Very loosely based on Slavic folklore, the story is set in 17th century Hungary and follows the life of a girl created by a grumpy magician for the sole purpose of terrorising the local miners and driving them away from his mountain home.
During the course of the story, Kikimora comes to empathise with the miners and question her duty to the magician, whom she thinks of as her father.
So far, so good. The problem I’m having is that for the first half of the book, Kikimora’s defining characteristic seems to be a great willingness to do all kinds of housework :-/ Rest assured, she has far more interesting things to do in the second half – but I’m worried my readers may have abandoned her in disgust by then.
This is in fact just one aspect of a greater dilemma I’ve been having regarding realism versus telling a good story.
While researching what would occupy the days of my 17th century characters I began to fully appreciate quite what a big deal housekeeping was in the days before fridges, vacuum cleaners, electric ovens, gas stoves, irons, washing machines, indoor plumbing, disinfectant, rubber gloves, antiseptic… You can read about the daily toil here.
Floors needed scrubbing. Pots needed scrubbing. Many households produced their own preserves, beer, cured meats. They kept livestock, which would need daily attention. Vermin were a constant nuisance, and had to be kept from the food stores. Much of the clothing would be homemade; holes would be darned; clothes which grew too tight would be let out. Firewood would be needed for cooking and heating the home.
My protagonist, Kikimora does not shun all this
drudgery housework. She embraces it. Partly this is due to the folklore the story is based on – the original Slavic Kikimora was a household spirit, assisting respectful housewives in their daily tasks, and playing tricks on those who angered her. That’s the author reason. But the character’s reason for embracing housework is because it is the exact opposite of what she is supposed to do. She was created to be a monster. Her duty is to terrorise. But she’s really not that keen on her duty.
The heroine of my all time favourite book, Howl’s Moving Castle was also quite enthusiastic about housework, and I didn’t think any less of her for it. Personally I detest housework.* It is the quickest way I know to get sweaty, bad tempered and bring back to roaring life all the aches and pains my yoga, pilates, hot showers and regular (self administered) neck massage barely keeps at bay.
During the course of the story Kikimora makes up her own mind about what she believes and what she will fight for.
Ultimately I think I’m content with the feminist credentials of my protagonist. But what do you think? Am I over-thinking it? Is it even an issue? I’d love some opinions on the matter.
* I don’t count cooking as housework – though I know many people do. Cooking is creative. Cooking is enjoyable. Cooking garners praise, wonder and gratitude. None of these things are true of housework (especially gratitude, for some reason).