Feminine Tosh

Writers’ Trigger:

Some blogs ago, I mentioned that I was reading everything Amazonian. And no sooner had I written that then I found a review of Ann Patchett‘s most recent book STATE OF WONDER which is set in the Amazon.

An unattributed review in the July 2nd Economist critiqued the novel.  The reviewer wrote that the novel was “crammed with sumptuous description.” The reviewer concluded, “V.S. Naipaul‘s recent comments about female authors – that they can never be equal because of their ‘sentimentality, and narrow view of the world’ are debunked here.”

If you haven’t followed the Naipaul controversy, a bit of background. At this year’s Hay Festival, Naipaul said: “My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”

(I’d like to ask Naipaul… if you didn’t mean to say ‘feminine tosh’ in an unkind way… what way did you mean it? I’m reminded of that Southern custom of women bad-mouthing a friend or acquaintance but closing with the phrase, ‘bless her heart.’ It’s a bit like putting honey on a bee sting.)

Naipaul added, “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two, I know whether it is by a woman or not due to their sentimentality, their narrow view of the world.”

My path is clear, I need to read STATE OF WONDER (if you haven’t read her novel BEL CANTO, check it out), and I need to read the sexist, Nobel Prize-winning V.S. Naipaul.

  • Do you agree with Naipaul that women writers are weaker than men? If their writing is different, how is it different? Is this difference a strength or a weakness?
  • Without looking at the author’s name, choose a book at random. Look at the first two paragraphs. Are there any clues as to whether the author is male or female? If so, what clues suggest the sex of the author?
  • Thinking ahead to a writers’ workshop, I look forward to taking the first two paragraphs out of ten books. The trick will be to read the paragraphs and decide whether the participants can accurately identify the authors as male or female.


As the world trembles on an economic fault-line and the ground quakes beneath our feet, we listen to the news and try to make sense of it. Standard and Poor’s downgrade of our debt rating has triggered all sorts of finger-pointing.

I question S&P’s credibility, badly damaged by the inflated grades they assigned the players in the risky mortgage debacle. However, their charge that Congress shows “uncertainty in the policy making process” is right on the money. But enough. Why read it here when you can turn on every radio and TV and listen to the bad news and mixed analysis 24/7?

Perhaps it is time to step back and take a longer view. Sometimes a poem can throw new light on an old issue. Such a poem is “Old Houses” by Robert Cording (Walking with Ruskin, CavanKerry Press, Ltd., 2010.) The poem came to me from American Life in Poetry. Weekly, Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-2006, chooses a contemporary American poem and sends it out to all those registered to receive his email. (You may register at www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.)

“Old Houses”: Year after year after year / I have come to love slowly / how old houses hold themselves- / before November’s drizzled rain / or the refreshing light of June- / as if they have all come to agree / that, in time, the days are no longer / a matter of suffering or rejoicing. / I have come to love how they take on the color of rain or sun / as they go on keeping their vigil / without need of a sign, awaiting nothing / more than the birds that sing from the eaves, / the seizing cold that sounds the rafters.

acceptance, patience, endurance

“Old Houses” suggests to me that we should have some patience. Not that we should remove ourselves from the political process (or stalemate as the case may be), but that we should step back from the daily drama and take a deep cleansing breath.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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1 Response to Feminine Tosh

  1. Doris, I was intriged by your suggestion to find out about the sex of the writer after having read two paragraphs of the book. I’ve got it wrong with the first book. Spring flowers on roofs where described and detailed pattern in the carpet and the writer was a man. Then I found a book with 26 shortstories; I was frustrated by the fact that only three of them were by female writers . No point of starting the game. The book was printed in Germany in 1969.

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