Friday, June 1, 2012

Paddling my own canoe

Book: A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx

Author: Elaine Showalter

Published: 2009 (Random House)

Pages: 512 (not counting end notes)

After reading this book, do I remember all the obscure women writers who paved ways but have gotten little historical credit?
Erm. No. Not really, no.

But do I get a sense of how their contributions pushed women writers forward in general?
Yes! Totally internalized that. They were badasses just by picking up pens when their societies were looking at their ink-stained hands and were all, "You're wasting perfectly good baby-holders there."

Did I discern any real change in women writers' progress to get taken seriously as artists through the centuries/decades?
Yes and no. Women have made it to "real people" status now, and their contributions to the canon are taking at least 85% [personal estimation] as seriously as men's. Yay. But according to this book, since the first colonial ladies, the conflict has always boiled down to art vs. domesticity, with variations of compromise, praise, and scorn of one or the other, which didn't depend so much on the era of the ladies as the determination of individual ladies themselves. There's been major progress in what details are no longer taboo to mention, but whatever a woman writes still does and has constantly commented on her stance. Even when she pointedly staying quiet about the argument, that's a statement about it too.

What did I think about the women writers who refused the label of "women writers"?
I think they had/have the right idea because the label still confers a condescension of sorts, and what group wants their work all lumped in together just because they happen to have one thing in common that affects their art in wildly different ways to super-divergent amounts? But I do think it's worth mentioning the perspective a writer is coming from on material and to what degree gender/sex affects this view on an individual basis. That'd be a pain in the ass to use for bookstore and library displays, though.   

How worried was I about the word "celebration" in the subtitle?
Fairly. It made this book look a lot more fluffy and uncritical than it actually is. But, again, this is one of my 90% finds from the dying Border's in my hometown last summer, and once I got to the part where the author rips Gertrude Stein a new one, I knew the author wasn't here for an unconditional love sisterhood meeting.

Which--okay, I tried to read 3 Lives and no, I didn't understand it. Postmodernism is one of those things I'm comfortable not understanding. But this author really, really hates Gertrude Stein and showed it by putting aside objectivity long enough to criticize so personally I started wondering if Stein had ever spit on her or something.

Bookshelf, donate, or trash: Bookshelf. It's a good reference book, inspiring without getting sentimental, and a good abbreviated history lesson. But ultimately, it works best as a very springy jumping off point to go find out more about the more interesting yet less covered ladies of the pages.

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