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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf was a babe’

The current fiction issue of The New Yorker (June 5 & 12) includes a story by Curtis Sittenfeld, “Show Don’t Tell.” The title—familiar advice to writers—is a tipoff that this is one of those “writers-writing-about-writers” stories, in this case an MBA from a renowned writing program writing about MBA students in a renowned writing program. (“Write what you know” is another of those pearls distributed to wannabe writers.)

Ruth and Bhadveer are discussing the possible recipients of a coveted and soon-to-be-announced grant that will go to four second-year students in their program. Ruth has heard that Aisha is a likely candidate, but Bhadveer thinks not.

“Aisha is gorgeous, right?” he asks. “Great literature has never been produced by a beautiful woman.”

Ridiculous, Ruth replies, and he challenges her to name one. The text continues:

“Virginia Woolf was a babe.” Of the many foolish things I said in graduate school, this is the one that haunts me the most. But I didn’t regret it immediately.

Bhadveer shook his head. “You’re thinking of that one picture taken when she was, like nineteen. And it’s kind of sideways, right? To obscure her long face. Why the long face, Virginia?”

Bhadveer dismisses a few others that Ruth suggests. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but there tends to be an inverse relationship between how hot a woman is and how good a writer. Exhibit A is George Eliot. It’s because you need to be hungry to be a great writer, and beautiful women aren’t hungry.”

Bhadveer is one of the grant recipients—we learn this early in the story, so it’s not a spoiler. Chauvinistic blowhards sometimes prosper (as we’re well aware these days). And Virginia Woolf was a babe who wrote great literature.

 

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