A woman who decides to give it all up rarely turns back, while men generally, at a certain point, need their Ithaca Sometimes I play a game with myself in which I take stories with male protagonists – famous stories that I like a lot – and ask myself: if the protagonist were a woman, would it work just as well? Could Melville’s Bartleby, for example, be female? Or Stevenson’s Jekyll? Italo Svevo’s Zeno? Calvino’s Baron In The Trees? For many years, the game has revolved mainly around Wakefield, a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Wakefield is a man who lives in crowded 19th-century London. One morning, he says goodbye to his wife and goes out. He’s supposed to be away for a few days; he doesn’t leave the city, but instead, for no reason, with no plan, he goes to live near his own house, and for 20 years – until, in the same impulsive way, he returns to his wife – confines himself to observing his own absence. The story is well known and much studied.
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