The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

The French feminist collective La Barbe laid into the French literary world a couple of weeks ago. In the 110 year history of the Prix Goncourt, they said, hardly any woman has won it. They said that this omission pointed to the invisibility of women writers: a hundred out of 110 Goncourt winners, and 75 out of 87 Renaudot winners were men.

So - are the literary juries misogynists and the women truly invisible? Or is this just a persistent cliche? Anne Brigaudeau did an analysis in an article published on a France TV blog a couple of days ago, when the awards season began with the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française, followed by the Goncourt, the Renaudot, the Femina, the Décembre, the de Flore, the Médicis, the Goncourt des Lycéens, the Renaudot des Lycéens and will end with the Interallié.

Participation in juries

It is as clear as ABC: a committee of men will naturally reward male talent, writes Anne Brigaudeau. And when the juries are chosen by appointment, it is not unexpected that men will nominate other men. This is a phenomenon that is no less rare in the 21st century than in the previous centuries. Take a look at the current composition of the juries:

The Goncourt jury is more or less fixed - 10 members, out of whom three are women (Edmonde Charlex-Roux joined in 1983; Françoise Chandernagor, since 1995; Paule Constant from this year).

The Renaudot jury also has ten members, of which only one (Dominique Bona since 1999) is a woman. The Flore has twelve jurors of which two are women. The Décembre is slightly better (five out of twelve are women) while the Médicis almost achieves parity (four of nine jurors are women).

The exception that proves the rule is the Femina, which was explicitly established as an anti-Goncourt and has an entirely female jury. But this is neatly counterbalanced by the Interallié which comprises nine men. Clearly, the men overwhelm the women in numbers, including in the Academy française, which has only six women among thirty-seven members.

Participation in shortlists

In the literary season of 2013, according to the publication list of Livres Hebdo, 36% of novels were written by women. 

How many of these novels were shortlisted for the majors? The Goncourt - one in four. The Renaudot - none out of six. The Décembre - none out of three. The Médicis - three out of eight. The Femina - two out of five. The Grand Prize - one in three. The surprises came from de Flore (four out of five) and the Interallié (three out of four). The two remaining prizes revert to the norm (Goncourt des Lycéens - one out of five, and Renaudot des Lycéens - one out of seven).

Participation among the winners

So what is the result of the 2013 awards season? Out of nine prizes awarded thus far (the Interallié comes out on the 19th), three were won by women (the Femina to Leonora Miano for La saison de l'ombre, the Médicis to Marie Darrieussecq for Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes, and the de Flore to Monica Sabolo for Tout cela n'a rien à voir aver moi). In other words, a rule of thirds applies - a third of novels published are by women, a third of the novels short-listed novels are by women, and a third of the winners are women.

Does that sound fair enough - at least as far as the 2013 season is concerned?


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