Who’s She Calling A Brat?

Are biographies of women associated with great writers starting to overshadow those of the writers themselves? Katie Roiphe seems to think so. In this Slate article, she takes a new biography of Lucia Joyce by Carol Loeb Schloss to task.

These biographies interest themselves not with women who wrote great books, but with women who happened to be there as they were being written, women like Zelda Fitzgerald, Vera Nabokov, Georgie Yeats, Valerie Eliot, and Nora Joyce. The latest engrossing contribution to the genre is Carol Shloss’ Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. Once the genre served as an original, quirky feminist corrective, but now, as it becomes more prevalent, it panders to a culture more enamored of family dysfunction and prurient gossip than art itself.

Roiphe complains that there is no evidence that Lucia Joyce had any talent, that she was nothing more than a dilettante with a taste for dancing, painting, and writing. I can’t speak to the other bios that Roiphe puts in the same bag as Lucia Joyce, but I did read Stacy Schiff’s Vera: Mrs Vladimir Nabokov, and I just don’t think you can come to understand Vladimir Nabokov without reading that book. Vera didn’t just “happen” to be there. She researched, corrected and typed his manuscripts, did all his submissions, translated his work, fought with his detractors, even made corrections on word choice when he was writing Lolita. I can’t imagine anyone telling Nabokov that he doesn’t have le mot juste. She sometimes wrote his lectures for him at Cornell, and on a few occasions lectured when he was unable to. Roiphe may have a point about Lucia Joyce, but I think she gets carried away and smears everyone else.