Cursive letters into knives

By Evangeline Jennings

The Manchester Guardian recently published a list of English literature’s 50 key moments. This list pissed off a lot of people – mostly women and the men who are hoping to fuck them – and so the Manchester Guardian set up a small condescending ghetto for women writers – The 50 Most Influential Books By Women.

Unsurprisingly, this also pissed off many of the same people, and our friends at For Books Sake retaliated in kind, publishing their own Not The Fucking Manchester Guardian List.

Not being a complete fool, I know that newspapers publish lists in order to feel important, to spark discussion, and to drive traffic. And I know that in my own small way I am now falling into their trap. But eff it. I’m not hugely enamoured with any of these lists – although I do have some new books I need to read – and I don’t do well with lists in general – unless, of course, I’m writing them.

I’m never sure, for example, how we should be defining concepts like Influence and how we should balance that against Quality or Goodness. I’m not comfortable with pitching writer against writer. And I don’t especially enjoy the idea that we have Writers and Women Writers.

On the whole, I prefer the FBS list, but it’s a closer thing than you’d think. They exclude Patricia Highsmith but remember Radclyffe Hall. The Manchester Guardian probably thought Hall was a man, but at least they understood the importance of Highsmith, who wrote both Strangers On A Train and the Ripley series. I would argue that Highsmith has been  more influential than Hall, but that Hall merits inclusion for writing – as far as I know – the first lesbian novel.

Neither list, however, includes Djuna Barnes and they both claim that The Mysterious Affair At Styles is Agatha Christie’s most influential work, which is patent nonsense. The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd is a far more important book. I could also make a case for And Then There Were None.

Anyway, to prove how fatuous lists can be, here are twelve women writers who have influenced me.  They may not be the Best Women Writers or the Most Influential Ever, but they’ve said more to me than Simone de Beauvoir or Anais Nin ever did.

  • Agatha Christie
  • Katherine V. Forrest
  • Joanne Harris
  • Anita Loos
  • Dorothy Parker
  • Joyce Porter
  • JK Rowling
  • Sarah Schulman
  • Scarlett Thomas
  • Sarah Waters
  • Mary Wings
  • Jeanette Winterson

I was tempted to include Kathleen Hanna …

… and if you ask me again next year, I may want to add Veronica Roth to that list. I’m totally in love with Tris Prior.


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