Jealous Laughter

Joanna Biggs in Granta:

A friend of mine used to joke that women writers discovered friendship in 2015, when the last volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet came out. I laughed, but I knew what he meant. It is easy to think of men who navigated the literary world together: Jonson and Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Johnson and Boswell, Shelley and Byron, Marx and Engels, Sartre and Camus, Bellow and Roth, Hughes and Heaney, Amis and Barnes. In Weimar for a day in summer 2014, bitter laughter rose in me when I emerged into Theaterplatz to find a monument to literary bro-dom: Goethe and Schiller in bronze, each with a hand on a shared crown of laurels. With stout folds in Goethe’s breeches and pupils missing from Schiller’s eyes, the unlovely statue had been cast in 1857, twenty-five years after Goethe died, and had stood for more than a century facing the stage where Goethe had directed many of Schiller’s plays. In the early twentieth century, copies of the monument were made for San Francisco, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Syracuse and erected in parks in those cities. I laughed some more when I found that out. Is there such a thing as jealous laughter?

I was lonely back then. Sure, I was married to another writer, but he loved me, so he couldn’t not love my writing. Spouses are so implicated in each other’s success that support is de rigueur and unremarkable. And in any case men hadn’t forgone friendship when they’d been married to writers. Women writers had sisters, as Charlotte Brontё did in Emily and Anne, and rivals, as Virginia Woolf did in Katherine Mansfield. Or they were solitary because they were first, like Mary Wollstonecraft, or because they were modest, like Jane Austen. Woolf said that to write a woman needs a room of her own with a lock on the door and a sustaining income, but she also said that women need to be more confident, aware of their own traditions, willing to write in new forms – all things that are hard to do on one’s own, and nearly impossible to address for long without friends to advise, remind and encourage.

More here.