I’ve written before about Kerry Greenwood’s seventeen novel Phryne Fisher series, about the titular 1920′s flapper detective who is as fantastically perfect as James Bond, with almost as many installments. She wrote another detective series set in present-day Melbourne (which isn’t actually very present-day, since Jeff Kennet is still Premier…), starring Corinna Chapman. I must say, in the battle between the feminist in me and the historian in me, the historian won and I prefer the Phryne Fisher series, but man is Corinna an awesome feminist character.
Corinna is a baker who runs her own shop, Earthly Delights. She’s also fat; an Australian size twenty. I have no idea how that translates in other regions, but that’s pretty big. Corinna knows she’s fat, and she’s entirely comfortable with it. And she’s fat because she’s fat in the same way that I have green eyes because I have green eyes – just one of those things that life hands you that you have no control over. She’s not fat because she has no willpower when it comes to food (or, perhaps worse – she comfort eats because of some ongoing unhappiness – Corinna is perfectly happy with her life) she’s just fat because she’s fat. Of course, she has a soft spot for certain things – namely, pastries and the gourmet chocolates friends make – but this comes across as a woman who enjoys her treats rather than one who comfort or binge eats. In fact, there’s a running point made along the lines of – would you really want to buy food from someone who looks like she never eats and therefore doesn’t even like her own cooking?
Conversely, two of her neighbours/employees, Kylie and Gossamar, are anorexics who indulge in the occasional binge and then starve themselves even more senselessly in the guilty aftermath. Corinna isn’t the least bit envious of their Kate-Moss-like figures; rather, she pities them and their obsession with conforming to unrealistic beauty standards.
Oh, and in the first book of what is so far a five-novel series, she attracts Daniel, a gorgeous man of Arab decent. Daniel adores Corinna for her intelligence, her passion, her drive, her empathy for the homeless junkie, Jason, whom she takes in and helps to turn his life around. No-one questions that a gorgeous man would adore a fat woman; it’s a case of, well, duh, didn’t you read the above line about intelligence, passion etc?
Like the Phyrne Fisher series, Corinna has an inner circle of friends and associates that features through all the books. I particularly liked her relationship with Jason as he first does a few odd jobs for her then, with her encouragement, finds a passion and flair for baking that sometimes surpasses Corinna’s own. (And she isn’t even envious; rather, proud that her apprentice/protege turned out so well. We so often see the gracious mentor when played between an older and younger men, but how many times have we see the over-the-hill female resentful of their talented protege’s rising star? And how many times have we seen a confident, content woman proud of their pupil’s talent, even when it surpasses their own?)
Anyway, as well as being a baker with a gorgeous lover and mentor to a junkie-turned-good, Corinna likes to solves mysteries in her life and the lives of those close to her. She doesn’t come across as competent as Phyrne, or as having such as well-stocked arsenal of witty comments, but to me, that made her a more realistic character. I could totally buy that Corinna had a knack for ferretting out information and piecing it all together without her needing to be impossibly perfect like Phryne.
As I said in my last article, Phryne Fisher comes across as something of a female James Bond, which in itself is a little refreshing seeing as so many fantastically perfect female characters are so passive, moping over men and such. But her modern-day counterpart Corinna Chapman is far more realistic. She fails spectacularly at meeting our ridiculous standards of beauty, but is hardly lacking in friends or male interest; in fact, she’s far more content than her stick-thin employees. Corinna comes across as a very ordinary woman, albeit one with a strong sense of self-worth (something that’s hardly ordinary in fictional women) who has a big heart and a knack for solving mysteries – in other words, a woman that women and girls can aspire to be. Yes, the historian in me preferred Phryne Fisher… but the feminst in me thinks Corinna Chapman rocks.