Novelist Howard Jacobson, 79, makes a stand against publishing's sensitivity crisis 

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‘A male writer is not obliged to like women’: Novelist Howard Jacobson, 79, says misogyny ‘is not a word that should be used about authors’ as he hits back at publishing’s sensitivity crisis

  • Author Howard Jacobson, 79,  spoken out about sensitivity in publishing world 
  • Said writers shouldn’t be accused of misogyny and aren’t ‘obliged to like women’
  • Revealed he had ‘lost the energy for the battle’ around the sensitive debate
  • Writer also said people ‘mistake art for the statement of a political view’


Novelist Howard Jacobson has said misogyny ‘is not a word that should be used about writers’ as he made a stand against publishing’s sensitivity crisis.

The 79-year-old, who lives in London, said he was repeatedly warned to ‘be careful’ when writing his memoir Mother’s Boy, which is released this week.

The author, who won the Booker Prize for The Finkler Question in 2010, said he was warned by his publisher that his book would make him seem ‘not very likeable’.

Having previously been accused of misogyny by critics, he told The Telegraph: ‘I’ve lost the energy for the battle…[Misogyny] is not a critical term. As anti-Semitism is not a critical term… 

Novelist Howard Jacobson, 79, has said misogyny'is not a word that should be used about writers' as he made a stand against publishing's sensitivity crisis

Novelist Howard Jacobson, 79, has said misogyny ‘is not a word that should be used about writers’ as he made a stand against publishing’s sensitivity crisis

‘Dickens wrote novels that you could say are anti-Semitic – so what have you said? And a male writer is not obliged to like women.’

Howard said a common mistake by readers is to confuse art, in terms of plot or character, for a political statement from the author.

He said he considers ‘the worst crime’ to be ‘bad writing, much lower down the list is whether or not you said something you’re not supposed to say at the moment’.

Meanwhile he added that the ‘male gaze’ is a ‘horrible concept’ which he called ‘anti-life and it’s anti-art’,

He revealed he had repeatedly been told to be'careful' when writing the novel having been accused of misogyny by critics

He revealed he had repeatedly been told to be ‘careful’ when writing the novel having been accused of misogyny by critics

His comments come after  critically-acclaimed author Kate Clanchy, 57, from Scotland, found herself at the centre of a cancel culture row over revising her memoir. 

She revealed her former publisher Picador recruited ‘sensitivity readers’ to ‘detect and reform problematic racism and ableism’ in her Orwell Prize-winning book.

It came after the 2019 memoir about her life as a state school teacher was criticised for allegedly portraying some pupils in a racist manner. 

Miss Clanchy, 57, said she was ‘horrified that people found prejudice and cruelty’ in the book and ‘went into the process’ of the memoir being scrutinised by the sensitivity ‘experts’ willingly.

Kate Clanchy (pictured), who wrote Some Kids I Taught And What They Taught Me, revealed her former publisher Picador recruited'sensitivity readers' to'detect and reform problematic racism and ableism' in her Orwell Prize-winning book

Kate Clanchy (pictured), who wrote Some Kids I Taught And What They Taught Me, revealed her former publisher Picador recruited ‘sensitivity readers’ to ‘detect and reform problematic racism and ableism’ in her Orwell Prize-winning book

Writing for website UnHerd, she said one focus group rated supposedly offensive words and passages on a scale of one to three. 

She wrote: ‘One Reader fusspots around single words: I should not use ‘disfigure’ of a landscape (infraction level 3, as presumably comparing bings – spoil heaps – to boils might be harmful to acne sufferers). 

‘Nor should I use ‘handicap’ in its ordinary sense of ‘impede’ (infraction level 2, serious); and I should prefer the acronym ‘SEN’ to its origin phrase, special educational needs, because it is more inclusive (infraction level 2).’

She added: ‘My Readers though, have not been hired as literary people. They are there to help create a book that would play better on Twitter, not one that is better written.’ 

Miss Clanchy, who was awarded an MBE in 2019, cut ties with Picador before the revised version of the book was published. 

Swift Press has reissued it without the changes but with other edits. 

Swift Press told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The only thing we wish to say is that minor revisions were made because Kate wished to make them.’

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