“Henry James could have been a woman.”

From the 1979/1980 Paris Review interview with Nadine Gordimer :



You say that writers are androgynous. Do you recognize any difference between masculine and feminine writing, such as, say, Woolf’s versus Hemingway’s writing?


Hemingway is such an extreme example, and his writing is really an instance of machismo, isn’t it? Henry James could have been a woman. E. M. Forster could have been. George Eliot could have been a man. I used to be too insistent on this point that there’s no sex in the brain; I’m less insistent now—perhaps I’m being influenced by the changing attitude of women toward themselves in general? I don’t think there’s anything that women writers don’t know. But it may be that there are certain aspects of life that they can deal with a shade better, just as I wonder whether any woman writer, however great, could have written the marvelous war scenes in War and Peace. By and large, I don’t think it matters a damn what sex a writer is, so long as the work is that of a real writer. I think there is such a thing as “ladies’ writing,” for instance, feminine writing; there are “authoresses” and “poetesses.” And there are men, like Hemingway, whose excessive “manliness” is a concomitant part of their writing. But with so many of the male writers whom I admire, it doesn’t matter too much. There doesn’t seem to be anything they don’t know, either. After all, look at Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. To me, that’s the ultimate proof of the ability of either sex to understand and convey the inner workings of the other. No woman was ever “written” better by a woman writer. How did Joyce know? God knows how, and it doesn’t matter.


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Reader, writer, translator, nature-lover, happy expat and concerned world citizen.

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