Today I’m here to talk about a thought-provoking topic that I’ve been pondering a lot in recent weeks: the correlation between women and their literary work. Should the success of a women’s work be tied to her personal reputation in society? From an even broader angle, should the personal reputations of authors in general impact how successful their work sells or is perceived by readers?
Shelley DeWees hits on this topic a lot from a gendered perspective in her book Not Just Jane, an in-depth look at seven women writers who have not received nearly enough credit for their important influence on British literature. In her chapter on writer Mary Robinson, DeWees writes:
“Here is our line of demarcation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women, and thus ‘good’ and ‘bad’ books– in much the same way that, in the previous century, when chaste royalist women writers like Katherine Philips were held above more daring ones such as Aphra Behn, critics were unrelenting in their inability (or refusal) to separate an author’s literary merit from her sex.”
In other words, the details of a women’s personal relationships and sex life was imperative in determining the sales of her work. Centuries ago, a “sexually deviant” women could hardly have hoped to sell much of anything in terms of poetry, stories, or novels. But what about their personal lives changed the actual text of their work? (Answer: NOTHING). Despite the fact that absolutely no tangible changes occurred in the text of their novels or poetry, sales plummeted as the general public began to perceive certain women as immoral, improper, or uncivilized. In this context, I believe that there is no reason to connect the personal lives of women with their work. What importance does a women’s marriage, family, or alleged affair have on their work? More importantly, I believe that texts should not be denounced strictly due to the fact that the author is a women.
However, the argument can also be made that supporting the work of an author is showing indirect support for his or her actions. In other words, money talks. Personally, I think it largely depends on what the specific “scandal” or situation regarding the author in question is. For example, I wouldn’t think twice about purchasing a book by an author who recently went through a terrible divorce. On the other hand, I would certainly hesitate before buying a book written by an openly homophobic, racist, sexist, or offensive writer.
But can we pick and choose scenarios like this? Who has the right to decide the circumstances under which an author’s personal life can and should influence the success of his or her work? Should we separate authors from their work?
I would love to hear what you have to say about this topic. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!