19 August 2011

Weekend Reading List: Excellence is Pretty Fairly Divided Between the Sexes

Because I'm reading the Isabella Blow bio Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion, I've decided to dip into Jane Austen's spoof of the gothic novel Northanger Abbey. The latter sparkles with wit and light compared to the bio, which has the fascination of a car crash. A fashion icon right up to the end, Mrs Blow's life seem destined for tragedy right from the beginning. The bio by Lauren Goldstein Crowe is sympathetic, inspite of the monsters and gargoyles of its story - as A said about A Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst) "all the characters are aweful and repellant". I had skimmed through Blow by Blow previously, by Detmar Blow, and I think A Life in Fashion is the better book, with more emotional distance, and obviously researched by a professional writer. This is a fast and easy read, like a book-length article from a glossy, focusing equally on her work in fashion world as on her personal life and her obsessions with property, the aristocracy, sex and the gothic aesthetic.From Northanger Abbey:

“My dear madam, I am not so ignorant of young ladies’ ways as you wish to believe me; it is this delightful habit of journaling which largely contributes to form the easy style of writing for which ladies are so generally celebrated. Everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female. Nature may have done something, but I am sure it must be essentially assisted by the practice of keeping a journal.”

“I have sometimes thought,” said Catherine, doubtingly, “whether ladies do write so much better letters than gentlemen! That is — I should not think the superiority was always on our side.”

“As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars.”

“And what are they?”

“A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar.”

“Upon my word! I need not have been afraid of disclaiming the compliment. You do not think too highly of us in that way.”

“I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.”
- Jane Austen

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