That resistance that runs under the surface of so many great female writers’ books

To speak as a man on the page


A young woman grows in the world knowing that she will have to fight for her right to authority, while around her others shrug it on without any effort at all, like a coat. An expensive coat, that buttons left to right, which is also the way the world turns.


But I have not often heard a discussion about equivalent problems with the sort of praise that successful women tend to receive, which can be equally confining — about the frustrations of female artists, for example, whose work is most consistently referred to as “lovely,” as if its beauty were its most worthy attribute, leaving its potentially more threatening aspects — its originality or strength — unrecognized or ignored. Something lovely is most often without independent power, not able to fend for itself, but rather existing under the protection of that which finds it lovely.

Young men purchase authority on credit for which they are preapproved. But if you are a young woman, even now, no one and nothing will guarantee you. Is it any wonder, then, that if you wish to be in possession of authority, you seek to borrow before you expect to own?

But from where can you borrow, and what? As a young writer in 2001 or even 2004 or ’05, it was less obvious to me to borrow the undertones of resistance I found in Virginia Woolf, say, or Marilynne Robinson, than it was to simply borrow a man’s voice. To speak as a man on the page, in his third or, even better, his intimate first person, was to have quicker access to the sort of authority that allows one to be assertive, brazen, even difficult, without losing the possibility of empathy, which might lead to the slamming shut of the book.


That resistance that runs under the surface of so many great female writers’ books — what is it? Opposition to the status quo, the power that comes of compression into a minimum of words, and also a form of refusal: to be pigeonholed, to be confined to certain tones, concerns or audiences.


To write from the perspective of a man, back then, allowed me to wriggle out from under certain expectations — and out from under them, I felt more free, and more authentic, a word also related to “author.” The Latin root contains wisdom in it, because to author is indeed to increase — to expand the self until it contains multitudes, and in so doing to expand a small corner of reality.”

– Nicole Krauss, “Do Women Get to Write With Authority?”, In: New York Times, September, 22nd, 2017

I felt that this was going to be a kind of battle that had to be won

“A lot of the writers I felt like I was learning from and was interested in, as a young writer, were men, not because I thought what they were doing was better, but because they had a certain kind of natural authority to their voice,” she told me at Brooklyn’s since-shuttered Cafe Dada. “I felt that this was going to be a kind of battle that had to be won, to be a strong and powerful and authoritative voice as a woman.”

A few years ago, after the publication of her third novel, “Great House,” Krauss became drawn to the work of women authors, among them Clarice Lispector and Rachel Cusk.

“What I was responding to in those was something very strong, which is this deep sense that you find in really intelligent women’s writing of resistance,” she said, “this deep thoughtfulness that seems to come of some knowledge that you are not given forever to say the things that you want to say.”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview by Talya Zax, Forward, September, 11th, 2017

To write a female voice

“In the course of 16 years of writing novels, I feel like I’ve been on this steady progression toward being able to write a female voice that comes from a place of strength and intelligence, a voice that is unapologetic but also open to the reader’s empathy.”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview by Erica Wagner, The Guardian, August, 20th, 2017

To gain authority in my writing

“Starting out as a young woman writer, it was abundantly evident to me that I would have to try extremely hard, much harder than my male counterparts, to gain authority in my writing,” she says. “We won’t name names,” Krauss says, “but there are so many male writers—and some are wonderful writers—who…take many hundreds of pages to say what they feel and think, because they’re naturally given that right. [Women writers] come from a position of having to grab it.”

– Nicole Krauss. Interview by Keziah Weir, Elle, September 12th, 2017

Magritte – Dangerous Liaisons, 1926

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