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How Many Female Authors Made The Time List?

Doris Lessing is a woman.

The Golden Notebook is one of 20 books written by female authors on the Time list. I believe I’m correct in saying that Virginia Woolf is the only author with more than one novel on the list (Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse) so, that said, there are 19 female writers represented.

I’ve heard many people criticize the list for not having enough female representation. And, to be honest with you, I expected there to be less female writers on the list when I actually counted them.

Compare the 20 on the Time list with the Modern Library Best 100 Novels list (the board’s list)–which, by my count, had only 9 novels written by female writers–and the Time list appears to be more representative.

But, still, is 20 enough? Or do you think Lev Grossman (read my interview with him) and Richard Lacayo were biased towards male authors when they were selecting the novels?

By my calculations, here are the 20 novels on the Time list written by women.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970) by Judy Blume

Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison

The Blind Assassin (2000) by Margaret Atwood

Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) by Willa Cather

The Death of the Heart (1958) by Elizabeth Bowen

The Golden Notebook (1962) by Doris Lessing

Gone With The Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers

Housekeeping (1981) by Marilynne Robinson

The Man Who Loved Children (1940) by Christina Stead

Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf

Play It As It Lays (1970) by Joan Didion

Possession (1990) by A.S. Byatt

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) by Muriel Spark

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston

To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

To The Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf

Under the Net (1954) by Iris Murdoch

White Teeth (2000) by Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) Jean Rhys

What do you guys think? Is the Time List representative of the quality of female writers out there? Here’s the full list if you need a refresher.

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think there are many comparable books written by women that could have found the list. You could easily match male authors on the list to this (quickly assembled) list of women authors: Jhumpa Lahiri, Penelope Lively, Jeanette Winterson, Joyce Carol Oates. In science fiction, Ursula K. Leguin is awesome and broke ground for a different approach to the genre. In mystery, we got two male authors of hard-boiled fiction, but left out the queen of the who-dunnit, Agatha Christie – no writer’s writer, but there were others with that skill.

    The Time 100 list is full of fast-acction books and depressing books. Women authors tend celebrate instead of moan and find joy in moments of life. It’s a pity there is not due representation of that voice. This is a good topic for a sociologist: why do male authors need to wallow in ths muck?

    Like

    March 19, 2013
    • Good question. And the amount of depressing books are just amazing. I think I’ve said before…I’ll need to raise money for regular psychiatrist visits when I’m done with this.

      Like

      March 19, 2013
  2. Could it be a reflection that publishing is more male dominated to begin with? More books are published by male authors and this difference was probably more pronounced years ago. Is roughly 20% a good representation of the female/male split of publishing since the year from which this list was started?

    Like

    March 19, 2013
  3. Dina ^_^ #

    Reblogged this on The Moonlight Serenity and commented:
    This has grown since the time of the Victorian era. Imagine if in 2030, women will be taking over the world.

    Like

    March 19, 2013
  4. Of course I think many more women writers could and should have been represented. A good friend once had a professor in the 80’s announce to the class that there weren’t any women writers of merit. And this was at a very prestigious school known for its English program, so at least we are making progress.

    Like

    March 19, 2013
  5. Personally I would certainly expect to see more female authors. The lack of anything by Angela Carter, who was influential as well as an enjoyable writer, seems like a gaping omission.

    Like

    March 19, 2013
  6. I see no Latinas on the list either. Much of this is as previously alluded to due to the literary canon which only exploded in the while males’ hands during the American Civil Rights struggles of the 1960’s. Women were not supposed to write and writing for them was an act of revolution prior to the 1960’s (GWTW the exception). Try to compile a list of great African American writers prior to 1900 and you see how suppressing opportunity also suppresses output. Pre-internet, many blog writers of today would probably not be writing because they had no viable outlet for an audience. We are not yet where we ought to be in equity. Not even near.

    Like

    March 19, 2013
  7. I don’t think Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo are biased in particular, or at least, no more biased than anyone else. I think the bias against female authors is institutional. You’ve seen the VIDA numbers? Most of the reviewers are the more “serious” literary publications are male, and so are the authors they review. http://www.vidaweb.org/the-count-2012

    I have the same criticism of the 1,001 Books list I’m working on. I should do a count. I bet it’s dismal.

    Like

    March 19, 2013
    • As a member of VIDA, I agree with you. The numbers are pretty dismal. Institutional behavior takes a LONG time to change unless there’s a huge incentive.

      Like

      March 19, 2013
    • I think a count on the 1,001 list would be much more representative. It’s such a bigger sample, in math terms.

      Like

      March 19, 2013
      • Seems like no one’s done it, or at least no one on the first page of google results 🙂 It’s on my to do list!

        Like

        March 19, 2013
  8. Absolutely there need to be more women authors, and perhaps the ones that are already there should be reassessed? Judy Blume? Entertaining but really, best 100 of all time? No. I also think that A Handmaid’s Tale is more powerful than The Blind Assassin though I liked them both. But no Jane Smiley? And as someone else mentioned above, how many ‘ethnic’ writers of either gender and who wrote in English since 1923 are featured? Just a handful. Sandra Cisneros, Amy Tan, Vikram Seth?

    Who knows, if the two people choosing the list were both women, perhaps the situation would be reversed. Most people gravitate towards what is more familiar to them. But then again, would two women ever be in the position to make the list in the first place? Dare we be trusted with such a task? Apparently not yet.

    Just another reason I normally ignore these lists (present blog excepted).

    Like

    March 19, 2013
  9. Would female (or “ethnic”) writers be better represented if the list were the best 100 authors rather than books? Would it include Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, JK Rowlings, Susan Hill, Amy Tan, Shirley Jackson, etc?

    Like

    March 19, 2013
  10. I’d like to make two points here; Firstly, surely any “Best of…” list is always far too subjective to be taken so seriously? By which I mean, sexism may or may not have come into it; these may be this individuals personal favourites. Who’s to say otherwise? My second point is one of huge personal embarrassment. How did I not realise Harper Lee was a woman? *goes red* what a douche. Must’ve read TKAMB a dozen times, Atticus Finch is one of my all time favourite characters (again, subjective..) and if never crossed my mind. Maybe I am a closet mysogynist 😦

    Like

    March 19, 2013
    • Sissy #

      I’m guilty of the same offense. Is it natural that we assume someone that someone of merit is male (and white), until told otherwise?

      Like

      March 19, 2013
    • Haha. As to Harper Lee, don’t feel bad. I didn’t realize Evelyn Waugh was a man until I started reading from this list. Who names their son Evelyn?

      Like

      March 19, 2013
      • EVELYN WAUGH IS A MAN??!!!

        Like

        March 20, 2013
        • Yeah, but his first name was Arthur. Evelyn was a middle name, so it’s only a little strange.

          Like

          March 22, 2013
  11. It’s definitely not representative of what’s out there, no.

    Like

    March 20, 2013
  12. Going with the consensus here and saying Nope, not representative and Yes, it’s a biased list. Also going to add I personally think it’s stupid to have two white dudes make a list that sets out to determine the Best of anything. What? Time couldn’t find any women suitable for the task? Please.

    Like

    March 20, 2013
  13. Reblogged this on Self Publishing.

    Like

    March 22, 2013

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