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Feeling Nostalgic? The archives > Is Jonathan Franzen a jerk? Does it matter?

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message 1: by ~Geektastic~ (new)

 ~Geektastic~ (atroskity) | 3207 comments http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/page...

I haven't read anything by Franzen (yet?), but I think this is probably the third or fourth article I've run across that expresses the suspicion that Franzen tends toward misogyny in his writing. If what the article asserts is true concerning Franzen's Edith Wharton article, I'm inclined to believe he may be a jerk. Any thoughts? Anyone read Freedom or The Corrections and can maybe give some insight into this?


message 2: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 13815 comments Agreed. Jerk. I have read a short story or two but this just confirms that I have no interest in reading his novels.


message 3: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24262 comments Mod
I can't remember much from The Corrections. In Freedom, I thought Franzen's voice came through most clearly in the main character, Patty. I kind of thought Patty was a bit of a stand-in for Franzen; and I liked Patty. For me, she was a sympathetic character. I didn't think he treated her badly.

I haven't read the New Yorker article and I usually like to reserve judgment until I've read something. I have read a lot of Franzen, both fiction and nonfiction, and there is a bit of the hater in him. Some unpleasantness. That this is something directed exclusively at women I think is probably somewhat inaccurate.

That a writer might be misogynist doesn't necessarily keep me from reading him. I've read Norman Mailer and liked Norman Mailer.

We have a long thread about Franzen somewhere in here.


message 4: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24262 comments Mod
An essay complaining about how Edith Wharton is not pretty, and doesn't look like Grace Kelly or Jackie Kennedy seems like something written to get attention. He knows there's going to be a backlash for it. This makes me inclined to take it less seriously. I have a hard time believing he really thinks Edith Wharton's looks matter.


message 5: by Cheri (last edited Feb 29, 2012 09:38PM) (new)

Cheri | 795 comments I read both and neither were memorable much less remarkable. I know, why read Freedom if I didn't like The Corrections? I wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything. I didn't and will not read him again.

I wouldn't care if he was a jerk if his writing was good. But it's not good. J. Franzen's books are overrated, especially by himself.


message 6: by Sally, la reina (new)

Sally (mrsnolte) | 17333 comments Mod
I loved Freedom, hated The Corrections. Would probably hate him, yet want to make out with him, if I were to meet him.


message 7: by Louise (new)

Louise I read The Corrections, didn't like it that much, won't read anymore Franzen. I pretty much found all the characters dislikeable and the story not very engaging - a depressing farce? And 600+ pages too...


message 8: by Ricky (last edited Mar 18, 2013 10:58AM) (new)

Ricky | 45 comments I absolutely loved both The Corrections and Freedom. Strike one. I am a man about to weigh in on a discussion on misogyny with intelligent - note the careful avoidance of the P word - women. Strike two. How stupid or careless am I? You may stop reading now.
First, and this is probably indicative of the pervasiveness of the patriarchal society or male psychology at work, I did not particularly notice any bias or anger directed at women in these novels. I interpreted Corrections to be about the ties of family and happened to have a strong lesbian character in the mix. Freedom may be closer to the point but is also a fictionalized account about the inner competition of two human needs: to be loved by someone and to be free to do as one sees fit.
Second, I tend to agree with you and the article that JC Franzen is - on some level - woman hating jerk. However, as LG seems to suggest, whatever faults or attributes an author may possess, should we not judge a work of fiction on its own merits? Which begs another question: why do men like JC Franzen's novels whereas women do not?


message 9: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24262 comments Mod
Who is JC? Do you mean Franzen? JF? Is it true that men like his novels and women don't?


message 10: by Ricky (new)

Ricky | 45 comments Yes indeed JC should read JF = Franzen. As for the affirmation that JF appeals more to men than women, the current score seems to be 5 or 6 against JF to 1 or 2 for; and this distribution crudely falls along gender lines. I admit that this may very well be a gross generalization but, in my limited experience, very few women have lauded him whereas more men I spoke to have sung his praise, notably a very respected journalist for the Toronto Star who introduced me to JF. This is anything but scientific or meaningful in itself, but could we agree that all literary criticism is subjective to a degree? Furthermore, the misogyny label is rarely wielded BY men against men or socio-political institutions. Why is this so?

I was hoping that this thread could serve as a milieu to discuss the appeal this author has among men and test the hypothesis of a male bias in favor his works. As well, I have read recently in literary media that great female authors are not widely read by men, and subsequently do not receive their due recognition/praise in the supposed patriarchal society mainly because of their gender. I would like to hear from other TC faithful on Franzen, misogyny or the role of gender in literature and culture.


message 11: by Ricky (new)

Ricky | 45 comments Very well put Bun Wat. Excellent points that merit reflection. Social and financial comforts often breed a certain degree of conformism in favor of the status quo for the privileged. Are there any optometrist than can help correct this blindness to the suck? May need to make an appointment.


message 12: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24262 comments Mod
Being inclined to call a writer misogynist because he was critical of two high profile women (Oprah and New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani), as that New York Daily News writer does, is really stretching it. He said something rude about Kakutani (called her the stupidest person in New York, or something) because she had given him a bad review. Whatever! And he said not the politest things about Oprah because he saw Oprah's audience as literarily beneath him. Which, FRANKLY, if anyone doesn't think that, they don't understand what Oprah is doing and what kind of audience she has. It's a slightly more serious thing to denigrate women as a category of readers - which doesn't make a lot of sense because although chick lit, or romance, certainly deserves to be mocked or reviled, much of literature that women readers read, doesn't deserve to be mocked or reviled.

On the subject of Edith Wharton, I think his essay was kind of pointless. Others may disagree. But essentially he argued that because Edith Wharton was not pretty, we think of her differently as an author than we would think of a pretty author. For example, if Wharton looked like Grace Kelly or Jackie Kennedy, he says she "might well be more congenial to us now." He also contrasts Edith's looks with some of her beautiful heroines' looks, such as Lily Bart (The House of Mirth). He doesn't only talk about her lack of beauty, he talks about her incredible privilege (being wealthy and very high class), and these two things in conjunction, he argues, makes it hard for the reader to sympathize with her as a writer.

I didn't think it was a particularly strong essay. Besides which, looking at pictures of Wharton, she's hardly unattractive. I don't get the point of going out of one's way to single her out as being unattractive. I wouldn't go so far as to call this misogynist behavior without seeing a lot more data points.




message 13: by Ricky (last edited Mar 18, 2013 04:43PM) (new)

Ricky | 45 comments Thanks LG. I tend to agree with you that JF's essay was not particularly strong. He is trying to use the Beauty Myth in reverse. Furthermore, Wharton is physically attractive to a degree according to my tastes. I'm sure fame, talent and intelligence add to the desirability of a person. Serge Gainsbourg was a hideous-looking French singer who dated some of the world's most beautiful women. Janis Joplin was not particularly striking but still had a few hippies chasing her around. Besides, aren't we judging the merits and talents of artists? What relevance does prettiness have?

So I guess that we agree that Franzen can be an insensitive jerk who is borderline misogynist based on his recent actions/essays. I guess the jury is still out on the sexism of his two major works. I'll be paying special attention to this the next time I read these books.


message 14: by Lobstergirl, el principe (new)

Lobstergirl | 24262 comments Mod
So I guess that we agree that Franzen can be an insensitive jerk who is borderline misogynist based on his recent actions/essays.

You didn't get that from what I wrote, did you? (Who is we?) I was not calling him borderline misogynist at all.

I think Wharton's looks are an odd emphasis for an essay. Even if you notice that he is addressing her looks as he formulates ideas about her heroines' looks (beauty), I still think it's an odd emphasis. But I'm not going to call it necessarily a misogynist emphasis.

It should also be noted that he dwells initially, and as much, on her privileged life as on her supposed lack of beauty. He makes the point that when she finished a page of writing, she would throw it on the floor, expecting her maid to come in and pick up the pages and order them.


message 15: by Ricky (new)

Ricky | 45 comments OK LG, point taken. I will not co-opt or subsume your ideas as my own. I was just trying to summarize some of the ideas up to now as a way to move the debate forward. I thought we agreed somewhat on the point that whatever an author does socially/politically is different from his fiction. He can be brilliant in one sphere and misogynist in the other. I too take exception when a person I disagree with says that he/she agrees with me….


message 16: by Ricky (new)

Ricky | 45 comments OK. Then the "casual sexism" and being “blind to the such” that BW spoke of earlier… is it more of an individual act or is it the state of the system?
From the preceding, I understand that she wishes to distinguish between two concepts: 1. A person is misogynist when he/she expresses hate and either hides in fear or decides to proselytise; and 2. The patriarchal system is oppressive because it oozes of sexism in various forms, some blatant, others covert.

If that your assessment, I can accept that conceptual distinction. However, how do we analyse or characterize works of fiction as a whole? Do we say that the work is sexist or misogynist or is it a character flaw of the author? In other words, on what basis or criteria can we say that Franzen or any other is misogynist simply based on one novel or one character in a novel?

Help me ladies, I just want to understand and do the right thing. Should I consider JF or one of his novels as misogynist or casually sexist? I am open to the possibility even though I did not see it for myself, though the failing might be entirely my own. Are there any other misogynist authors or novels that could provide us with a benchmark or a point comparison?


message 17: by Ricky (new)

Ricky | 45 comments Ouch. Not EVEN close. Thought I had something there. Do you mean to distinguish between the act/work and its effect of the larger society or gender? Or is it rather a purely semantic distinction between hate and desire for inequality at the systematic/social level?

Tell me I'm not out to lunch...oh wait,I am. Read you all later.


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