The Writing Life – Tablet Magazine


Many (white, male) writers throughout history have suffered from both poverty and plagiarism. If they were not born rich, they all had day jobs. Many were never paid for their published writing. Some had to pay to be published. Writers—even the greats—also suffered scathing reviews. Some were censored. Their books were burned. Some were imprisoned, sent into exile, or murdered for their thought crimes against religion or against the state.

In our time, our work, especially our best and most radical feminist work, simply goes out of print and stays there. It dies softly. It does not get translated into other languages. We are lucky if it is noted at all, even if only to be critically savaged. More often, it is simply not reviewed. The tree falls, no one hears the sound.

When people ask me how long it took to write my first book, Women and Madness, I usually answer: my entire life. And although it became a bestseller, it also led to countless sorrows for me. My university colleagues feared, envied, and perhaps even hated me for my sudden prominence. They made my academic career a permanently uphill ordeal. Some feminists scorned the success; those who had demanded that I publish “anonymously” and donate the proceeds to the “revolution” stopped talking to me.

However, buoyed by a rising feminist movement—this was the late ’60s after all—I coasted my way through the many patriarchal assaults and university-based punishments launched against me. I’d learned that one measure’s one’s success by the strength of one’s opposition. I was not looking to please patriarchal ways of thinking but to transform them.

But, despite publishing quite a lot after that—I also perished, institutionally speaking. It took me 22 years to become a full professor, my tenure was challenged again and again, as were my promotions (which determined one’s salary and one’s pension). I never received a serious (i.e., tenured) job offer at any other university.

Nevertheless, that first book of mine was embraced by millions of women. It was reviewed prominently, positively, and often. However, it was also damned. Psychologists and psychiatrists were offended, enraged. I was certainly not invited to lecture to such groups, at least not until feminists had more senior roles within them.

An author rarely learns why a particular person has been assigned a review or why they’ve undertaken it. Here’s one story of mine that I’ve never before shared, a rather bizarre, Byzantine, only-in-Manhattan tale that unfolds over a 33-year period. I don’t think the story is unique. What’s unique is that I was finally able to connect the dots.

All the players have died. I’m still here and writing about it.

In 1973, Partisan Review ran a very negative review of Women and Madness, written by Dr. Louise J. Kaplan, a psychoanalyst whom …….


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