The Pool: "The truth is that even the publishing industry and the media are convinced of this commonplace; both tend to shut women who write away in a literary gynaeceum."
Date: Sep 3 2015
Sexism in the book industry has been hotly covered subject lately. Case studies are everywhere: from writers like Catherine Nichols discovering her manuscript received more interest when she submitted it under a man's name, to Mslexia's survey of the one in five female writers who didn't feel their work was "good enough" to submit. It's a bizarre imbalance within the industry, especially when you consider that women represent such a dominant chunk of the book-buying market. No story represents the book world's inherent sexism more than the coverage surrounding Elena Ferrante's work.
Elena Ferrante's hit My Brilliant Friend, the third in her four-part series of "Neopolitan novels", has inspired much speculation as to her true identity. Her choice to write under a pen name and give few interviews has stoked a belief that she must be a man – or, failing that, a team of famous male writers.
Speaking to Vanity Fair in a rare interview, Ferrante addressed these claims.
"Have you heard anyone say recently about any book written by a man, It’s really a woman who wrote it, or maybe a group of women?" said Ferrante, going on to explain the book industry's belief that men can mimic a woman for literary purposes, but never the other way around.
"The truth is that even the publishing industry and the media are convinced of this commonplace; both tend to shut women who write away in a literary gynaeceum."
Please pause briefly to consider the sad brilliance of the term "literary gynaeceum".
Ferrante continues, explaining that women writers, regardless of quality or difference in writing, are all lumped into one category: "There are good women writers, not so good ones, and some great ones, but they all exist within the area reserved for the female sex, they must only address certain themes and in certain tones that the male tradition considers suitable for the female gender."
And when a woman doesn't follow these rules? "The commentators come up with the idea of male bloodlines," says Ferrante. "If you step out of this thousand-year-old invention of theirs, you are no longer female."
The last in Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan series, The Story of the Lost Child, is out this month.