A correspondent said she was reading a “virago book.” I said. “Is it by, or about, one?” It turns out Virago is a distinguished publishing house. As if on cue, this informative review of Lennie Goodings’s memoir appears.
Virago started up in London in 1973, with a mission to “shake the canon out of its primness and timidity, to shatter the silences around women’s lives.”
Goodings, a young Canadian, teamed with founder Carmen Callil in 1977, and found publishing to be “a fusty little industry, with men her own age braying at her, demanding coffee.”
They published Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Maya Angelou, Stevie Smith. Callil is credited with resurfacing the work of Vera Brittain, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Taylor, Rebecca West, and many others.
Anthony Burgess piggishly harrumphed in earshot of Virago about “chauvinist sows.”
The reviewer’s summation has supportive nuance:
… This deeply modest book… contains its own critique and argues against its own circumspection, deploring the feminine habits of “modesty, likability and anxiety.”
(Parul Sehgal, “When Publishing Women Was a Radical Act: A British Editor Looks Back,” NYTimes, 12-15-20)
(c) 2020 JMN