I just want to say, too, that Edith Wharton is fine looking. Not because I think that it contributes directly to the discussion of her value as a writer, but because I think it illustrates just what bullshit this whole discussion is. If Edith Wharton is supposed to be so ugly that she devotes her whole career to writing books about it, that it drives her husband to madness, and that it ruins her sex life, then there are a lot of us who ought to consider paper bags over our heads so as to protect the mental health and sexual potency of our whole neighborhood.
I mean, the idea that a perfectly fine looking woman can be judged ugly by a guy who then hypothesizes how her ugliness must have crippled her in all facets of her life is just… I mean, at some level, if Franzen looks at Wharton and sees something hideous, that’s really telling. Not just about Franzen’s fucked up ideas of what motivates women, not just about Franzen’s fucked up ideas about how it’s his place to judge any woman, even a long-dead talented writer, by her fuckability, but just at the level of “you don’t know what you’re talking about, dude.” She’s not ugly.
And it’s weird that Franzen can only make sense of her by understanding her as ugly.
It’s like he has to find something about a talented woman to put her in her place–beneath him. Figuratively. Obviously.