by Parul Sehgal, NPR, December 27, 2012
The most dangerous trait a woman can possess is curiosity. That’s what myths and religion would have us believe, anyway. Inquisitive Pandora unleashed sorrow upon the world. Eve got us kicked out of paradise. Blight on civilization it may be, but female curiosity is a gift to narrative and the quality my five favorite heroines of the year possess in spades.
These women come to us from history, from a novel, from the pages of a diary and from an ancient poem. They’re women who want to know things, who want to devour the world. Refreshingly, they aren’t primarily defined by their desire to love or be loved — or even to be especially lovable — these are sublimely stubborn women, frequently at odds with themselves and always at odds with their times. They’re on quests. Which isn’t to say that these quests are necessarily successful (the heroines of one particular book were flamboyant failures). The outcome is immaterial; the wanting is all.
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Antigone, our heroine, is “a person in love with the impossible.” She is the daughter of Oidipus and sister to Eteokles and Polyneikes (Carson’s own spellings) who have slain each other in battle. She defies her uncle Kreon’s order to leave Polyneikes’ body unburied, risking death by being buried alive. The book speaks to us in our own language — and cheekily references other interpretations of the play: (“Remember how Brecht had you do the whole play with a door strapped to your back” the chorus asks Antigone) — while matching the horror and heartbreak of the original. Realizing death is near, Antigone says:
“You ask would I have done it for a husband or a child my answer is no I would not. A husband or a child can be replaced but who can grow me a new brother. Is this a weird argument, Kreon thought so but I don’t know. The words go wrong they call my piety impiety, I’m alone on my insides I died long ago.”