Earlier this year, while putting together a list of my all-time favorite books and authors, I noticed something rather disappointing on my part: all the authors were dudes, and all the books were written by dudes. This isn't to say that I haven't read women in the past. It's just that the novels, stories, and poems that have really struck home with me, that I've read over and over again throughout my life, have all been the work of guys. And that's not a good thing.
You might remember reading about VC Naipaul (who I've never read, and now have no interest in reading) telling the Royal Geographic Society last year that women are incapable of great writing because of their "narrow view of the world." He then went back to beating his wife.
It's total bullshit, of course. Women are perfectly capable of writing just as well as men, if not better. If they're outnumbered in the literary pantheon, it's because they haven't always had the opportunity to write the way men have (not to mention the fact that when they do, they're rarely taken seriously.) At any rate, you can't expect to give a fair assessment of the human condition if you're sustaining yourself on a literary diet that excludes half the human race. We shouldn't be giving the time of day to any writer who doesn't have the balls (shit, there I go again...) to venture outside the comfort zone of his gender.
Anyway, since I've made this discovery, I've resolved to make a concerted effort to read more female authors. Since she was already lying around the house, I decided to start with Ms. Jane Austen. I read Pride and Prejudice last week, and I just finished Sense and Sensibility this afternoon.
The most significant thing these books have done for me is make me unspeakably grateful that I don't live in nineteenth century England. If I had to be around conversations like these every day of my life I would have gone Columbine by the time I was twelve. While reading her, I get the sense that Austen harbored similar feelings, as it often seems like she's parodying the exaggerated games of manners that made up life in her time. On top of that, the books paint a clear picture of the bind in which women of her generation lived. If you happened to be born with a uterus, the best you could possibly hope for would be to land a husband with a decent salary. Therefore they spent all their time cultivating their abilities in dancing, sewing, singing, playing the piano, playing cards, and whathaveyou, not for the sake of culture, but because it would be one more thing to stick on their domestic resume. In short, your every waking moment was spent refining yourself to make you as attractive to men as humanly possible, and ladies, aren't you glad those days are over?
Austen might not be your thing, but is she worth knowing? Absolutely. At the very least you'll be able to catch the points of reference when your girlfriend makes you watch Bridget Jones's Diary.