Dead white females

By SHARON STEEL  |  August 8, 2007

Dead White Female Author: Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead, 1943 (“My work done my way. A private, personal, selfish, egotistical motivation. That’s the only way I function. That’s all I am.”)
POP-CULTURE LEGACY tabloids; Rupert Murdoch’s quest for world domination; the E! channel; competition for the title of “Sexiest Man Alive”

Ayn Rand was a self-described hero-worshipper, and her novels focused on projecting her version of the ideal man upon the world. Not all girls could fall for Howard Roark or John Galt the way Dominique and Dagny did. But who needs a fictional genius/Adonis when People magazine puts Brad Pitt on the cover every other week? Rand’s objectivist philosophy states that man is a heroic being, with his own happiness functioning as the moral purpose of his life. A rather twisted version of her values can be found in a society that allows conservative talking heads on Fox News to directly manipulate the political landscape. Rand would probably banish us to a hell filled with Ellsworth Tooheys for even suggesting such a thing, but we’re far too busy checking our Defamer RSS feeds to worry about it much.

Dead White Female Author: Dorothy Parker
BEST-KNOWN WORKHere Lies, 1939 (“I might repeat to myself, slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound — if I can remember any of the damn things.”)
POP-CULTURE LEGACY biting sarcasm; The Daily Show; Gawker; The Onion

Too bad Dorothy Parker will never make an appearance on the Gawker Stalker map. She kicked the bucket decades before the birth of the mediawhore blog, which offers daily commentary on New York City media, La Lohan, moronic socialites, Internet losers, and assorted other fish in a barrel. Nevertheless, Parker governed as the original smack-talking blog queen long before that title was claimed by founding Gawker editrix Elizabeth Spiers. The poet and short-story scribe’s acerbic sense of humor lives on in the critical community and, essentially, in everything The Believer magazine loves to hate. An original Condé Nasty who paid her dues at Vogue and Vanity Fair before moving on to the New Yorker, Parker’s wit is an enduring slice of the oeuvre from which all snark is born. Pitchfork Media regularly pays an unspoken debt with every snide, metaphor-cloaked review, and it’s possible that, if he could, Stephen Colbert would nominate her for president.

Dead White Female Author: George Eliot
Middlemarch, 1871 (“. . . what loneliness is more lonely than distrust?”)
POP-CULTURE LEGACY Gender benders; ID fakery; Transamerica

Henry James bluntly dubbed her a “horse-faced bluestocking,” though it wasn’t Mary Ann Evans’s somewhat, er, masculine facial features that prompted her to write under the male pen name of George Eliot. Evans ascended the ranks at the Westminster Review as assistant editor. Despite the low title, she essentially ran the show — and the nom de plume she chose reflected her desire to distance herself from the “silly novels by lady novelists” she scorned. Of course, when Evans’s actual and rather scandalous identity was revealed — she lived in sin with George Henry Lewes — it did little to decrease her popularity. Would-be male-prostitute/memoirist J.T. Leroy (Harold’s End) wasn’t so fortunate. Of course, s/he (who was not, in fact, a male prostitute but a female novelist) also didn’t conceive of anything that came close to Middlemarch, considered a masterpiece of the Victorian era. How would the almighty Oprah have reacted if she had selected a manly George Eliot as one of her book-club authors, only to find herself facing a chick? Stoning was allowed back then, wasn’t it? However you cut it, Evans’s gender bending helped, in some small way, blaze a trail for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the New York Dolls, Mrs. Doubtfire, Victor/Victoria, and Tootsie.

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