Oh, Belle. Belle, Belle, Belle. First, you told us some authors were such a bunch of sexist dillweeds that you didn’t really like their novels all that much. In a throwaway sentence! A sentence that made it clear that you in fact didn’t read such books at all, but merely checked the covers for sexist content and then threw the books away in the trash. In. The. Trash. And then John said you could read fast. Biased much LOL! Yeah, well, so fast that you stopped reading books completely after you reached a sexist sentence! Because that’s manifestly what ‘reading fast’ means. Yes, and then you had an actual man testify again on your behalf that you finished books even if you didn’t super-love them. Like—probably the only chick in the world, seriously! How was any of us to know that “reads books fast” means “reads books”? What is this, some kind of crazy advanced logic class, or a blog?
So then you explained at length, that you were only talking about this one group of male authors who wrote more or less from the ‘50s on, and that you didn’t like their novels because you thought they weren’t good novels. When since is that a reason not to like a novel, I would like to know, Missy? Any anyway, Belle, your problem is that you’re reading the wrong thing. Nobody cares about these books anymore! Or, as a commenter suggested: “No. It seems your definition of ‘important’ is skewing your choice of reading, so not surprising that your results are skewed. I’d suggest that you drop everything else for a while until you’ve finished reading all of Pratchett and Banks.” [Here I must note that for whatever odd reason this rubbed me the wrong way. I have already read all of Pratchett and Banks (except maybe one Tiffany Aching one?). The knowledge that there will be no new Iain M. Banks novels dismays me. He’s one of my all-time favorite writers full-stop. WHY AFTER 500 COMMENTS WOULD SOMEONE NOT ASK IF I HAD READ THEM ALL FIRST BECAUSE YOU KNOW, I VERY WELL MIGHT HAVE? Unnamed commenter: I don’t hate on you; it was almost bad luck that you…naw, you still shouldn’t have been so patronizing. But, like, talk to me, dude, what were you thinking?]
Well, dear readers, someone does care about these authors. Someone cares very, very much, and that man is University of Toronto Professor David Gilmour. In a recent interview with Random House Canada’s Emily Keeler, he explained his teaching philosophy:
I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth….
I teach Tropic of Cancer to the first-year class. They’re shocked out of their pants. No one teaches it except for me. Sometimes their parents actually question me about it, they say, Listen, this is really outrageous. I say, well, it’s a piece of literature that’s been around for 60 years. It’s got something going for it.
There’s an even dirtier one that I teach, by Philip Roth, called The Dying Animal. I save it ’til the very end of the year because by that point they’ve got fairly strong stomachs, and they’re far more sophisticated than they are in the beginning. So they can understand the differences between pornography and great literature. There are men eating menstrual pads, and by the time my students get to that they’re ready. Roth has the best understanding of middle-aged sexuality I’ve ever come across.
You should really read the whole thing. He’s exactly the way you think he is.
AND FOR THE LAST TIME ALLOW ME TO RECAP BRIEFLY (lifted in part from comments):
Re-read the part about 8-bit Mario. The problem is not that I say, “book X lacks realistic female characters” and then you swoop in and save the day for The Macho Male Canon by saying “but Belle, hahaha! Book X lacks realism in a dozen other areas as well. Where’s your precious sexism now?” It’s rather than I say, “in Book X the male characters, even the minor ones, have plausible interior lives and are acting in a way that is comprehensible to the reader who might wish to think himself into the shoes of character Z for whatever reason. But none of the female characters have anything even like plausible exterior lives. Their behavior can be predicated entirely on the actions of the male characters; there is, in some sense, no need for them to have motivation. They are something more like tokens, or trophies, or symbols.” The objection in the latter case is that there is an awful disparity, and that it clanks painfully and woodenly each time a female character enters the page. There is no one mandated amount of realistic or empathetic female characters needed for a novel to get a passing grade in Feminism 101. One wishes only that the subsidiary female characters behave as plausibly like autonomous beings as the subsidiary male characters do. The novel may be one in which realistic characters are not an important aspect at all—so be it! One merely prefers that such characters as do exist, exist to an equal extent, rather than having the male characters photographed, plainly, while the female ones are merely sketched in chalk. That’s it! I’m saying that, when that doesn’t happen, the novel tends not to be a good novel. Again, that’s it. Not, “kill it! Kill it with fire!” Just: this particular, widespread defect usually makes a novel unsuccessful. However, there are always some artists who are so great that their novels overcome this defect, howsoever pronounced. THIS IS A VERY MODEST MOTHERFUCKING THESIS.
It has an unsurprising corollary, which is that most books written prior to 1930 or so don’t have precisely this problem (though they may have other problems). No one spoke frankly about the sexual motivations of the male main characters in novels, even if they were obvious. And so, when no one speaks about those of the female characters, there is no inconsistency, and in fact we can often imagine motives for them that the author himself would never have thought of—being a skilled writer he simply wrote a character who was plausible to him, and a woman, and from the outside. We, also, can look from the outside. But we can’t look deeply into the hearts of the male characters either, in some important way. Not because everything important in life is about sex! But—partly that! And…much of the trivial daydreaming that passes for waking life wasn’t considered an acceptable topic to write about. James Joyce really was a breaker of the frame in this way. There is too much here to consider. And I do not think that the appropriate mode of literary criticism is always to imagine that everything in the novel is real and then figure out which of the characters I would friend on Facebook, because I am not a moron and if you all would keep that in mind that would be lovely of you. I have a high opinion of our commenters generally, and particularly as smarts go.
But, because feminists are evil and all-powerful and can force everyone to follow their PC rules gone mad, none of you may disagree with straw-Belle Waring ever again. She is made of straw. You must disagree with actually-existing Belle Waring. If you trifle with straw-Belle Waring, your children will turn out to have been fathered by another man, and will be taken away from you despite the fact that you still love them, and you will be denied visitation rights forever, and you will be forced to pay your wife and her lover and their biological children $25,000 in child support every month and they will live in a Neutra house in the Hollywood Hills and you will live in a wino encampment under a highway overpass outside of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Don’t think I can’t make this happen, people. I’m not fucking playing anymore.
H/T to commenter GiT (and Henry who emailed me this link)