Laura Sook Duncombe’s previous Literary Ladies Cage Fight columns for The Butter can be found here.
Hey gal-pals! Welcome to Literary Ladies Cage Fight—where we celebrate women of novels and plays by making them fight. When women are celebrated, everyone’s a winner! Each week, the ladies go five rounds in pre-selected categories, winning one point for each round. At the end of five rounds, the lady with the most points wins! I’m Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty and co-host of this column. I am so glad you’re here!
And I am Artemis, goddess of the hunt and also a co-host of this column with my sister, Aphrodite. This week, as American political campaigns gear up in earnest, we here at LLCF have been thinking about who gets left behind in the stories we tell. Sure, you know who the main characters are, but what about the supporting characters, the B-plot, the sidekicks? Who has a full, rich life but doesn’t look quite as pretty as the main character in high-definition? These are the ladies that we’re interested in this week at LLCF—the ones we’d like to read a whole book about. I am pleased to introduce Jordan Baker from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Dolly Oblonsky from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina! Fight fair, ladies. Let’s get started!
Round One: Harry Potter House
Dolly is Anna’s sister-in-law. She’s married to Anna’s no-good brother, Stiva, who cheats on her with the family babysitter and isn’t super sorry about it. Dolly is exhausted from having kids and being a mom and she just wants her husband to treat her right! Even though she’s a princess, she’s not high and mighty and she’s one of the nicest people in the whole book. When Anna is shunned by society, Dolly is the only one who still talks to her. Loyal til the end, she’s a total Hufflepuff.
Jordan is a girlhood friend of Daisy and a current friend of Gatsby. She is clueless Midwesterner Nick’s introduction into the wild, wild world of West Egg. She’s a tennis player with “golden shoulders” and a reputation for being slightly shady. She and Nick date off and on and it seems like she actually likes him, but he’s too obsessed with Gatsby to really invest in her, so she ends up leaving him. Undeniably a part of the party scene, she still seems separate from it all, never really buying into the whole fantasy. Worldly-wise and mysterious, Jordan is a Ravenclaw.
Winner: Jordan. Dolly’s strength is internal and quiet, whereas Jordan’s is brute physical. She could kick Dolly’s butt.
Round Two: Sidekick
Dolly’s saddled with Anna, her sister-in-law and the main character of this book. She’s gorgeous, married, and having an affair with a younger man. She wants to have her cake and eat it, too, and gets really sad and confused when people aren’t picking up what she’s putting down (NOT AT THE OPERA ANNA!). She does provide Dolly with a heart-to-heart at the beginning of the book to convince her not to leave her cheating husband, which in retrospect seems a little self-serving. How come you never offer to babysit the kids so Dolly can have some me-time? How come it’s all me, me, me? Anna is not a particularly good person, and she’s not a great friend to Dolly either.
Jordan’s friend is Daisy, the not-so-great love interest of the titular Great Gatsby. Although they’ve known each other since school age, they do not appear to be very close. Jordan knows Daisy’s secrets, but we don’t see her confide in Daisy herself. One gets the sense that Daisy’s best friend is Daisy: other people are occasionally allowed in her orbit.
Winner: Draw. Join a book club, gals! Make better friends! There’s nothing better in life than a good girlfriend. Go out and get some!
Round Three: Love Interest
Dolly’s hubby is the Roman-handed, Russian-fingered Stiva, a jolly man who does love Dolly…he just also loves everyone else in a dress. He comes across as sympathetic (emphasis on the pathetic, amirite?), but doesn’t have a lot going for him. He’s supposed to be a symbol of the hedonistic corruption of the big city life, and he makes simple country life look pretty appealing in contrast. I don’t know why I don’t hate him, but I don’t. He’s a big slob and a cheater, but he’s got a good heart. I think.
Jordan’s boyfriend is Nick Carraway, wide-eyed chronicler of the Gatsby saga. Whether she falls for his corn-fed good looks or his gee-whiz demeanor, we don’t know. We do know that Nick is Just Not That Into Her, but he powers through dating a gorgeous athlete somehow. She eventually wises up to his lukewarm feelings and bails on him, presumably going to nurse her wounds on a beach in St. Tropez with a fellow golden-shouldered sports pro.
Winner: Jordan! Because she knows she deserves R-E-S-P-E-C-T and she and Nick are never, never, never getting back together…like ever.
Round Four: Tragic Flaw
Dolly has an all-too-common tragic flaw—she lets people walk all over her. She is taken advantage of by her no good husband, her prettier younger sister, and of course Anna. Everyone relies on Dolly and takes her for granted, just assuming she will take them back and make them feel better. What about Dolly’s needs? What about Dolly’s hopes and dreams? Nobody asks. Nobody cares. And she doesn’t stand up for herself or make herself a priority.
Jordan, we are told, is a liar. She cheated to win her first professional golf tournament and she’s constantly bending the truth. Although she knows the truth about what happened with Daisy’s wedding to Tom, she doesn’t explain it to Gatsby, preferring to let the whole grisly spectacle unfold for her entertainment. I won’t go so far as to blame her for Gatsby’s death, but she does seem to be a character who holds all the cards and reveals nothing.
Winner: Dolly. I loathe a woman who doesn’t stand up for herself. Rise up, Dollys of the world! Refuse to be taken for granted! Claim your rightful place in the matriarchy! (Okay, Artie, that’s a bit much. But I see what you mean. Let’s keep going.)
Dolly’s ending is better than Anna’s, in the sense that she’s still alive, but that’s about it. Her beloved sister Kitty is married to Levin and living out the in the country Amish-style and her husband is still sleeping around. We don’t get a dramatic ending for Dolly—she just sort of fades out of the story.
Jordan also fades away, after breaking up with Nick. She’s there for the carnage of Myrtle’s death, but she’s basically just pretty scenery. Daisy is also pretty scenery, a blank canvas for men to project their desires on, but she is dangerous pretty scenery. Jordan—perhaps because she has a career as an athlete and isn’t as much of a blank—does not incite the same level of mania in the men she attracts. We don’t know what happens to her in the end, but I suspect she is going to be all right. Jordan Baker is not a woman who mopes around after a breakup. Jordan Baker slips into a stunning LBD and paints the town red, because she’s young and beautiful and she knows what a powerful currency that is.
So after five close rounds, Jordan pulls ahead of Dolly! What a great match. Both of these women deserved better stories than they got.
Maybe they could get their own book where they met and became friends. Jordan could teach Dolly about self-empowerment and Dolly could teach Jordan the value of telling the truth. It’s so wacky it just might work! Are you listening, Hollywood? Jennifer Garner could play Dolly and Rosamund Pike could play Jordan Baker. Think it over!
Join us next time on LLCF: Where Women Always Win!
Laura Sook Duncombe lives in Alexandria, Virgina with her husband and a mutt named Indiana Bones, Jr. Musical theater, pirates, and Sherlock Holmes are a few of her favorite things. Her work can be found on the Toast, the Hairpin, Jezebel, and at her blog.