Thursday 24 August 2017

What's next, a prize for redheads?

The women-only Orange Prize for fiction still has its defiant advocates, though some of them are beginning to sound very defensive.

Commenting in the Daily Telegraph on this year's shortlist, which features Emma Donoghue's Room along with five other contenders, writer Viv Groskop concedes that "gender-defined prizes are still uncomfortable" and quotes Bettany Hughes, who's one of this year's judges, as saying, "I very much hope that one day we won't need an Orange Prize".

This leads Ms Groskop to wonder, "Oh dear, are we all wasting our time?" Well, yes, though she doesn't think so, arguing that "the statistics speak for themselves". The statistics she cites show that in the last decade 62pc of novelists shortlisted for the Man Booker prize were men, while 70pc of those who won the Costa Novel of the Year were male.

Of course, this could just mean that in those 10 years more good novels were written by men than by women, or indeed that a lot of women authors have been opting to tap into the lucrative chick-lit market instead, but Ms Groskop prefers to see it as a sinister conspiracy to deny women their literary due.

Anyway, I'm with AS Byatt, who dismissed the Orange Prize as "sexist" and with Germain Greer, who observed that there'll soon be a literary prize for authors with red hair.

*****

Meanwhile, educationalists and cultural commentators in Britain have been fretting over the fact that, in a recent survey, one-in-three schoolchildren thought Rudyard Kipling made cakes, one in five were of the opinion that Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg manufactured savoury snacks, while only a small minority had heard of Lewis Carroll and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Depressing, I suppose, but ask Irish children what they know of Wilde, Synge, O'Casey, Kavanagh or Heaney, and I doubt if the responses would be much different.

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