The Rejectionist called for guest posts about how marginalized folks read fiction (in which they are objectified, overlooked or excluded completely). She explains it better.
I decided to write about how I read my favorite book.
Edmund vs Eugenie
I could pick up The Count of Monte Cristo on any day and read it cover to cover.
The first (nine times) I read the book I was Edmund Dantes through every trial and duel, every mechanism of revenge and help, I even got the girl at the end. But it was the same for every book I read. I was always the protagonist, having their adventures, fighting with swords, howling with wolves, and wearing the coolest boots. I didn't even notice the characters that were much more like me. I didn't notice Eugenie Danglars at all. If I even remembered her character it was as part of Edmund's grand plan to humiliate her father. Edmund helped her run away from home to complete the Baron's downfall. I wouldn't have been able to tell you she was a lesbian.
In college, after I'd come out, I read The Count of Monte Cristo again (and again). I noticed Eugenie this time, and though her name still wasn't fixed in my mind, I knew there was a lesbian in my favorite book. But I was still Edmund, having the grand adventure, making grand plans. Eugenie felt like a bonus, a wink and a nod from Dumas to me. Here dear reader, here is a strong girl who takes her fate in her own hands, now back to Edmund.
Then I read The Penelopiad. Now, I had been Odysseus five or six times. I loved fighting the Cyclops and evading the Sirens and coming home to get the girl. But when I read the story from Penelope's point of view, sold into a marriage, forced to wait and scheme to keep her husband's lands, her dear handmaids hung for helping her keep the suitors at bay, I was thrust out of Odysseus's role. I was suddenly someone much more like myself, a woman with fewer rights and less power, and I hated Odysseus a little, he got to have his adventures while Penelope did the hard work preserving his kingdom.
When I picked up The Count of Monte Cristo again, Eugenie practically leapt off the page. Every scene with her in it was suddenly hers, every unflattering detail (meant to prove Baron Danglars was an inferior father) was vital. I was angry on her behalf, described as masculine because she was bold, cold because she had no interest in men, humiliated at the end because it furthered the plot of discrediting her father. Whenever she sneered at her at her cold parents and indifferent suitor I sneered with her, I wanted her to win, to escape her betrothal and become a singer in Italy. To leave her wretched life and be free. When she dressed as a man and ran away with her music teacher (who exclaimed, "I am looking at you; indeed you are adorable like that! One would say you were carrying me off.") I fled breathlessly with her. And when she was exposed as a woman to further humiliate her father, I felt her humiliation, and hoped, as they continued on to Brussels (at least not back to Paris in shame!) that Eugenie would succeed. And maybe put her cravat and those great boots back on.
Now when I read the book I am still Edmund Dantes. But I am also Eugenie Danglars.