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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quick Link: Elaine Showalter's New Book

Salon's Laura Miller takes a look at Elaine Showalter's authoritative new history and analysis of American women writers, A Jury of Her Peers. It's basically an American counterpart to A Literature of Their Own, which focused on the british ladeez and was a seminal brick in the foundation of feminist lit-crit.

I think that delving further into Showalter's writing is a good project for me--a good way to fill the time created by the black hole of journalism and publishing :(

Here's Laura:

Every few years, someone counts up the titles covered in the New York Times Book Review and the short fiction published in the New Yorker... and observes that the male names outnumber the female by about 2 to 1. This situation is lamentable, as everyone but a handful of embittered cranks seems to agree, but it's not clear that anyone ever does anything about it. The bestseller lists, though less intellectually exalted, tend to break down more evenly along gender lines; between J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer alone, the distaff side is more than holding its own in terms of revenue. But when it comes to respect, are women writers getting short shrift?

The question is horribly fraught, and has been since the 1970s. Ten years ago, in a much-argued-about essay for Harper's, the novelist and critic Francine Prose accused the literary establishment -- dispensers of prestigious prizes and reviews -- of continuing to read women's fiction with "the usual prejudices and preconceptions," even if most of them have learned not to admit as much publicly. Two years before that, Jane Smiley, also writing in Harper's, alleged that "Huckleberry Finn" is overvalued as a cultural monument while "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is undervalued, largely because of the genders of the novels' respective authors; the claim triggered a deluge of letters in protest....

Although American women scribblers aren't as exalted as their British peers (nor objects of my obsession) I'm particularly interested to see what Showalter says about such diverse characters as Louisa May Alcott, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Willa Cather and Toni Morrison.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! I enjoy reading what people think about writers.

    Cheers! JJ