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.
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
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- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
- 5 Man hospitalised with pneumonia after downing eggnog at office Christmas party
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader