Boys Will Be Boys Clubs

Novelist Amanda Craig has contended that the best female writers of her generation “worked in the shadow of the Amis-McEwan-Barnes-Rushdie generation” with “many of the worst omissions are, predictably, women”.

Craig goes on to list several female novelists - including Liz Jensen and Pat Ferguson, who “has since been unable to find a mainstream publisher despite her dark, dazzling novels being highly readable and twice long-listed for the Orange Prize”. She says that the domination of certain male authors during the 80s and extending into the 90s has meant that a generation of female writers were locked out of the literary establishment, because “by the time we published, usually in our mid-thirties, a second wave of younger talent had risen up and overtaken us”.

In defence of the lit boy’s club, Robert McCrum writes in the Guardian that “during the years of the supposed Amis-McEwan-Barnes-Rushdie hegemony, is how much brilliant variety has come to the fore” and “there’s a long list of writers who came after McEwan and Barnes but who have secured much greater public recognition”.

McCrum’s argument is that competition is good for writers and that regardless of gender they should toughen up. “Shakespeare competed with Marlowe and Ben Jonson; Byron with Keats; Dickens with Thackeray; Woolf with Joyce, and so on. Strong talents are galvanised by rival artists not crushed by them.” It does, however, serve the counter argument that all but one of McCrum’s examples are men. It seems the competitive lit world is distinctly masculine. The cooperative approach of the Brontes, for example, created great work without competition yet struggled to be acknowledged in their own lifetimes.

McCrum, however doesn’t see it that way, preferring to deliver a final jibe: “Maybe posterity will be kinder to Ms Craig and her contemporaries. For the moment, the jury is still out. Harsh, but true.”

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