Is literature by women limited compared to lit. by men (if yes, how so)?
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Well, now you'll HAVE to elaborate. :)
I don't offer an opinion because I don't have one (maybe because of the problems Amy mentioned). But I have heard this often enough--that literature by women is somehow "parochial"--that I want to hear what others think.
For what it's worth, I also think that there is a huge and necessary distinction between "women's fiction" (a genre akin to "chick lit") versus books written by women. The former will more than likely display fewer themes than the entire body of literature written by men, but the latter will not.
How come when a man writes a novel about a man going through a midlife crisis it's considered "fiction" but when a woman writes a novel about a woman going through a midlife crisis it's "women's fiction"?
I think if you look at everything women write, they probably tackle much the same themes as men. On the other hand, I think more women write a certain kind of what I would loosely call "domestic" fiction than men do; for example, I just finished a book (Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden) that I couldn't imagine being written by a man. So maybe what I think is that women explore MORE themes than men do.
I've certainly read fiction by men in which the female characters aren't as well developed as the male characters, but I've also read fiction by women in which the male characters are less well developed than the female. Also, since I read a lot of older fiction, I have to try to see the women in terms of the roles they filled at that time, not how we would like to see them now.
But all of this is a generalization. I think I really read and try to evaluate each book on its own merits, and I think it's really hard to come up with any meaningful way to analyze this very interesting question.
edited because I bone-headedly messed up the html tag.
Yes, every time I try to formulate a general opinion I think of half a dozen specific counter-examples.
There also must be some effect of historical skewing of authors' genders--since most writers were male until very very recently, most books by women tend to be relatively modern--and every period favours different styles and preoccupations.
One thing that strikes me, for instance, is that women didn't seem to go for "Dickensian" novelistic panoramas--oodles of curious characters glancing off each other in tortuous plots as if in a pinball machine. But, if that's well observed, how can one tell whether that was because they "could not" write such novels or because they were somehow discouraged from doing so?
What's funny is that men write "relationship sagas and love stories" ALL THE TIME.
Really? Is there a special section in most bookstores marked "women's fiction"? Is there a special area in Dewey or Lib of Congress systems that single out "women's fiction"? Or is this something that some critics do?
FWIW, one of the things that bugs me about the New York Times book section is that books about women characters are almost always given to women to review. (One recent notable exception was Stephen King's review of Joyce Carol Oates.)
It is something that marketing departments do.
Yes. I can't recall a bookstore near me (NY) that does not have this. I distinctly recall when Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad came out, it was placed among chick lit and romance novels until she took to the internet to complain about treatment of her work compared to men (example: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen) at which time it was moved to "new fiction."
>14 sparemethecensor: Wow! Not doubting your word at all, but but I'm in Michigan, which is brain draining at a rapid pace, and I've never seen this at the bookstores I go to (though maybe it's b/c people can't spell "women").
Before Flyleaf---which is a great store with a very savvy owner-- there was The Intimate Bookshop, which did not survive the heydey of the big box chain store boom.
:-( They had wonderful wooden floors.
I think we are fortunate in the Triangle because every one of our towns seems to have a wonderful indie bookstore: Quail Ridge in Raleigh, The Regulator in Durham, Flyleaf in Chapel Hill, and McIntyre's in Pittsboro. I'm happy browsing through any of these. Even my own Hillsborough has a tiny bookstore, although I prefer making the slightly longer drive to Flyleaf.
I'm thinking of the late Dorothy Dunnett and the living likes of Brookner, Byatt, Mantel, and Rowling to name names off the top of my head.
Not sure if the American heavens are similarly spangled. But Oates, Morrison, Nicole Krauss, Marilynne Robinson, and Kingsolver hold their own against the likes of Richard Ford, Kent Haruf, Ivan Doig, Chabon, and Russo.
Don't you think?