A week in books
My opening ad hominem remarks are not irrelevant. The final meeting of the judges was, one gathers, a lively one, in which both Heaney and Bainbridge had their energetic supporters. Things probably got quite heated. When that happens, when emotions run high, surprising factors kick into the decision-making process. They enter unnoticed, their effect is inadvertent, and, crucially, we are none of us immune to them, try as we may.
In situations of uncertainty we all of us fall back on generally agreed ideas. Struggling to convince ourselves that our chosen candidate's book really is as good as we claim, we bolster our opinion with what is more broadly accepted than this merely particular instance.
Now, it is broadly accepted that older men have a certain gravitas, while older women remind us of our mothers. A man with a well-established literary reputation is reassuringly grand - his greying hair, even his occasional hesitations betoken a lifetime's serious thoughtfulness. A woman, however established her oeuvre, is possibly a bit fey, a trifle lightweight. The social conventions which even today encourage her to be hesitant and concessive in public tell heavily against her.
These are not judgments of writers' work. They are habitually unscrutinised bits of social baggage. When we do think about them, almost all of us are quick to insist that these are outmoded prejudices, and entirely irrelevant when we are trying to agree a ranking of this group of novelists, this collection of poets, or even (as in the case of the Whitbread) this shortlist of assorted poets, biographers and novelists.
Some people will retort that it is I who am prejudiced; that I wanted the woman to win. The truth is that all who judge literary prizes (as I did with the Whitbread novel category, but not the final award) genuinely believe that we are out to choose the very best book. But none of us, apparently, can resist the pressures which, time and again, mean that with candidates of closely comparable stature, it is the woman who loses.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Should Apple buy Greece?
- 2 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 3 Drummer Lee Rigby's family reject 'extremist' groups using Woolwich murder for political gain
- 4 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 5 Fox News anchor asks 'what's to prevent' three people from marrying after same-sex marriage legalised
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato