Ursula K. Le Guin discusses the literary heroine who inspired her

We are absolutely thrilled to welcome the incredible Ursula K Le Guin back to the Gollancz Blog to celebrate International Women’s Day as part of our Wonder Women series. We’ve teamed up with our sister websites One Book Lane and W&N to celebrate our literary heroines for #WonderWomen16!  Join us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to tell us about your heroines for #WonderWomen16.


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Why, when asked to write about “a women character who has inspired me,” did I immediately think of Mrs Ramsay?

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Mrs Ramsay is an upper middle-class, middle-aged Victorian, the mother of eight children. A central character of To the Lighthouse and a semi-portrait of Virginia Woolf’s mother Julia Stephens, Mrs Ramsay is a benevolent, kindly, strong-willed, complex, intelligent woman with a mind rather conventional than original; not an entirely ordinary person, but in no way a heroine.

Why does the thought of her inspire me?

Maybe because she isn’t a heroine, doesn’t need youthful heroics. She is mature. Her heroism is a daily matter, taken for granted. It is inspiring to read of a great soul – for she is a great soul – who is a housewife. And a good cook. The Boeuf en daube which she and her cook spend three days making, and her pure enjoyment of it, inspire me with delight and emulation. She is a good mother, and a good wife, oh yes — not in this case the easiest job in the world. She is the vital center of a passionately intense and complicated network of deep, long-term relationships, a family.

Of all subjects of novels, the greatest is the family. Perhaps also the greatest subject of tragedy; think of the House of Atreus, the House of Denmark. But Mrs Ramsay is not a tragic figure, or not as we generally conceive one. Yet the shock, only halfway through the book, when we learn of her death, is to me greater than that of any other fictional death. It inspires me with pity, with terror, with awe at the mystery of human destiny, and the mystery of the art that can, for a moment, illuminate it.


– Ursula K. Le Guin

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Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the finest writers of our time. Her books have attracted millions of devoted readers and won many awards, including the National Book Award, the Hugo and Nebula Awards and a Newbery Honor. Among her novels, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed and the six books of Earthsea have attained undisputed classic status; and her recent series, the Annals of the Western Shore, has won her the PEN Center USA Children’s literature award and the Nebula Award for best novel. In 2014 Ursula K. Le Guin was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.