In Sunday's NYT Book Review, Rebecca Barry asserts that "Jane Austen can be called chick lit." Does this mean that the venerable Jane will now begin to disappear from university syllabi faster than you can say "a truth universally acknowledged"? Because women have embraced her work, because her stories resonate with so many of us, and because she is so damn accessible (and sequeled and prequeled and pastiched) is her work somehow less literary?
In the same issue, Katie Roiphe reviews Elaine Showalter's critical work, A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx and questions "the sheer democracy of the project." (Full disclosure-Showalter was my professor at Rutgers and I am a great admirer of her work. I'll try to remain objective.) For Roiphe, Showalter should have shown "more judgment" and "more selection" in regards to the writers she has chosen. In particular Roiphe takes issue with Showalter's inclusion of the "frothy entertainments" of Jennifer Weiner and Terry McMillan "at the expense of more serious literary work."
Hmm. I don't know about you, but I see a pattern here.
It was in fact in Showalter's class at Rutgers that I first read the work that changed my writing life-A Room of One's Own. In that essay Virginia Woolf tells the story of Shakespeare's sister "waiting to be born." For Woolf, and for many of us, Shakespeare's sister is the ordinary woman with extraordinary gifts-the woman who would be a writer, but for that fifty pounds a year and a room of her own.
I applaud the scope and breadth of Showalter's work, and I'm heartened that she gives her due to Jennifer Weiner and Terry McMillan. Shakespeare's sisters are all around us, even if their books don't always garner a review in the Times.
They say "chick lit." I say "chick lit-erate."
Causes Rosemary DiBattista Supports
The Alzheimer's Association