The female frontier

From The Guardian:

Toni-Morrison-Anne-Tyler--001 When John Updike died in January, Ian McEwan lamented his passing in these pages as the “end of the golden age of the American novel”. In an article for the Times, headed “Who will fly the flag for the great American novel now?”, Stephen Amidon asked whether Updike would have any successors who “possess the ability to engage with the culture at large, to create works that become part of the fabric of their era”. Amidon could only think of only one woman, Jhumpa Lahiri, to include in his list of six contenders. Most of Updike's eulogists excluded women completely.

I'm disappointed but not surprised. “Writers can write about anything they want, any sex they want, any place they want,” Annie Proulx has declared. But being free to write doesn't mean that American women are equal in a literary marketplace still dominated by male precedents, male literary juries and male standards of greatness. As Joyce Carol Oates has ruefully noted, “the woman who writes is a writer by her own definition, but a woman writer by others' definitions”. She cannot transcend readers' assumptions about her gender “unless she writes under a male pseudonym and keeps her identity secret”. Yet unlike their 19th-century British and European female precursors, American women novelists have very rarely used male pseudonyms, believing that democratic principles would win them respect. If Uncle Tom's Cabin had been signed by “Harry Beecher Stowe”, women's standing in American literary history might look very different.

More here.