Danny Yee >> Travelogues >> Oxford Blog >> Books + Ideas
spires from Carfax

gender imbalance in the translated canon?

Books + Ideas, — February 2013

A decade ago, M.A. Orthofer at the Complete Review found that only 13% of his reviews were of books by women. Some sampling of my reviews suggests that my fraction is a bit better than that, but not much - still under 20%.

Part of the explanation is that a fair chunk of my reviews are of books on computer science, physics, and other fields that are still male-dominated. But a larger part of it - and I suspect the explanation for the Complete Review's finding - is my focus on literature in translation. Of the fifteen Hungarian writers I've reviewed, for example, every single one is male. This is not just selective bias on my part: a glance through the European literature section in my favourite bookshop, the Albion Beatnik, reveals a similar dearth of female authors. The four shelves of German literature in translation, for example, feature only three women: Irmgard Keun, Anne Frank and Herta Müller.

It is the canon that is most likely to be translated, and it seems to me that the English literary canon is much more balanced than most others. If one thinks of the 19th century English novel, for example, plenty of women writers spring to mind. In contrast, the 19th century French canon seems much more masculine, and I can't think of a single female 19th century Russian novelist.

Conclusion: I really should read Magda Szabo.


  1. Anne Frank is Dutch, not German.

    Comment by Kevin Love — November 2013
  2. So she was - born in Germany, but spent most of her life in the Netherlands and wrote in Dutch. The language sections in the bookshop are fairly broad - a single "Mediterranean" section encompasses Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Turkish and North African writing and the "German" section is actually "non-English Germanic".

    Comment by danny — November 2013

TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Books + Ideas << Oxford Blog << Travelogues << Danny Yee