That men’s dislike for an intelligent woman is as nothing compared to the hate she engenders in women

May 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon are in afterlife as they were in life — a set of opposites.

Of the two contemporary Heian court ladies — ladies in waiting of rival empresses — the world likes Murasaki better.  Judging by existing publications — both of the originals and the various translations, retellings, commentaries and spin-offs — Murasaki outsells Shonagon about 1200 to 1.

You won’t be surprised to know, then, that Murasaki bores me — she’s a kind of Jane Austen — but   I love Sei Shonagon — who really has no European equivalent.  (Neither Simone de Beauvoir, nor Susan Sontag had quite the literary talent or the aesthetic insight.  Perhaps Marguerite of Navarre — of Heptaméron — is the closest Western parallel).

Sei Shonagon was a damn intelligent woman, exceedingly well educated, aesthetically sensitive, with a true literary gift; an intellectual and spiritual giant condemned to the insignificant role of a lady in waiting in a world run by diverting courtiers and dim-witted muscle-men; and to falling in love with men half her IQ; and therefore, perhaps, even more hard-headed, stubborn, and proud and given to nasty sarcasm and poking cruel fun at human stupidity than she was born to be; and generally disliked by the mob now as she was disliked then:  men, it is said, dislike an intelligent woman; the truth is, that men’s dislike for an intelligent woman is as nothing compared to the hate such a woman engenders in women.

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