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The September List

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Things have been a little hectic, so here I am, finally posting the September list nearly two weeks after I usually do.

A lot of these I’ve already talked about.  But here’s the list proper:

56) Erle Stanley Gardner. The Case of the Queenly Constestant.

          q) Allen Tate. “The Man of Letters in the Modern World.”

          r) Allen Tate. “To Whom is the Poet Responsible?”

          s) Allen Tate. “Miss Emily and the Bibliographers.”

57) Azar Nafisi. Reading Lolita in Tehran.

58) Kathryn Hulme. The Nun’s Story.

59) Wendy Kaminer. Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity and the ACLU.

60) Theodore Dalrymple. Forever Fear.

I’ll start by saying that I don’t think it’s one of my more interesting lists.

Allen Tate is my favorite literary critic of the post-WW I period. 

“Miss Emily and the Bibliographers” concerns the issue that exercises us here–whether a work of fiction must in some sense be “real” (as in true to actual life) to be good.

Critics had been complaining that Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily,” was outlandish and impossible.  Real life did not consist of actual people who murdered their lovers and then slept by the corpse for the next twenty years.

Tate doesn’t directly challenge the era’s critical assumption, but he does drag up an actual example of a nearly identical case from New York state, and then goes on to ask what real actually is. 

I love almost everything by Tate, so I may like this one more than any of you would.

The Erle Stanley Gardner was definitely one of the better ones.  It also constituted the first time I’ve ever wanted Perry Mason’s client to be guilty.

I’m not sure this was what Gardner was going for, but–my God, this woman was a world class jerk.

The Kathryn Hulme represents the first time I’ve read the novel on which one of my favorite movies was based.  That is, of course, the Audrey Hepburn film The Nun’s Story.

The changes from book to film were relatively minor, which was nice.  I don’t generally like changes when changes are made, with the exception of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, where the movie is definitely better than the book.

But what got me involved while reading the book for the first time was as much the material I was finding about the author herself and her life. 

When the book came out just after WWII, it was widely supposed to be based on the life on Hulme’s long time friend, a former nun named Marie Louise Habets.

In the years since, a lot of this story has been debunked, or half debunked, in various ways.

But what interests me is that Hulme and Habets lived together for many years, in what looks, these days, very much like what we used to call a “Boston marriage.”

It’s never a good idea to make anachronistic assumptions about the way in which other people at other times lived there lives, but in this case it turns out that Hulme spent quite a bit of time in the years between the wars in Margaret Anderson’s circle in Paris.

And there was nothing closeted about Anderson’s circle in Paris. 

Anderson and her lover Jane Heap founded and ran The Little Review, one of the small magazines that were the first to publish then avant garde writers like Hemingway, h.d. and Djuna Barnes.

Anderson and Heap–but not Hulme–are subjects of chapters in one of my favorite books, Women of the Left Bank by Shari Benstock.

It’s one of a small stack of books that explains why I haven’t written off Women’s Studies altogether. 

It examines a long list of women who went to Paris during the same period as the men we’ve all heard about (Hemingway, Joyce and company) and wrote, produced, and published.

A remarkable number of these women were not only gay, but solidly part of established Lesbian couples.   All of them did work that is intrinsically interesting, but many of them did work that was necessary to make the reputations of the writers who are now considered part of the canon.

What’s even more intriguing to me is that so many of the women who did make good lives for themselves were part of this lesbian company.  The ones who had recurrent bouts of work-destroying personal trouble all seemed to be straight.

That may be Benstock’s bias, or the luck of the draw, but I think I could make a case that there was, inherent in a culture which did not take women seriously, a structural cause of the differences between gay and straight couples.

Maybe I’ll reread the Benstock at some point and report on how it sounds after a distance of several years.

Right now, though, I think I’m going to go off and do some chores.

Because chores hate me…

Written by janeh

October 12th, 2013 at 10:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'The September List'

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  1. I shall treasure this list. It’s the first time I recognized all the authors.

    Sex and success. Could be bias, of course. To do this sort of thing right, you establish firm clear criteria for who is to be included and what constitutes success before you start, and that’s not always feasible.

    But I shouldn’t be surprised if, in the Interwar period West, there was in fact something of a lesbian edge. There was a prioritization of women’s domestic roles–see GAUDY NIGHT–and a reluctance to overshadow husbands, especially intellectually, which may have something to do with the number of dead men in that generation. At the very least, heterosexual women carried a double burden. (Not that this stopped Sayers, Christie, Tey, Du Maurier or Orczy, but still…)

    There is also the liberating, energizing effect of setting society at complete defiance. That’s why I play with toy soldiers instead of engaging in military simulations.

    But if I’m right, the “lesbian edge” passed away between the election of Margaret Thatcher and the coming out of the closet of Ellen DeGeneres. Check back in 20 years.


    12 Oct 13 at 2:40 pm

  2. I think the Theodore Dalrymple book is “Farewell Fear” rather than “Forever Fear”.


    12 Oct 13 at 7:00 pm

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