The Literary Battle of the Sexes, 1907-Style

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tags: gender, books, womens history, literary history

“The rivalry of the sexes!” blared a Times headline from 1905. “Is woman crowding out man in the field of fiction?” The paper posed that question to a handful of top publishers, editors and booksellers.

“What woman can write as Shakespeare? Can any woman ever write a ‘Robinson Crusoe’? Did any woman ever live who could have written ‘Huckleberry Finn’? ... And what woman could possibly have written ‘Jude’?” harrumphed the bookseller Simon Brentano.

The publisher George H. Putnam dismissed the query as “absurd,” telling the paper that there were more men and women “doing excellent literary work” than ever before, “and the more both of them do the better.”

By 1907, things had changed. Women, the paper pointed out, had “been busy with their pens ... scribbling industriously, and, in plenty of cases, doing good work” for years. But with a few exceptions — Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë — male authors had long ruled book sales, “marching along proudly, without worrying about competitors in the weaker sex.”

Read entire article at NY Times

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