When I first began to think about and make notes for my paranormal novel The Silent Woman (still in progress), I began to think about speech and silence.
The title came to me – I don’t know how, just out of the blue – and because this has happened before, I decided to do some research. There is the famous case where I named a character Ben Sherman, thinking the name just sounded so ‘right’, not realising that was the name of a famous fashion designer … So now I do a quick check on the Interweb for names, titles etc. No point in publishing a paranormal mystery called The Silent Woman if there are already three paranormal mysteries with that name. (And with that in mind, I always try to be flexible about names and titles, ‘just in case’.)
So I turned up some interesting stuff. I came across an old pub sign, The Silent Woman. As I still had no idea what my book was about, I found this full of possibilities. There were other pub signs with parallel concepts – The Quiet Wife, The Honest Lawyer etc. They all depict a decapitated person. The Silent Woman carries her head under her arm or sometimes on a tray in front of her. This is the only way you can keep a woman quiet, or a lawyer honest, is the implication.
There is a kind of mythology about silence and the deliberate withholding or enforced withholding of speech.
The Silent Woman may appear to be consensual, as silence is often construed as agreement, but in this case, it has been ensured that she cannot speak up for herself. Nags and gossips were ducked like witches, or a scold’s bridle was employed to prevent speech, particularly nagging. (without which we’d have no Minette Walters – ooh folks, The Ice House is showing again – Daniel Craig from way back. Though my favourite bit is right at the beginning where the Labrador has rolled in or eaten some of the freshly discovered corpse 😉 eww! )
So in some quarters it seems silence is not only welcomed but preferred. Hence we ‘suffer in silence’. Children are ‘seen but not heard’. We women give the men in our lives ‘the silent treatment’ when they have done something wrong. And we mustn’t forget too, that even the fool, when he is silent, may be deemed wise, according to the Bible. There are loads of bits in the Bible about speech. Like how the tongue of a nagging woman is like the constant dripping of water wearing away a roof. Notice nagging is something only women do.
In my book, the beheaded woman becomes a vengeful spirit. She may have been silent, but actions, we are told, speak louder than words.
Silence can be non-disclosure, the enigma of Mona Lisa. Silence, as I have said, can imply complicity and agreement. But silence is alienating, and can mean an inability to engage in social activity, leading to isolation and solitude. This is something us only-children have to learn to deal with, the lack of socialisation.
In Susan Glaspell’s play ‘Trifles’ (also known in prose form as A Jury Of Her Peers) a woman’s only companion is her pet bird, and when the bird is killed by her husband in a fit of temper – well (spoiler alert) let’s just say it didn’t bode well for his future existence. Men are sent to investigate, and end up having to take their wives along. The women quickly unravel the truth and conceal it by their complicit silence.
So silence – is it ‘Golden’?
As Ronan Keating says “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.”