We hear male writers. We trip over their unwavering confidence in their own relevance (See Will Self on Sally Rooney in The Times or The New Statesman). We give a platform to the literary equivalents of the belligerent drunk in your local (See Brett Easton Ellis on his hatred of Millennials, again in The Times). We are subjected to the mansplaining. To misquote Viv Albertine, they have established a patriarchal outpost in our fucking brains (See ‘I must read the literary canon’).
Yes, such crowing can be dismissed as irrelevant and patronising but I started to wonder about the actual cost of this tsunami of male opinion for the modern reader. I think the very real risk is losing yet another generation of wonderful voices; the women who wrote, edited, published, promoted and reviewed the novels / poems / plays / short-stories of mid-20th to early 21st century.
Two recent podcast episodes raised this issue for me. Dame Carmen Callil, founder of Virago, was luminous and awe-inspiring on the Backlisted podcast discussing Elizabeth Jenkins’ The Tortoise and the Hare. Callil revolutionised the publishing industry. She tells anecdotes about dinners with Angie and Anita (Carter and Brookner, respectively). She knew everyone.
And in a similar vein, Daisy Buchanan’s recent interview with Barbara Trapido on You’re Booked is splendid. Trapido discusses her relationship with writing as she gets older, the books that shaped her identity, sexy times in the novel, and she tells a wonderful Mary Wesley anecdote with impressions.
Digressive, captivating and indiscreet, these are the women we deserve to hear, sharing their experiences, giving context for how women live and why we read what we do today, as well as recounting some wonderful anecdotes.
Maybe it’s already out there – and if it is please do let me know – as wouldn’t it be a delight to hear from the old hens of literature and not just the clamorous crowing of these aged roosters.