a conversation), who couldn’t handle the way I conducted my life (uh, with an expectation I can do everything a man can?), or who had issues with my earning potential. A recent article in a Sydney newspaper had single men describing women as too picky, while a dating agency said men wanted a ‘nice, old-fashioned girl’.

Well yeah, cause I don’t see the problem there, do you? I bet Sarene would too.

Sarene noted throughout the book that while she would earn the respect and admiration of men, they almost ceased to see her as a woman and an object of desire. That’s not something I’d given much thought on until she considered it, and while I don’t know for sure, I wonder if it is true of me too. I can count the number of advances I’ve had from men in the last seven years on one hand without even needing all the fingers. But I’m pretty sure the men I’ve done business with respect me, and certainly don’t hesitate to make use of what’s in my head commercially.

I have difficulties with friendships too, which is not a trait uncommon to female INTJs anyway, but it could be because we all have many of the same things in common with Sarene. In fact, she probably is an INTJ as well. While I can like a woman well enough, or even a group of women, and I think they like me well enough (I think – well, they haven’t told me to sod off to my face) they don’t reach out to include me the way they do each other. I don’t quite know why this is, and sometimes it leaves me feeling a little on the outer–and it’s a rare person who really clicks with me. But maybe Sarene’s analysis is correct here too–am I again inspiring admiration and respect, but not much in the way of warm inclusiveness? I don’t know. I know I’m not a very warm and fuzzy person, but sometimes trying to bridge the gap is lonely and frustrating….

I realise this post may sound egotistical, but I am trying to be honest about who I am (and I recognise INTJs are not everyone’s cup of tea) while thinking my way through some ideas that Sarene raised in Elantris that could well explain some patterns in my own life. I’ve been a little frank about some of my feelings, too, which is downright uncomfortable for an INTJ…

The question I have left at the end of this post is “Who is the woman who inspired Sarene?”