100 science fiction women #28: Margarita Nikolaevna

Ok, so I have been inattentive. but here I am now. And my list for the day is again from city of tongues (thanks James) and is 100 Top Science Fiction/Fantasy books. While there are a number of my very favourite books on the list, like The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin and The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, I think that the list is more a reflection of the writer’s 100 favourite books, leaving out as it does a number of significant authors and featuring so many books by the same author. But who said lists need to be objective? And it does provide further food for rumination. Tonight’s edition of this list involves a book I had been meaning to read for years, and have just finished, and so to….

Margarita Nikolaevna The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov

You know you are reading Russian literature when the eponymous Margarita doesn’t appear until the second half of the book (and the Master appears hardly at all). But discussion of the nature of literature aside, Margarita represents an interesting character in this book, as one of the few characters the Devil on his visit to Moscow does not treat extremely badly. Margarita is unhappy, separated from her love and lover, the Master, living in a marriage which, will financially beneficial and to, it would seem, a pleasant enough (but non-appearing) character, does not involve love. She is driven by love for the Master and her desire to be reunited with him, but even though this overrides her actions, she is willing to use the opportunity to ask for anything to beg the Devil to end the eternal torment of a dead ghost who is haunted by the child she killed. Margarita understands the desperation which drove this young woman to her crime, and asks the right question – what of the man who made her pregnant and left her abandoned – is he made to suffer as she does. Willing to embrace adventure if it leads her from her unfulfilling life and towards the Master, she rides a broom naked and invisible through the streets of Moscow. Full of passion she destroys the house of the critic who broke the will of the Master, overcome by rage and yet her compassion stills her hand when she sees the fear she creates in a young boy. She is unafraid of the strangeness and possible danger of her role as the hostess for the Devil, and will take on the pain and discomfort involved to meet the Master again.

Margarita’s breath was taken away, and she was about to utter the cherished words prepared in her soul, when she suddenly turned pale, opened her mouth and stared: “Freida!…Freida, Frieda!” someone’s importunate, imploring voice cried in her ears, “my name is Frieda.”

100 Sci Fi women #8: Nell

There is another list I have been pointed to kindly by Matthew about science fiction by women and people of colour, which has added a whole bunch of new books to the “to read” list. Check it out for yourself here. Its focus is authors rather than characters, so my character list continues below.

Nell   The Diamond Age Neal Stephenson

Nell is a little girl who starts her life with poverty and abuse, unprotected save for the love of her big brother Harv who wants something better for her and her trusty companions Dinosaur, Duck, Peter and Purple. Her entire life changes when Harv brings her home a copy of a book, which is in fact a massively powerful learning computer, which educates her and leads her into another life (the moment she meets the book can be found here). Nell learns to think and fight and lead others through her interaction with the book, and her natural compassion is nurtured. But the Primer would not have helped Nell without her innate curiousity, intelligence and willingness to learn, as we see when she is compared to the others who use the Primer. Nell is special, and her story is one of growing up and learning and the value and importance of education. But most importantly, Nell ends as she begins, a brave girl and then woman, who takes on and accepts the challenges of life.

...though Princess Nell had become so beautiful over the years and had developed such a fine bearing that few people would mistake her for a commoner now, even is she were dressed in rags and walking barefoot.

Lying in her bunkbed in Madame Ping’s dormitory, reading these words from a softly glowing page in the middle of the night, Nell wondered softly at that. Princesses were not genetically different from commoners.