Thursday, January 10, 2008

Idle question

An idle, almost certainly ill-informed, question came to me yesterday while watching an adaption of Northanger Abbey (you may guess that I don't always have control over the remote in my household). If you look back over the three great cultural forms, art, music and literature, over the past two hundred years why is it that, of the truly great in art and music (specifically composition), so few are women, when, by contrast, so many of the great novelists are?
Although I've never especially seen the point of Jane Austen, I do recognise that she, along with the Brontes, George Eliot and leser lights like Baroness Orczy and Mary Shelley, is regarded as a first rate novelist - up with Dickens, Hardy and (ugh) Henry James as the great 19th century novelists. But ask me for a truly first rate female artist of the nineteenth century and my mind is a blank. The same applies to composers. Why should this be? In the nineteenth century, for example, art and music were considered eminently appropriate pastimes for young ladies, whereas writing was considered unfeminine and rather declasse. That ought to suggest that there would be more female artists and composers, but the opposite is palpably true. Why?
One answer I have heard (from my wife) is that, whereas 'quality' in music and art is a standard, set by an inherently masculine establishment, that suits male creativity much better, while a feminine style of writing is not only equally as 'good' as a masculine style, but the reading public require less guidance from critics as to what is enjoyable. This is rambling because I don't know the answer, and am, obviously, unsure of my facts. Is there anything at all to this?

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