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Resisting the “cult of the literary sad woman”

Leslie Jamison's viral article on literature's damaged women overlooks a range of writing which exposes the complexity and ambivalence of female pleasure

By Katie da Cunha Lewin  

"In Bed, The Kiss", Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

Leslie Jamison’s November 2019 New York Times essay on the ‘Cult of the Literary Sad Woman’ was roundly criticised in her reduction of certain writers, particularly Jean Rhys, to describe a certain type of writing that prioritised emotion, consciousness and self-destructiveness. At 22, Jamison reflected, she “needed blueprints for [her] epic sadness” and looked for them in the literature that seemed to fetishise what she calls elsewhere “suicide chic.” For Jamison, there is a limitation to seeing women suffer in art; she offers as an…

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