Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ten legendary bad girls of literature

Publishers Random House have just posted to Facebook a link to an article called '10 Legendary Bad Boys of Literature', which features such little charmers as Amis père et fils, the oddly unattractive Michel Houellebecq, and a stomach-churning shot of Norman Mailer in his favourite legs-spread pose, which would have obviated the need for his tailor ever to ask which side he dressed.

Personally I think the Bad Girls of Literature were infinitely more charming without being in any way less talented or less Bad. I'm sure there were more, especially in other cultures and literatures, but here's a list for starters.

Germaine Greer

'I have always been principally interested in men for sex. I've always thought any sane woman would be a lover of women because loving men is such a mess. I have always wished I'd fall in love with a woman. Damn.'

George Sand

'The trade of authorship is a violent and indestructible obsession.'

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

'Nature has not placed us in an inferior rank to men, no more than the females of other animals, where we see no distinction of capacity, though I am persuaded if there was a commonwealth of rational horses... it would be an established maxim amongst them that a mare could not be taught to pace.'

Aphra Behn

'Fantastic fortune, thou deceitful light,
That cheats the weary traveller by night,
Though on a precipice each step you tread,
I am resolved to follow where you lead.'

Rebecca West

'I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.'

Katherine Mansfield

 'Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.'

Jane Bowles

'I am so wily and feminine that I could live by your side for a lifetime and deceive you afresh each day.'

Gertrude Stein

'When I go around and speak on campuses, I still don't get young men standing up and saying, How can I combine career and family?'

Emily Bronte

'I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.'


'When she raises her eyelids it's as if she were taking off all her clothes.'


sarah toa said...

Ahhh, I was going to mention Collette. Beautiful post. One of your best, I reckon.

Ampersand Duck said...


Fantastique. And to think, there are so many more! We could do 100 bad women and never get bored. Mainly because they haven't been over-exposed, like those boring bad men.

Helen said...

Violette Leduc makes Amises look like a pair of vanilla puddings!

Meredith Jones said...

Oh thank you! A lovely way to begin the weekend.

PS my word verification is "cionress" -- sounds both feminine and strong.

Elephant's Child said...

An excellent post and excellent 'bad' women. Thank you.

wv: monsensl = nonsensical literature written by men?

Dave Bath said...


Particularly the "when I go to a campus...."

Of course, we males aren't given to think that way (or weren't) through the social and educational systems, but when you have your baby on a sling at work, are a single working dad, and now have daughter and grandson back at home, you begin to wonder why we males have been so deprived by the lack of encouragement to a joy-filled life.

A conspiracy theorist could blame a very successful feminist plot for the last few thousand years.


Matthew John Davies said...

Can't help but miss Wollstonecraft.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about Yosano Akiko. And Sei Shonagon. And Marianne Moore. And Anne Sexton. And Pauline Reage. And Caryl Churchill.
And Sharri Flanniken (sp?) Of "Trots and Bonnie" fame. And Gilda Radner.

Never, ever forget about Gilda Radner.

The ever-helpful j_p_z

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

It's a random ten. As someone has already said, we could find a hundred if we wanted to. Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary Shelley isn't here either, but could easily have been. Jean Rhys is another, and of course Sylvia Plath. Maybe I'd better do another one.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

JPZ, comments crossed (though they might as well not have, since the answer is the same).

Anonymous said...

Oh, and also, how on earth could you make a list like this and leave out Patti Smith and Kathy Acker?!?

Kathy Freakin' Acker, who wrote a novel called "Great Expectations" which begins, "Chapter One: Plagiarism."

Tsk, tsk.

There goes Jane Jacobs-readin' j_p_z

Anonymous said...

@7:02 pm:

Yep, I know one could go on and on. I'm just assembling a helpful reading list for people who stop at Virginia Woolf, dontchaknow.

It's a public service. Folks who've never read "The Pillow Book," or "Light Shining in Buckinghamshire" or "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," or (our mutual fave) "Goblin Market," well, what can be done for them?

cherries worth getting,
Your friendly neighborhood japerz

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Was Christina Rossetti Bad, though. That is the question. I should have thought her well outclassed Badness-wise by her flake of a brother, which is exactly the sort of thing one is trying to get away from.

Because this post does have a point. It's not just about Women Writers. If I wanted to make a list of them, it would go into the thousands; it was one of my academic fields of research.

Fiona said...

Oh my, how much would I love a dinner party with all these fab women to chat over a glass of wine or three?! Speshly Jane Bowles - wily and feminine indeed.

Anonymous said...

"Was Christina Rossetti bad though."

Bah, a confusion of carts and horses. If CR wrote Goblin Market, then OF COURSE she was "bad"!

Do get your priorities in order! ;-)


Fine said...

I love this post. Especially the photo and quote from Colette.

Of course we could do hundreds more bad women. But, I'll put my hand up for Zelda Fitzgerald. Not a great writer perhaps. However, she's a fascinating writer and personality.

Amanda Biggs said...

Excellent list. And while on the topic, how about another -- Charmian Clift?

AWickedChild said...

I have never seen a picture of Germaine Greer as a young woman before! Stunning. I hate that particular quote (its so Shit Straight Girls Say to Lesbians) but I love her. Also love the Rebecca West quote!

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

I think Greer may have said that before it became commonplace. I certainly can't imagine her saying anything she didn't mean, just as I can't imagine her saying anything just because it's regarded as a cool thing to say.

Nabakov said...

An interesting and provocative selection. Which is how we want our writers anyway. But Oi!

Word Verification is on song tonight. It just asked me to enter "misfitms" which definitely sounds like a trouble dame's call sign.

Stella Luna said...

fabulous post. such great bad women. my word verification is 'puric'...haha