Are Girls Necessary?: Lesbian Writing and Modern Histories
Are Girls Necessary? was an astoundingly great idea, exploring the lesbian in nineteenth and twentieth century lesbian-authored literature, even that which is not as explicit as the lesbian novels that make up the heart of the lesbian literary canon.
The subjects of Abraham’s examinations are a veritable pantheon of lesbian, bisexual and feminist literary icons: Willa Cather, Mary Renault, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Alice B. Toklas, et al. Granted certain literary and real-life freedoms due to their race and class, these women were able to forge the vocabulary and themes that would permeate lesbian and feminist literature well past their own lifetimes. Although the lesbian often had to be coded within heterosexual acceptability, it takes only a creative and open mind to find the subversive glimpses these authors coded into their work or left lying in the open for anyone who cared enough to look. An exploration of the means in which these women forged a path for themselves (and those who followed them) within the restraints of their time had great potential.
Unfortunately, the execution leaves much to be desired. Abraham’s prose is representative of all that is wrong with academic writing. Vague and obscurantist to the extreme, the text is heavy with the horrendous abuses of language that turn pleasant nouns into ugly verbs and replace simple, clear language with unnecessarily polysyllabic meanderings through overly complex grammar. What, must I ask, did the thesaurus ever do to her to be so mistreated and misused?
For the serious student of literary criticism willing to subject herself to linguistic torture, Are Girls Necessary? is well worth exploring. However, if you love language just a bit too much to see it battered around so callously, do not read this book.