The Childfree in Fiction

Where are the characters in novels that have no children by choice? They’re out there. Take novelist JoAnne Soper-Cook. This is one of her books on the left  -but more on her in a minute. The review of British author P.D. James by Lori Bradley of BellaOnline inspired me to put word out on where the childfree characters in novels are.  First, on James,

…she has a series of murder mysteries that have childfree protagonists.  Author Sue Grafton has childfree characters, as does Jonathan Franzen, in his latest, Freedom. Then there is Soper-Cook, who has over 10 novels that have childfree characters. I recently asked her to tell me about her childfree characters and what inspires their development…

Here’s what she said:

“I don’t find traditional characters (those who fulfill the roles of marriage, childbearing, etc.) to be very interesting. I realized by the time I was eight years old that having kids was not for me.

My most recent book, which is just out with MLR Press is Willing Flesh. It is the first of three Victorian-era mysteries to feature gay Scotland Yard inspector Philemon Joseph Raft. I like characters who don’t necessarily fulfill societal mandates – thus, making Raft gay immediately located him on the margins of Victorian society, seeing as how it was illegal back then. Raft, like myself, is interested in his work, his friends, the myriad attractions of his home city (London) – and the strange, half-remembered fragments of memory that intrude upon his consciousness now and then.

There’s a lot of me in my characters – so having childfree characters feels like being true to myself and my muse. I think people who are free to operate outside the norm are much more interesting – so for Inspector Raft, being gay in the 1890s (referred to in the contemporary press – ironically enough – as the “gay nineties”) as well as childfree made him an intriguing person. His constable, Frederic Crook, is also gay, also childfree.

Another recurring childfree character is Jack Stoyles, (Heartache Cafe, also from MLR Press) an ex-pat American restaurateur in St. John’s, Newfoundland, during WWII. Jack is bisexual, often polyamorous, an ad hoc detective whose mysteries tend to walk in through the front door of his cafe. Jack is a free agent: no wife, no kids, a tragic past that included a girlfriend of his dying during a botched abortion, and no agenda except to get through the war. Jack is a realist: he knows he is not Daddy material, that he never has been, that he must be free to paddle his own canoe, as it were – and that canoe doesn’t come with booster seats and juice cup holders. Jack reflects that aspect of my own personality that requires freedom in order to feel fully alive.

My literary novels, too, feature childfree characters. Waterborne (Goose Lane Editions, 2000) is the story of Stella Maris Goulding, a childfree novelist who loves animals, men and the outdoors but who has absolutely no interest in children – probably because of her own, very unhappy childhood. She was a survivor of child abuse, and didn’t enjoy childhood so much that she wanted to inflict it on someone else. Stella is reclusive, secretive, and lives a vivid inner life; at no time does she yearn for children and she doesn’t consider her life to be empty without them. Stella spent much of her childhood waiting for the attention of her narcissistic, disapproving mother and absent, disaffected father; she doesn’t see childhood through a gauze of loving nostalgia.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is reported to have said ‘all of my characters are me’ and that’s true in my case, as well.”

Soper-Cook is up to some good stuff! Find out more about her and her work at:  http://joannesopercook.com

What other authors do you know who have childfree characters? Stories that include families of two, e.g., couples, relationships and no children by choice?

Much like my childfree Hollywood star list, I want to have a list of authors who have childfree characters to share with all childfree!

3 thoughts on “The Childfree in Fiction

  1. Good topic! I’m an avid reader and look forward to seeing what everyone else suggests.

    Vestal, The main character of Julie Watts’ “The Kind of Girl I Am,” is childfree from early adulthood decades before that word even existed. The book follows Vestal’s life growing up in rural Kentucky in the 1930s and 40s until the end of her life many decades later.

    She is widowed young, works as a shopgirl and then later becomes a madame at a brothel. Many of these years are spent running away from the past. I won’t spoil the ending, but her decision to never have kids is important for how, when and why she develops as a person and deals with aspects of her past and her identity that she hid from for many years.

    It is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it.

  2. This quote speaks volumes: “I don’t find traditional characters (those who fulfill the roles of marriage, childbearing, etc.) to be very interesting.”

    The further I get into my own non-traditional experience the more interesting life becomes…

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