Radio 4 ran a poll asking which novel "has spoken to you on a personal level; it may have changed the way you look at yourself, or simply made you happy to be a woman" and Pride and Prejudice won. The responses to this and the list of the top four runner-ups by the women the article quotes were predictable: the list wasn't multicultural enough, the list didn't contain any young living writers, women are too attached to stories that have them marrying and settling down at the end. One writer quoted, a Julie Burchell (or Birchell, it's spelled both ways in the article) sneers at both Austen and the women who voted in the poll (14,000 people, 93% women). Apparently women shouldn't be polled about what has spoken to them personally if they aren't going to give the correct answers.
Some other points:
- All people, except maybe melancholy teenagers, Goths, and some film & literature snobs, like happy endings, not just women--and most human beings of both sexes think finding and marrying the person you love is a happy ending.
- The idea that a happy ending makes a work less serious than an unhappy ending is only about as old as the idea that anything popular must be bad--if as old. The latter seems to go back to the late Victorian age, but I'm not sure the former really caught on until mid-twentieth century.
- I like that the author refers to The Women's Room (accurately) as a "period piece".
- People who say that To Kill a Mockingbird is about an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman--and that's what is always said about TKaM--how do these people explain that the book begins and ends with another character, the reclusive Boo Radley, and takes its title from something said about that same character?
- Unlike the author of the article, I can easily see how women say The Handmaid's Tale changed their life. I've heard too many women saying how frightening and "eerily accurate" it is, so it's not a stretch to think that after reading it some of those women were changed; even as we speak, they are no doubt looking for evangelicals under every bed and waiting for Christians to overthrow the government, shut down women's bank accounts, and start the compulsory breeding any day now--with footbinding to follow, no doubt.