Vanity Fair, to my great surprise

A long time ago I used to belong to the Quality Paperback Book Club. I would not even open the envelope when it came, so that when I got the book of the month in the mail it would be a surprise. As a result, I still have a bunch of nice paperbacks I've never read, ha ha.

One month the book was, oddly enough, Vanity Fair. I tried to read it. I really did. I got a quarter of the way through it. (I know because I found the page with the folded corner.) But you know what? It was so grossly sexist that I just couldn't stomach it. Usually, I am able to cut writers some slack if they were writing in a time and/or place with different cultural norms. But this was over the top and I just couldn't take it. For example, and this is the narrator, not a character, talking:
A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry whom she likes. Only let us be thankful that the darlings are like the beasts of the field, and don't know their own power. They would overcome us entirely if they did.
A couple of nights ago, my husband came back from the video store with the new movie. Yuk, I thought, not only because of the above but because in general I'm not a big fan of costume dramas. But what the heck, I was too fried to do anything more complicated than vegging out in front of a video. So. We watched almost half of it, and you know what? I got really into it. So much so that I went and found my QPBC copy of the book and started reading it again (starting from the beginning, of course). I was delighted to find lines from the movie, verbatim. And now I don't want to finish the movie until I've finished the book.

How do you feel about books that are sexist or racist or otherwise not-politically-correct, but whose author probably wouldn't have known any better?


  • I don't have a lot of patience for books that promulgate offensive stereotypes, even if the author was merely the product of his or her times. Gone with the Wind, for example, used to be one of my favorite books until I noticed the incredibly insulting language used to describe the slaves. I know that Margaret Mitchell was writing at the beginning of the 20th century and that the Civil War had ended badly for her ancestors not that long ago (in the grand scheme of things). That doesn't let her off the hook in my mind.

    posted by Blogger Suzanne on 9:14 PM  

  • I recently read, 'The Middle Button' by Kathryn Worth for the first time. I was surprised at the amount of racism in this older children's book. It bugged me, even though it was probably true to the setting and time period.

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 11:11 AM  

  • I'm fanatical about historical accuracy so it really doesn't bother me if it fits in with the time period. "Ma" of the Little House books does not like Native Americans and makes no bones about it, but then most white pioneer women didn't. She would not "ring true" as a character were she to support Native American rights. The latest movie version of Little Women turned "Marme" into a a 20th century feminst and IMHO, it totally spoiled the movie. Marme was a feminst for her time, but her time was 1865, not 1999.

    posted by Blogger GuusjeM on 11:01 PM  

  • Funny - the Little House books are exactly what came to mind for me when I read this post, too. Somehow, when Almonzo says to Laura "Are you for women's rights?" and Laura responds with "No. I do not want to vote," I only *slightly* cringe -- while if a female character in a current book spewed something like that, that book would go straight for the dumpster.

    Which brings up a whole additional question -- if Laura Ingalls DID vote, would she vote for George W. Bush? Because that might just break my heart into a thousand pieces...

    posted by Blogger Melinda on 5:15 PM  

  • To answer your question: I'm for free speech period. I don't believe in book banning, etc.
    That said, I still have emotional responses to bia, racism, etc; however, I look on that as *teaching* all of us that there are loads of misconceptions in this world.

    Think about it: if those biased, racist, or otherwise ridiculous views (that may be ridiculous or abominable to me, but not to others), are not available, how will education reach our kids and adults to make this world a better place?

    To me, education and knowledge is the path to working towards banishing prejudice and bias.

    You don't have an email link, or I'd write this out in email. I have many more thoughts.

    ***Meanwhile, I've added you to my link list and would be honored if you'd add me to yours. As you know from visiting my blog, I show a mix of orginal photograhy, paintings, writings (humorous to intense.) I love to read and have not blogged about that enough.

    Your blog rocks. I'm sure many of us can identify with your cozy name of "bookworm." IT's perfect for you and your blog. I smile when I see it and remember the smell of books, the delight... THx, Julie :)

    posted by Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) on 9:32 AM