A feminist perspective on life and art.
Early in her writing career, Gornick “stumbled on the style that was becoming known as personal journalism” and “immediately recognized it as my own.” For more than four decades, she honed that style in essays on literature, culture, New York life, and feminism, represented here by a series of pieces revised from previous publication. In “Toward a Definition of the Female Sensibility,” the author celebrates “the re-creation in women of the experiencing self that is the business of contemporary feminism. Vast internal changes must occur in women in which old responses, old habits, old emotional convictions are examined under a new light: the light of consciousness.” This new consciousness informs much of Gornick’s writing, such as her uncompromising critique of novelist James Salter, who, she asserts, was preoccupied “with wartime glory, money, and class distinction, and sex, sex, sex.” Salter depicted women not “as fellow creatures but…as the source of an enraptured virility that alone makes life worth living.” In contrast, Mary McCarthy, once one of Gornick’s favorite writers, spoke to “another kind of romance alive in us, one closer to the bone; that of seeing ourselves as New Women, independent working girls out in the world.” She chides acerbic critic Diana Trilling for spending her life “declaring that she was her own separate self” but never imagining herself “except in relation to her husband,” Lionel. While most essays on literature and culture focus on canonical figures (Melville, Primo Levi, Hannah Arendt, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rachel Carson), Gornick pays homage to lesser-known Black writer Kathleen Collins, whose voice, “black, urban, unmistakably rooted in lived experience,” acutely conveyed “what it was like to be living inside that complex identity…the way Grace Paley used her New York Jewishness, to explore the astonishment of human existence”—an astonishment that Gornick shares.
An engaging collection of sharp, lively essays.