This article is taken from the July 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
Dawn has barely broken over the top-floor flat in Kennington, London SE11, but Etta (formerly Henrietta, a name she dislikes) Parsloe is already casting an eager eye along the past half-hour’s Twitter posts. Almost at once her gaze alights on a Guardian article in which a woman novelist can be found lamenting the difficulty she has in reconciling the demands of her professional and personal lives and how last Thursday three-year-old Ariadne burst into tears on being told that mummy had to go to a book launch.
Emma, Etta declares, using her @tellingitstraightbabes account, needs to check her privilege. Lest this should sound unduly censorious she adds a PS Btw, Em, always loved your work.
Barely has she filed this rebuke than there comes news of another controversy, involving a male academic who in a scholarly essay in the Dublin Review of Books is thought to have mildly disparaged the early fiction of Margaret Drabble. No need this time for reassuring codicils: Etta is straight in with an always pisses me off when men criticise women they probably haven’t read. By this time three people have “liked” the original post about the woman novelist and two people retweeted it, so it is with an extreme reluctance that Etta signs off to return to her day job proofreading documents for a financial research firm.
Half-an-hour and two cups of coffee later, she is back online to discover that Emma’s friends have been rallying to her defence
Half-an-hour and two cups of coffee later, she is back online to discover that Emma’s friends have been rallying to her defence and there are seven replies to her tweet, some of them quite cross. The male academic keeps early hours too and has responded with a wounded “Actually I have read Drabble’s entire oeuvre and this is my sincere opinion. Do you have a problem with that?”
Noting that this post has received 17 likes, including one from the literary editor of a weekly magazine, Etta, having paused to correct three pages of Sisal Production Trends in Mozambique: An Overview hastily backtracks with “a not questioning your sincerity. Just making a general point.”
This, as she knows, is disingenuous, but as this post is immediately garnished with five likes of its own, she suspects she has done the right thing.
Meanwhile, a wonderful new outrage is making its presence felt. Not only have the Observer sent the latest Sally Rooney to a man, but, unbelievably, the reviewer claims not to like it. It appears that 347 people have already protested at this calamitous mistake, but there is nothing like joining a Twitter lynch-mob. “Really hope whoever did this gets sacked,” Etta posts, adding, for good measure, “PS So sorry to hear, Sally. Sending love.”
And so the morning winds on. Eight hours later, Etta will notice that there are still another 20 pages of her document to proofread and she will have to work long in the evening to catch up. On the other hand, as she regularly reassures herself, there is nothing like making a difference to the literary world of which, however tangentially, you are a part.
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