Roth is commonly considered to be, at best, a masculine writer and, at worst, a misogynistic one. In The Human Stain, for example, the central relationship is between two men, one of whom is sleeping with a much younger woman, Faunia Farley. It is often said that his female characters are lacking both in number and in-depth, and come across as shallow caricatures.

The only other significant female figure in the novel is Delphine Roux, an intellectual who acts as a kind of antagonist. Unlike Faunia, she is not given much developmental space until the closing stages of the novel at which point her struggles as a French woman in the male-dominated space of American academia are highlighted and posited as potential motivations for her antagonistic actions.

The definition of caricature in the OED is:

a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.

Now, to me, none of this is true of Delphine Roux. Indeed she struck me as a well-realised character in a novel that is otherwise quite grotesquely male. That definition seems to be more true of Faunia herself, often described in terms of her physical desirability although, in fairness, she develops into a much more nuanced character as more of her background is revealed.

As such, I was slightly surprised to discover, in reading around the critical opinion of the novel, that Delphine is routinely dismissed as a caricature and, in fact, given as an example of Roth's poor characterisation of women.

Here are some examples:

And, in another sense, it doubles the threat of writing really only about men, that what’s weak about the novel is the way that it inhabits the subjectivities of women especially. Delphine Roux is just a caricature, really, and in many small ways Faunia is a caricature, too.

Amy Hungerford. "The American Novel Since 1945: Lecture 21 Transcript". openmedia.yale.edu.

The one thing I remember not liking about The Human Stain was Delphine Roux — a comical caricature in an otherwise serious novel, and probably a case of Roth’s misogyny surfacing.

Trevor Berrett (2009). "Review of The Human Stain". mookseandgripes.com.

That, actually, was where Roth lost me, initially - the first extended passage about Delphine Roux. I much prefer characters to caricatures, and Delphine was one of the more ridiculous caricatures I've had the misfortune to be exposed to in recent reading. I find the degree of laziness involved in writing a character like that distasteful.

EvaDestruction (2011). "MeTa Book Club discussion of The Human Stain". metachat.org.

Delphine Roux is a caricature and although she fulfilled her purpose to the plot, I felt that Roth did not invest enough time into her to make her even remotely believable. Roth would have us believe that Roux is intrigued by Silk and finds him attractive or at least finds his mind attractive. She also is attempting to find an identity outside the one given to her by her parents and although she is living a self-chosen life, it does not come with any intimacy and partnership.

Gail (2020). "Reading 1001 discussion on The Human Stain". goodreads.com.

Nothing I read went into any detail and seemed to treat this as a given. So: can someone explain what it is about Delphine that makes her a caricature?



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