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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Whats up? There are forty nine male authors in this top 50 list and only one woman?

A recent survey by Modern Reader listed the top 50 novels of all time. The results are listed in a box further down this page.

There is only one female author listed, Virginia Woolf.

That is astonishing. There are forty nine male authors in this top 50 list and one woman?

Please understand that I am not a chauvinist male. I am not posting this list to demean female writers or females of any profession. I feel women are every bit as good,if not better than men in every art,craft or skill I can think of.

I am as puzzled by this oddity as I think most of you readers are.

I have pondered this for a very long time. As a voracious reader of classical literature I have deliberately sought out books written by women, to try and spot some shortcoming which would explain this.

Some of the authors I have read in this project are very well known, Ann Beatty,Ann Tyler,Gertrude Stein, Virginia Wolfe, Flannery O'Conner,Joyce Carol Oates,Toni Morrison,Marilynne Robinson,Alice Walker, Willa Cather, Louise Erdrich,and Nadine Gordimer.

They are great writers, no doubt. I enjoy some more than others. Flannery O'Conner would rank as my favorite except I feel she overuses the N word for no useful purpose.

It is hard to explain why none of these excellent writers qualify among the top 50.

Here is what I have concluded and I hope I do not offend anyone, particularly women who write novels.

I find the work of all the authors mentioned above to be entertaining,informative and sometimes quite exciting.

For some reason, however when I finish these books I feel something is missing.

I am almost sure it is because of the endings.

I think women write as well as men from start, to almost, but not quite the end. They leave this reader feeling somewhat cheated.

I also suspect that women who read these authors do not have the same reaction. I believe most male readers do.

What I am trying to say, probably in a convoluted manner, is that women unconsciously write for other women.

Observe two women carrying on a conversation and two men doing the same. One women very seldom has to completely finish her thought before her companion interrupts her and says "I know just what you mean." The variation of that phrase used so commonly today is "know what I mean?"

A man,meanwhile, most of the time doesn't know what in the heck the other guy means and asks him to repeat his thought.

So, isn't it fair to conjecture that female novelists assume they do not have to spell out the conclusion of their writing? Male authors seem to just naturally assume they won't be understood unless they do.

Lets take an example and compare how two great authors, Toni Morrison and Charles Dickens each ended one of their most celebrated books.

Morrison ends "Beloved" twice and has drawn criticism from both blacks and women for the ambivalence of the endings.

As one respected critic,Mary Paniccia Carden, said in her review in 1999, "Beloved ends first with the construction of new domestic arrangements at 124 Bluestone Road, and then with the deconstruction of Beloved.

"That these two endings with their contradictory movements--coming together and flying apart--sit so separately together indicates the novel's ambivalent investment in the heterosexual couple as the site where history assumes its shape and meaning."

I am easily confused by these type endings. I leave unsure whether the focus of the novel was why black women have historically been secondary or invisible.

Or was the focus on the projection of a happily-ever-after romance scenario for Sethe and Paul , with possibilities for both resistance and re inscription of the gender role expectations that have consistently failed them ?

Consider on the other hand, the ending of Charles Dicken's novel "Hard Times"

Mrs. Sparsit and her arch rival, Mr. Bounderby confront each with a climactic, scathing discussion which leaves little doubt in the reader's mind where each stands.

The next to last page bids farewell to Louisa, Mr. Gradgrind,Rachael. Dicken's uses the literary goodbye to each character to sum up their pasts and presume thier futures.

So, I feel male authors choose eiither a happy ,sad or tragic ending, but always a conclusive finish. Women writers leave some loose ends.

I am just theorizing about this puzzling list along side of my post, I concede however, that your guess is as good as mine.

Or maybe not?