January 10, 2014

WRITTEN OFF: Jennifer Weiner’s quest for literary respect

Early one morning in November, five hundred clinicians gathered at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott for the twenty-third annual Renfrew Center Foundation conference, devoted to the understanding and treatment of eating disorders. The keynote speaker, Jennifer Weiner, the best-selling novelist, was there to offer a personal perspective on weight issues, with a talk entitled “The F Word: On Growing Up Big, Speaking Out Loud and Raising Betty Friedan Girls in a Britney Spears World.”

The Renfrew foundation’s Web site described Weiner’s 2001 début, “Good in Bed,” now in its fifty-seventh printing, as “the first ‘chick-lit’ novel featuring a large protagonist.” The character, Cannie Shapiro, established the template for a number of Weiner’s subsequent heroines: clever, quippy young women whose dress size tends to be well into the double digits. Her characters navigate the perils presented by lacklustre boyfriends or disappointing husbands, slender mean girls, dysfunctional families, and self-esteem issues. “Nobody’s going to date me looking like this,” Cannie tells the tall, handsome, kindly doctor who interviews her for a weight-loss study. “I’m going to die alone, and my dog’s going to eat my face, and no one will find us until the smell seeps out under the door.” Despite their travails, Weiner’s heroines arrive at happy endings that defy cultural prejudices while upholding the implausible conventions of a Hollywood romantic comedy. (Cannie’s tall, handsome, kindly doctor falls madly in love with her.) Weiner’s second novel, “In Her Shoes,” was actually made into a romantic comedy, in 2005; it starred Toni Collette, as the brainy, full-figured heroine, and Cameron Diaz—featured prominently on movie posters—as her skinny, feckless sister.

Read more at the New Yorker.

November 22, 2013

FEAR OF JANE AUSTEN

When the Bank of England announced last month its intention to portray Jane Austen on its ten-pound note, it seemed the most uncontroversial of choices. Who better than Austen to stand as a representative of female accomplishment? Many of the female historical figures that might have been chosen were shocking in their time: consider Mary Wollstonecraft and Florence Nightingale. And most still have an air of scandal about them, their subsequent canonization notwithstanding. Among literary figures, the Bank of England did not choose to honor Charlotte Brontë, whose unparalleled heroine, Jane Eyre, declares herself “a free human being with an independent will.” Nor did they choose George Eliot, the author of the single greatest English novel, “Middlemarch,” whose adoption of a masculine pseudonym may, for her contemporaries, have gone some way toward mitigating the unsettling fact of her towering intellectual superiority over most, if not all, of her male peers.

Read more at the New Yorker

November 22, 2013

GEORGE ELIOT’S UGLY BEAUTY

George EliotIf George Eliot’s Wikipedia entry has received an unusually high number of views this week, the responsibility lies with Lena Dunham, who tweeted a couple of days ago that the Victorian novelist’s page was “the soapiest most scandalous thing you’ll read this month. Thesis: she was ugly AND horny!”

Alas, for the prurient-minded, Eliot’s wiki-biography is rather more elliptical in its characterization of the Victorian author. Itdoes say that “she was considered to have an ill-favoured appearance, and she formed a number of embarrassing, unreciprocated emotional attachments.” Of course, that’s only a fraction of what it says about her.

 

Read more at the New Yorker