She has insisted that themes central to women's lives -- marriage, motherhood, the tension between family and individual aspirations -- constitute subject matter as "serious" and significant as traditionally masculine motifs like war and travel.Then, of course, there are those insidious doubts to contend with:
The majority of the women writers whose lives and work Showalter chronicles wrestled with the nagging feeling that they were going against nature as well as country in pursuing what was rightfully a man's work.Which is not to say that lasses lack ambition; rather that what of it we have, we fear -- if not the drive itself, then the possible repercussions. And it's true! What's less ladylike than ambition, for god's sake? The word itself trembles with connotations of greed, heartlessness, and selfishness, none of which are laid out in the "Eyshes Hayl," a Jewish Friday night prayer extolling the virtues of the fairer sex. "Eyshes Hayl, mi yimstah?" King Solomon once asked, and we repeat: a righteous woman, who can find? No one looking through the aisles of Barnes and Nobles or the op-ed pages, that's for sure.
Her worth is above rubies. Why? Because she keeps her husband happy, her home clean, the candles lit, and there's a bunch of stuff in there about wool and flax and whatever. The point is, what wife and mother doing all that would have time to write a grand sweeping novel about the Napoleonic era?
Even now that many of us have rooms of our own and can outsource the spinning and weaving, it feels unseemly to step forward and say, "I, yes I, have written a book! Though I know the proper thing to do would be to bury it in a drawer, though I know I should be modest and afraid of outshining any current or potential reproductive mates, those I am exposing myself to ridicule for trying, I am putting this book out there for you to judge."
We try to cushion the blow by making the books either memoirs or memoirs masquerading as fiction (the literary equivalent of an "I" statement) or easy to ghettoize as "genre" (mystery, young adult, sci fi/fantasy).
This all boils down to the following summary: women write small, modest books about relationships, while men write large-scale epics about stuff, and when John Updike died half of the next New Yorker issue was dedicated to him, with another piece in the end about Ian McEwan. The only woman who could command a similar level of attention is Toni Morrison, and thank heavens she's around, if only for symbolism's sake.
Because I am an orderly person who likes charts and measures of things, I have created a handy-dandy scale for authors, ranging from 1 to 16.
1 = You really think you'd be good at this writing stuff! You read things and think, Pssssh I could do better than that in my sleep. You even have a weblog for when you will fulfill your potential and start having a go at it, at which point you will knock everyone's socks off.
16 = classics who get serious obits when they die; who are taught in graduate school; who have won at least one major international prize. 16s include Martin Amis, V.S. Naipaul, Rushdie, Coetze, Pynchon, Melville, Dickens, Nabokov, Elliot, Austen, Woolf, Orwell, Joyce, Faulkner, Tolstoy, James, Wharton, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Marquez, Kundera, Steinbeck, Morrison, and their ilk. The majority of 16s are already dead. Almost all are male, serious, and at least occasionally unreadable. Frankly, I'm not sure even Twain makes the cut, though David Foster Wallace's untimely death might push him over the edge.
In between is everyone else, from the eager blogger with several beginnings of short stories and an outline for a novel on his computer (3) to the 26-year-old with a completed manuscript who just got an agent (9).
Anyone published is an automatic 10. Whether they continue to rise from there depends on whether anyone buys/reads/respects their book (11), writes a couple other books and has moderate name recognition, at least within certain circles (12), sees an adaptation make it to movie theaters and/or wins a prize and/or appears on a major radio or TV show (13), achieves name recognition and status to the degree that s/he can write whatever s/he wants (14), and is considered Great (15).
15s: Roth, Updike, Irving, DeLillo, McEwan, Ishiguru, Chabon
14s: Haruki Murakami, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Cunningham, Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen, Richard Russo, and popular authors whose gold makes the rules like JK Rowling, John Grisham, Amy Tan, & Dan Brown
13s: Donna Tartt, Alice Sebold, Myla Goldberg, Yann Martel, Jeffrey Eugenides, Nick Hornby, Curtis Sittenfeld
12s: Nicholson Baker, Audrey Niffenegger, Caleb Carr
I aspire to be a 12, if I'm very lucky a 13. But even admitting that much ambition is difficult.