Friday, 15 February 2008

How To Suppress Women’s Writing – Joanna Russ

Oh, what a tasty book. Succulent, sharp and, above all, nutritious. This is a finely sketched analysis of the ways in which women’s writing has been suppressed over the centuries. I know some people will switch off at this point. Your loss. For this book is not simply a well-argued analysis with plenty of evidence. It goes further.

Having ably and overwhelmingly demonstrated that: (a) there is a huge body of literature by women, and that (b) it has, generation by generation been denigrated so that, generation by generation, women (and men) have had to rediscover it; the book outlines the beginnings of a discussion about new ways of looking at literature. For that, if for no other reason, this is a book that anyone serious about the creative process of writing should read.

But this book is something else as well. It is straightforward, clearly written, witty, insightful, passionate, and useful. You don’t need to be reaching for a dictionary all the time and it does not obscure its arguments with the convoluted ramblings that are so often passed off as ‘serious literary criticism’. Its plainly stated arguments and its examples are sufficient to make the case that is presented – and make that case in powerful fashion. As such it should be held up as an exemplar. I suspect, however, it has suffered much the same fate as the works it discusses – sidelined neatly into a niche where it isn’t be allowed to challenge the status quo.