Friday, March 17, 2017

Feminism and Literature

My academic specialty – insofar as I can be said to have one – is English poetry and prosody. For several decades now, enterprising scholars have been mining the dusty and unopened books on the unlit, forgotten shelves of academic libraries to find examples of female poets ignored by sexist readers and academics. The anthologies students use are now filled with them, and everyone agrees to ignore the unfortunate fact that none of them come close to equaling the work of their male coevals.

Take Anne Bradstreet (please), from the Poetry Foundation

O Bubble blast, how long can’st last?
    That always art a breaking,
No sooner blown, but dead and gone,
    Ev’n as a word that's speaking.

O whil’st I live, this grace me give,
    I doing good may be,
Then death’s arrest I shall count best,
    because it’s thy decree.

This is the Protestant hymnody that C.S. Lewis derided as “fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music.” And yet our students are supposed to assess this drivel as the equal of Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton. No, that's unfair. They believe this doggerel to be immeasurably superior to the work of any mere male.

And as for sexism: Were academics to frequent Hallmark shops and Christian bookstores, they would discover the best-selling poetess of the 20th century: Helen Steiner Rice, who is the direct heir of Bradstreet and who is every bit as good as her (now-)illustrious predecessor.

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