Yesterday, a minor Canadian novelist (and I do mean minor) named David Gilmour hung himself in an interview with Hazlitt writer Emily Keeler. She went to his house to see his bookshelves for a regular column she writes called “Shelf Esteem.” He decided to toss off a few bons mots about why he doesn’t teach women writers — “[W]hen I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women,” haha get it? — and, well, the rest is web outrage history.
Not to give Gilmour any credit whatsoever, but he’s hardly the first writer to make such sexist remarks. Often people like Philip Roth do it, via the vehicle of their characters, and then claim plausible deniability by invoking “truth.” Witness this, in Roth’s Paris Review interview:
Look, I didn’t invent the loss of desire, and I didn’t invent the lure of passion, and I didn’t invent sane companions, and I didn’t invent maniacs. I’m sorry if my men don’t have the correct feelings about women, or the universal range of feelings about women, or the feelings about women that it will be okay for men to have in 1995, but I do insist that there is some morsel of truth in my depiction of what it might be like for a man to be a Kepesh, or a Portnoy, or a breast.
Mmm. OK, so men have bad feelings about women, sometimes, and men often commit them to print, in the name of Truth, Beauty, and the human spirit! There is certainly a part of me that feels they ought to be congratulated on their candor, even if I am horrified by the attitude expressed. So here are seven quotes from famous male authors on the truth about women, as they perceive it. I tried to pick instances, like Gilmour’s, where the authors were speaking in their own voices, rather than through the narrators of their fiction. The results were still… well, you look.
A woman ruined Scott [Fitzgerald]. It wasn’t just Scott ruining himself. But why couldn’t he have told her to go to hell? Because she was sick. It’s being sick makes them act so bloody awful usually and it’s because they’re sick you can’t treat them as you should. The first great gift for a man is to be healthy and the second, maybe greater, is to fall [in] with healthy women. You can always trade one healthy woman in on another. But start with a sick woman and see where you get. Sick in the head or sick anywhere. But sick anywhere and in a little while they are sick in the head. If they locked up all the women who were crazy — but why speculate — I’ve known goddamned good ones; but take as good a woman as Pauline — a hell of a wonderful woman — and once she turns mean. Although, of course, it is your own actions that turn her mean. Mine I mean. Not yours. Anyway let’s leave the subject. If you leave a woman, though, you probably ought to shoot her. It would save enough trouble in the end even if they hanged you.
— Hemingway to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, 1943
I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me… My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.
— Naipaul to the Royal Geographic Society, 2011
Women are the rails on which men run.
— As quoted in James Atlas’ 2011 biography.
There are only a half dozen men of letters (and no women) worth printing.
— Eliot to Ezra Pound, 1922 (when Virginia Woolf was writing)
I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?
– Vidal on Roman Polanski and women, to The Atlantic, 2009.
A little bit of rape is good for a man’s soul.
— Mailer to an audience at the University of California at Berkeley, 1972
[D]on’t wait for the good woman. She doesn’t exist. There are women who can make you feel more with their bodies and their souls but these are the exact women who will turn the knife into you right in front of the crowd. Of course, I expect this, but the knife still cuts. The female loves to play man against man, and if she is in a position to do it there is not one who will not resist. The male, for all his bravado and exploration, is the loyal one, the one who generally feels love. The female is skilled at betrayal. and torture and damnation. Never envy a man his lady. Behind it all lays a living hell.
— From a letter, 1971