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Why Men Can’t Read Novels By Women
by [?]

George Moore once presented the idea that the only thing of interest and value about the creative art of a woman was the feminine quality of that art. The novels of Jane Austen come readily to mind as an argument in support of this provocative idea. Quite first among their charms, every one will admit, is the indisputable fact that no man could possibly have written them. They have the lightness, brightness, sparkle, perfume, flavour, grace, fun, sensitivity of a young feminine mind. No one more than Miss Austen has captivated the roarers among men. A man admires, say, Conrad. He–if he is a manly man–falls in love with Jane Austen. Very well.

Now, then, it is a curious and a paradoxical thing that no man of masculine character can read the novels written by women to-day, unless he has to; that is, unless he is a book-reviewer, publisher’s reader, magazine editor, proofreader, or some such thing. And the reason he can’t do it, in view of George Moore’s idea and Miss Austen’s renowned magnetism, is curious indeed. It is because of the peculiarly feminine attitude of mind of our present women-novelists. At least, this is the arresting pronouncement delivered with much robust eloquence by my leonine friend, Colonel Bludgeon.

The present writer (a pale, spectacled, middle-aged young man) is too conscious of the wondrous nature of women to question their ability in anything. But of one of whom he stands in greater awe than of anything else in the world he is a humble friend. The dictum of this my friend comes from a quite different character than myself. He is a great man; he has read everything; seen everything; known everybody. Exception to him could be taken only on one ground. He is perfectly awful. He belongs to an old school; splenetic, choleric. He is Sir-Anthony-Absolute-like; a critic in the spirit of the thundering days of William Ernest Henley. His face is like a beefsteak. His frame is like “a mountain walking.” His voice, Johnsonian. He knows more about literature than probably any other living man.

“No, sir,” he rumbled, “you cannot find to-day a cigar-smoking animal” (though the Colonel is so erudite a man, his language is terrible) “who could be lured into the pages of our women novelists without snorts–snorts, sir–of disgust, or bellows of derisive mirth. Why? Because these pages no longer contain an acute transcript of life as only a sensitive feminine mind would have the cunning to observe it, and of a form of human life in itself highly feminine in its character, but they now present a singularly insular travesty of man, an unconscious caricature of man as he could only appear to a feminine mind bound by the romantic limitations of sex, a mind, that is, devoid of masculine understanding, unable to recognise by virtue of affiliation of instinct that which is fine in the male character and that which is false to type.

“Sir,” continued the Colonel, “these pictures are coloured, on one hand, by ludicrous prejudice against masculine qualities which the feminine nature temperamentally feels to be antagonistic, or dangerous, to itself; and, on the other hand, by sentimental worship of masculine attributes conceived to be desirable complements to the frailty of women. This amusing view of man springs not only from the element of sex, as I have said, but from the very marrow of sex. We do not get from the contemporary authoress creative literature at all; that is, a disinterested criticism of mankind; we get in each picture of a male character her instinctive, and intensely interested, feeling as to whether or not he is a man whom it would be desirable, and safe, for a young woman to marry. Paradoxically enough, it would seem that women have less and less knowledge of the world as they have contrived to see more of it; that as they have become more emancipated in liberty of action they have become more clannish in thought; and that as the range of their opportunities has widened and their interests have multiplied, their concern with the most elemental female instinct, their preoccupation with their immemorial business of the chase, has but intensified. By word of mouth the modern woman tells us that in her practical and intellectual capacities she has advanced far beyond her sisters of an earlier day; we chance to look into that pool of fiction wherein she mirrors her heart, and we find her the same self-centred huntress as of yore.