In a review of her husband’s work for the New York Tribune, Zelda Fitzgerald infamously stated: “Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.” Only one of Zelda’s novels was ever published during her lifetime. By contrast, her more renowned husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald saw many works published. These included The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and the Damned, and This Side of Paradise, all of which are now considered literary staples. Notably, much of the material in Fitzgerald’s novels was lifted verbatim from his wife’s diaries and letters, or was directly inspired by his wife’s words and conduct throughout their marriage. This raises a number of questions: was Mr Fitzgerald the more naturally talented of the two? Were his works more polished by virtue of his having received a higher quality of education? Or, most pertinent of all, did Zelda’s words sound better coming from a man’s mouth?
Particularly after the publication of Nancy Milford’s Zelda: A Biography, Zelda Fitzgerald has achieved some recognition as an author in her own right, and the extent of Fitzgerald’s plagiarism of her writing has been widely acknowledged. Yet, Zelda’s story is not unique, the cultural erasure of her creative works and experiences mirrors that of many other female icons of the twentieth century. Countless female writers who were equally skilled wordsmiths to their male counterparts have disappeared into obscurity. Although Mina Loy, one of the first modernists to obtain posthumous recognition, authored the Loy Feminist Manifesto, is scarcely remembered today. Lorine Niedecker’s literary career was put on hold for fifteen years largely due to the perceived overly sensitive nature of all 72 poems in her collection, For Paul. Adriene Rich’s body of works only truly flourished once she was no longer restricted to writing in snatched seconds between home-making and child rearing. Historically, women’s attempts to wrest a serious identity through their contributions to literary culture have been constantly under siege by double standards and corrosive neglect by the literary community and public at large.
And they still are. J. K. Rowling was initially told by her publisher that Harry Potter would be left on the shelves unless it was published under a unisex pseudonym because she is a woman. Even recently Elena Ferrante, the author of the award-winning series My Brilliant Friend, has been periodically accused of being a man or group of men prior to the possible but unverified discovery of her identity in October 2016. According to VIDA (Women in the Literary Arts), the number of literary publications which published an approximately equal amount of pieces by men and women has decreased by 10 per cent to 48 per cent from 2015 to 2016. The 2017 VIDA Count has yet to be published, however based on the previous statistics the forecast looks bleak. Discrimination in the arts is not ancient history. It is not even on the way to becoming an artefact of the past.
So, how do we bury the hatchet? Female voices will not receive equal attention until women themselves are viewed as equal to men. This does not begin or end with mere words. There are thousands of amazing female writers who have produced daring novella, modernist masterpieces, and all-consuming novels. We merely need to unearth them from the solemn shelves of our libraries and read them back to life. In every literature reading list which includes the poems of Pablo Neruda, his predecessor Gabriela Mistral should be recognised. For every angsty teenager reading Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Mina Loy is waiting to be discovered — and you should read both their manifestos, not just for the sake of gender parity, but because they are both a wild ride. Further, there are many contemporary female authors with diverse voices such as Maxine Beneba Clarke, Gig Ryan, and many others who are producing fascinating writing now. So next time you are perusing the Matheson, or are on holiday and looking for a book in beach clothes, consider reading a book by a woman.
It’s not that hard. You are already reading an article by one.
Lots of love,
If you like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by JRR Tolkien, you will love ‘The Earthsea Quartet’ by Ursula Le Guin.
If you like ‘Game of Thrones’ by George RR Martin, you will love ‘The White Queen’ by Philippa Gregory.
If you like any Roald Dahl book, you will love ‘The Moomins’ by Tove Jannson.
Comic books (graphic novels if you are fancy):
If you like ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman, you will love ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi.
If you like ‘The Walking Dead’ by Robert Kirkman, you will love ‘Bitch Planet’ by Kelly Sue DeConnick.
If you like ‘The Sandman’ by Neil Gaiman, you will love ‘The Tsubasa Chronicles’ by Clamp (who are in fact a group of women).
If you like Pablo Neruda, you will love Gabriela Mistral.
If you like Ezra Pound, you will love H.D.
If you like Charles Baudelaire or Stephane Mallarme, you will love Yosano Akiko.