Dude Was Not a Lady

Catholic author Evelyn Waugh
Catholic author Evelyn Waugh (photo: Photo Credit: Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons)

Time magazine recently created one of those interesting lists that are ubiquitous across the internet, intended to keep our fickle attention glued to our computer screens and their website. This one listed the 100 most-read female writers in our nation’s college courses. An interesting list and it is indeed a great idea to celebrate the women who have made such rich contributions to literature, especially for our young female students who wonder if they can make important contributions to the world of letters. But there were some very surprising curiosities with the list.

Their #1 and #2 spots were for Kate Turabian and Dianna Hacker. Don’t recognize the two most popular female writers on college campuses today? You probably read them because they wrote widely used term-paper style guides. Seriously. One wonders how Toni Morrison and Jane Austen feel about being relegated to positions #3 and #4 by writers who write how-to guides, as wonderful as those manuals might be. Loraine Blaxter won the 56th position. Who is she? She wrote How to Research. It’s not a clever title of a book of literature like Jonathan Franzen’s How to Be Alone. It’s a manual on… well… you know. In fact, quite a few of the women authors on this list are the writers of writing how-tos. Given this, could Time’s list really be deemed a celebration of female authors? Each of the other genuine female writers on the list would certainly have strong thoughts on the matter.

The list had two very surprising notables for Catholics. First, the great Flannery O’Connor was absent from the list. Her treasures are featured in nearly all short-story anthologies that freshman must read. It’s the rare student who was not required to read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” or “Good Country People”.

One Catholic author who was included on the list was the wonderful Evelyn Waugh. Yes, great writer, widely read. But a he, not a she. Time, in this regard, is like your high school friend who would remark, “Jethro Tull? He rocks!” Embarrassingly clueless. Time has since amended its list, noting that Waugh was removed because it turns out she’s a dude.

How can one know Waugh’s work deserves such praise but not know his name is misleading for those of us on this side of the pond? They included George Eliot, knowing George was actually the delightful Mary Ann Evans. She chose a male pen name so she would be taken more seriously as a literary figure, even though many female authors in her day and before were respectably published under their feminine names—and quite lucratively so.

Is Time’s faux pas the latest bit of the rotting produce that is our nation’s declining literacy or merely an honest editorial oversight? We hope for the latter, but unfortunately realize there is far too much collective evidence of the former.

Tolle Lege! And then Tolle Lege some more.