Love it or hate it, Girls fits into a specific, maligned literary genre, noted television critic Emily Nussbaum in this week's New Yorker. Nussbaum compares Girls to previous works about young women, most notably Mary McCarthy's 1963 novel The Group. Like Lena Dunham's show, critics at the time called The Group drivel about self-important, privileged young women. But that hasn't stopped dozens of women from continuing to publish similar stories. As Nussbaum writers:
These are stories about smart, strange girls diving into experience, often through bad sex with their worst critics. They're almost always set in New York. While other female-centered hits, with more likable heroines, are ignored or patronized, these racy fables agitate audiences, in part because they violate the dictate that women, both fictional and real, not make anyone uncomfortable.
This week's Girls episode, "One Man's Trash," reads like a short story from McCarthy, Sylvia Plath, or, I would even say, from Raymond Carver. It's a story that's based on the uncomfortable nature of two lonely people who just want to experience something else for a brief moment.
In the midst of her university years, Djebar published her first two novels, La Soif and Les Impatients (she also took on her pen name, fearing that her father wouldn't approve of her writing). The novels were much less politicized than her later writing and received criticism for failing to acknowledge the then-current political climate in Algeria; still, these novels—written in French but set in Algeria, using romantic plots to explore female identity—foreshadowed many of the themes that are central to Djebar's later work.
If you're a fan of literary heroines and free books, you're in luck! Erin Blakemore, who recently participated in our online young adult book club, has five copies of The Heroine's Bookshelf to give away to Bitch readers. All you have to do is leave a comment as a registered user letting us know who your favorite literary heroine is.
Erin's favorite literary heroines and contest details after the jump!
I started this series with a strained and cheesy Doctor Who reference, and today's title was me finishing with one ("Silence in the Library," for those playing at home). Let's try and move on from my sparkling wit to discuss which kinds of books and writers get to grace bookshelves, and the social and economic processes governing this. Who gets published and who does not? Whose work gets preserved? Who gets into libraries and bookstores? Who gets to be an icon?
Any moment in time is the history others might look back on. I want to look to the writing happening, and the reputations being shaped, right now. Who do you think are going to be today's feminist literary icons in future eyes, and who ought to be? And what is the point of having icons?
I can't predict the future—no, really, it's true!—so I can't tell you who are going to be recognized as great writers with feminist consciousness or consciences. I can, however, tell you who I like, and who represents the kind of expression I'd like to see more of in time to come.
We've mostly talked about established icons of feminist interest, but now I want to look to a legacy that hasn't quite taken shape yet. Over the course of this week, we're going to talk about the how icons get to be icons, and Sookie, with her world of glitter, wisps of the unknown, and pushing boundaries, is the perfect character with which to start. The protagonist of the Southern Vampire Mysteries throws up a number of questions around the kinds of characters one sees represented, and what one might be looking for in a feminist character.
I am wary when I walk into bookstores these days, because I don't need to dip into the horror section to find books that scare me. I take a look around at the white faces on the covers and think about how I'm not encountering books about people like me. Except, given how popular the whitewashing of covers is just at present, maybe I am and just don't know it.
Whitewashing book covers, representing non-white characters as white* on covers, is a publishing practice which has become disturbingly common.
Between high school English and having spent half my life treading one set of boards or another, a large chunk of my brain is devoted to Shakespeare. For whom isn't that the case, really? There's the deep horror of Macbeth, the lovely gender mix-ups of Twelfth Night, the… no, I really didn't like The Taming of the Shrew. But the thing is that Shakespeare's plays are largely about the men. My having gone to drama school has to be good for something, so let me take you through the theatrical manipulations rendering so many Shakespearian women more silent than they could be (and, arguably, more silent than the stories could do with).
Romance novels: generally not the sort of thing we might discuss as a vehicle for feminist literary icons. Many are the faces I have pulled at the quality of some of the novels supposedly aimed at me. I think, however, that writing romance novels off entirely is leaving a lot outside in the cold. Romance is, after all, the most popular literary genre in all the world. More than that, it's a genre dominated by women writers and readers, and you've got to put down some of the contempt for romance to misogyny. Accusations of silliness and inconsequentiality are, of course, some of the most insidious tools in the patriarchy's toolbox. Let's share some love for the love story, shall we?
I wanted to write about at least one writer from the Southern Hemisphere for you. (I was going to also write about New Zealand's Katherine Mansfield, but then Lindsay pipped me to the blog post!) I thought to myself, I've never read My Brilliant Career (1901), and that's supposed to be one of the best feminist works to ever come out of Australia. An excellent topic on which to write, I surmised! This plan did not quite work out as I had expected. So let me tell you a little bit about Miles Franklin, and some other Australian women writers you, readers, may find of interest.