Like no other disaster before it, the coronavirus lockdown has separated the introverts from the extroverts.
Any self-respecting introvert shut to door of their homes to visitor as quickly as you can say ‘up with the drawbridge’, and gazed in calm satisfaction at their empty calendars. Behind their masks and sunnies, they hid smile that they were no longer recognised on the rare occasions they left the house, and they crossed their fingers that awkward hand shakes and hugs were a thing of the past.
Extroverts, on the other hand, began counting down the days until they could get to the pub, throw a bash to celebrate their missed birthday and return to their rightful place by the water cooler at their offices. Don’t even talk about the distress of working from home for an extrovert … or their introverted partners who shared their new office space.
Being firmly in the former camp, notwithstanding my love of an occasional dinner party, I know that when we return to some kind of normality, I will miss many of the introvert-friendly benefits of lockdown.
I never felt as heard as when I listened to Sammy J singing Goodbye My Lockdown, which lamented the end of the introverts’ paradise that has been social isolation. The song, while hilarious, also reflected a personality that was all-too familiar to many who love any excuse to stay the hell at home.
I have a feeling that some of my favourite literary introverts would have approved of lockdown. For some, it was not so far removed from their norm.
I don’t imagine that the life of Where the Crawdads Sing’s Kya would be any different to the life that she already knew, where she enjoyed the company of the swamp wildlife more than that of the townspeople.
In Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, the protagonist, Arthur Less, was hilariously awkward, and his self-doubt was everybody’s. It seemed clear that Arthur would be happiest at home on his own (or reading a paper in bed with his ex), despite the world tour on which he has embarked to avoid his former boyfriend’s wedding.
When reading last year’s bestseller Normal People, I l felt drawn to Connell for his introversion, and it seemed that Marianne felt the same way. While surrounded by friends at school, Connell was happiest and most comfortable with just Marianne.
Even Harry Potter might be described as an introvert, often needing time on his own to consider what had happened during his day, and preferring the company of his two best friends to that of larger crowds.
Now that I think about it, literature if full of introverts, which is perhaps indicative of the inner lives of many who write.
It is not just introversion that can be satisfying in literature, but also the way introverts are more willing to reject the social norms that can sometimes weigh heavily in everyday life, where being ‘nice’ seems to be a prerequisite of womanhood. They are not as frightened of losing popularity and being on their own, so are prepared to rail against expectations.
That is partly why I enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant, in which the Eleanor of the title refused to partake in small talk and always spoke her mind, regardless of how inappropriate that might have been. I loved the comedy of the situations when this happened, but also Eleanor’s freedom from social constraints. She was almost childlike in her exploration of the social world, and her confusion and practicality were endearing to the reader.
Eleanor’s questioning of social manners also exposed the hypocrisy of social behaviour, when people follow sometimes senseless conventions in what they say and how they interact. Think of the question, “How are you today?” that expects anything but an honest answer.
Similarly, I appreciated the understated, plain-speaking characters in Kent Haruf’s Plainsong. The kindest characters in the book were also the quietest. Here were people who thought before they spoke, and only commented when they thought necessary. They were kind an authentic, and while in real life they would be a nightmare to encounter at a party, in fiction they were representative of a refreshing restraint and honesty.
Having said all of that, just like in real life, I have to admit that I also love the company of extroverts in literature, who introduce me to the ‘other side’ from the comfort and solitude of my own home. I adored Vivian in The City of Girls, and the irrepressible Lydia in Pride and Prejudice. I only wish I had some of their confidence and tenacity, and I would gravitate to them at any party, in the knowledge I would never need to hold court myself, as they would happily hold the limelight.
But I have to admit that most of the time, I enjoy reading about these characters even more than drinking cocktails with them. And that is exactly what has been happening recently.
The funny thing is that, for the first time in my introverted life, after months in lockdown, my extroverted side is finally starting to emerge. Maybe a few parties wouldn’t be so bad, and I’d really enjoy sharing a pizza with friends. Perhaps a rowdy girls’ weekend on the coast is exactly what I’ve been missing … just as long as I’m promised another long and lonely lockdown afterwards.