It’s impossible to overstate how much reviewers hated MacLane and how deeply they held her in contempt, citing her “vulgarity” and calling her book “a revelation of self which is not interesting or sympathetic.” Their insistence on calling her “boring” quickly begins to seem absurd: if she was so boring, why were they so obsessed? Critics also insisted that she was doing the world a disservice by getting attention that they (disingenuously) declared ought to be granted to presumably worthier writers: “Think of the hundreds of poor lonesome girls working away at the making of literature who cannot get their literature printed and published.” When asked to explain MacLane’s popularity, they mostly just threw up their hands in befuddlement: “People go wild over young girls writing slush about themselves,” the author of a MacLane parody “explained” in 1902.
Reading these reviews and parodies provokes the same sense of familiarity as MacLane’s writing does; I’ve read these criticisms before, many times, in reviews of books that were published much more recently. I read a review like this of Sheila Heti’s novel How Should A Person Be?. Just last week I read a review like this of Kate Zambreno’s Heroines. And of course, my own first book, a collection of autobiographical essays, received a similar critical reception: I was taking up space worthier writers should be filling, my concerns were trivial, I was not interesting. Several reviewers expressed faux concern at the way I had “exploited” myself by writing about sex and implied that I had “invaded the privacy” of men by writing about my relationships with them.