Fantastic article in The Guardian:
Only four female writers appeared in the list of top 50 bestselling history titles in the UK last year. And women are still perceived as more suited to writing about drawing rooms than battlefields. Why? Leading historians and biographers discuss sexism and subject matter.
All the big British names in history and biography have contributed to the piece, and quite a few big names from elsewhere too. Well worth a look.
And if you are in the longform essay mood, try this review by Janet Malcolm in the New York Review of Books about the latest Ted Hughes biography. Then read this piece by Bridget Read called ‘Janet Malcolm: Biased, Mean and Brilliant. Why Our Best Biographer Hates the New Ted Hughes Biography.’
That should keep you going for a while…
I’ve flagged this one so I can set it aside until I’m unloading late at night (and in phone range!) and I can devote to the essays the couple of hours they no doubt deserve – and I did appreciate your last link to Janet Malcolm.
But. You know my opinion. ‘Battlefield histories’ are just boys writing about their toys and not worth worrying about. If women really want to write war histories then look at Lisa/ANZLL’s piece today
and write about how populations are controlled by soldiers raping women in their ‘drawing rooms’.
I think you’ll find most of the contributors to The Guardian article are in furious agreement with you.
Well, I’ve read all 3. Janet Malcolm’s was the most should I say interesting, or the most fun. She certainly takes a very sharp knife to Bate, whose biography of Ted Hughes she is reviewing.
The historians in the Guardian are worthy, well their contributions are. As historians/biographers some of them are obviously very good. My favourite was Ruth Scurr: “My advice to younger women is to write only about what most interests you, and if an agent or publisher tries to persuade you to write a safe book on a suitable topic, run as fast as you can from that poisoned apple.”
None of them really addresses the real problem, which is why do some books sell while others don’t? – Are buyers/readers prejudiced against women historians/biographers? Do they prefer men to write about war and politics? Or are books by men promoted more than books by women?
Yvonne (Stumbling through the past) has looked at the issue of women historians with some interesting results. https://stumblingpast.com/2015/07/13/women-history-at-ozha2015/ I’d love to read those essays but I suspect I won’t get to them given my life at present. Pity.
Thanks for sending me back to that post. I did read it at the time but it was definitely worth going back to it again.
It’s hard to remember all the posts from the past isn’t it. At least with that one, because it was an historian I was pretty quickly able to remember who wrote it. When it comes to remember who wrote a review of a novel, well, all bets are off – and I find that rather frustrating.
wadholloway, you asked: “…why do some books sell while others don’t? – Are buyers/readers prejudiced against women historians/biographers? Do they prefer men to write about war and politics? Or are books by men promoted more than books by women?
The answer seems to be a mystery even to those in the publishing industry. Like many complex issues, it’s likely a mix of all the points you mentioned and probably a few extra for good measure.