Back on September 25, the author and literature instructor David Gilmour was quote as saying in an interview,
I’m not interested in teaching books by women. I’ve never found—Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one short story from Virginia Woolf. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would teach only the people that I truly, truly love. And, unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Um. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I try Virginia Woolf, I find she actually doesn’t work. She’s too sophisticated. She’s too sophisticated for even a third-year class. So you’re quite right, and usually at the beginning of the semester someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I’m good at is guys.
This generated a Twitter attack. Gilmour responded in another interview, saying,
Q: Are you going to reassess the books you assign to students?
A: No, I’m not, because you love what you love. As Woody Allen once said, “The heart goes where it goes.” And the people I love are the people that I love. If someone wants a course on Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro, I could put it on my curriculum, but I won’t teach it as well and as passionately as some of the teachers down the hall. So my job as an instructor is to send them to where they can get the best education about those people, and it’s probably not going to be in my room. You want to learn about Scott Fitzgerald? You want to learn about [Leo] Tolstoy or Chekhov or Philip Roth? I’m your man.
Q: Well, then, who are some of your favourite women writers?
A: At the absolute top of the list, as great a writer as exists, is Virginia Woolf.
Q: Who you do mention.
A: And I love Alice Munro. And that’s about it, in terms of who I really love. But I think that Virginia Woolf is maybe the greatest writer ever. I mean, I put her up with Tolstoy and with Chekhov.
So he’s not passionate about any female writers except Woolf. But he does love Alice Munro.
I didn’t really follow any of this until I read an opinion article from Naomi Lakritz,
You know what the most shocking thing is in the whole story about University of Toronto instructor David Gilmour’s refusal to teach women authors to students in his literature classes?
It’s not the omission of those authors; it’s the vitriol and name-calling with which supposedly literate, intelligent people responded to his statements.
Unable to relate much to women writers, Gilmour also doesn’t think much of Canadian writers, saying he hasn’t encountered any Canadian writers that he loves enough to teach. Nor does he care for the work of Chinese writers — as is his prerogative.
But this is a free country and nobody has to take Gilmour’s course if they don’t like his approach. It is, after all, an elective. Far more troubling than Gilmour’s literary preferences, which aren’t actually troubling at all, is the prevailing attitude that he must be demonized for his tastes. Why they matter to anyone but himself and to the students who choose to take his class is a mystery. The intolerance with which they have been greeted makes me wonder if the critics think we should be a nation of Stepford readers, all thinking alike, all liking the same things, all dutifully expressing our adulation to whomever is deemed to be the literary lion of the day.
So she defends his right to have an opinion and to choose to teach, in an elective course, only the writers he feels most passionate about.
Of course, the beauty for the trolls is that Alice Munro has won the Nobel prize less than a month later. A perfect storm, in internet time. Just enough time for the kerfuffel to spread, die back and be reborn, still unforgotten. Now the trolls really have food, and they’re out in force poking fun at David Gilmour, suggesting he should reconsider his curriculum.
But wait; he loved Alice Munro to begin with. He’ll likely be happy for her. But that probably doesn’t matter to the trolls.
One person who is not a fan of Munro is Naomi Lakritz, who, in other parts of her article says,
Much of Can-Lit is admittedly pretty dismal, with the exception, in my opinion, of the late Brian Moore.
One of the Twitterati tweeted: “How can you idolize Anton Chekhov and not even be ‘interested’ in Alice Munro?” Uh, what’s one got to do with the other? Chekhov’s stories actually have plots, unlike Munro’s, which are just vague sketches of rather boring incidents in the lives of her uninteresting characters.
I don’t know what Alice Munro thinks of Naomi Lakritz’s thoughts. She probably doesn’t know of her, given that Munro’s daughter was the one who told her that she had won the prize so I don’t think she concerns herself with such things. I do think David Gilmour is probably happy for Alice Munro for winning the Nobel, though also unhappy about the refueling of the internet trolls.
And I’m happy for her too, for what that’s worth. Congratulation, Alice Munro, for recognition of a life time achievement. Well deserved.