Author: Charlotte Allen

Mailer and the Second Wavers

The March 1971 issue of Harper’s was one of the most famous—and notorious—that the magazine had published in its then-121-year history. Even now, 50 years later, it is still just as famous and just as notorious. The issue consisted almost entirely of a cover-story essay by Norman Mailer (then aged 48) entitled “The Prisoner of Sex,” that ran into tens of thousands of words and declared war on the movement then known as “women’s liberation.” Within two months, the essay appeared in slightly altered form as a book, also entitled The Prisoner of Sex, and shot to the top of the bestseller lists. Mailer was already infamous in feminist circles for such remarks during media interviews as “All women should be kept in cages” and “[T]he prime responsibility of a woman probably is to be on earth long enough to find the best possible mate for herself, and conceive children who will improve the species.” (He maintained that both statements were testimony to women’s powers.) At the time “The Prisoner of Sex” appeared, Mailer had …

Requiem for a Female Serial Killer—A Review

A review of Requiem for a Female Serial Killer by Phyllis Chesler. New English Review Press, 250 pages. (November 2020) Aileen Carol Wuornos was born in Michigan in 1956 and executed by lethal injection in Florida in 2002. She has been called America’s “first female serial killer,” but that wasn’t true by a long shot. Still, she might have been the first woman to kill (or be suspected of killing) a series of complete strangers—the victims of her homicidal female predecessors had been husbands, suitors, boarders, or children, old folks, or patients entrusted to them as nurse or caretaker. Wuornos’s seven victims (and there might have been more) were men between the ages of 40 and 65 who had picked her up as a hitchhiker on Florida’s highways—mostly along Interstate 75, which slices north-south through the middle of the state, then veers west to the Gulf Coast, where it abruptly swings eastward through the Everglades to greater Miami. The first of these killings, all of which involved multiple gunshots to the torso, took place in …

Deception and Complicity—the Strange Case of Jessica Krug

On September 9th, Jessica Krug, 38, abruptly resigned from her job as associate professor of African history at George Washington University (GWU). Apparently fearing imminent exposure, she had confessed in a post on Medium that she had passed herself off for more than a decade as being of black-African descent from an ever-shifting range of backgrounds. In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison she told fellow students she was of Algerian origin with a German father. Later, she claimed that she was from the inner-city “hood” with a spiritual kinship to the late rapper Biggie Smalls—or, alternatively, that she was the offspring of “Caribbean” immigrants, with an Ellis Island-style tale of immigration officials’ mis-transcribing her “grandparents’” surname, Cruz. Her final self-proclaimed provenance seems to have been the South Bronx slums, where she identified as a “boricua,” or Stateside-dwelling Puerto Rican whose mother had been a drug addict. She also moonlighted as a salsa-dancing community activist with the tag “Jess La Bombalera” and was videoed at a New York City Council hearing in June 2020 berating …

Flannery O’Connor and the Ideological War on Literature

On June 15th, Paul Elie—a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a frequent contributor to upscale magazines—published a 3,800-word essay in the New Yorker bluntly accusing the acclaimed Southern Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) of racism. The essay, which has since gone viral, is ostensibly a review of Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor, a new book by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, an O’Connor scholar at Fordham University. O’Donnell surveys O’Connor’s two novels, numerous short stories and essays, and voluminous correspondence (most of which was published following her untimely death aged 39 of complications from lupus) and concludes that O’Connor was “a walking contradiction when it came to matters of race.” O’Connor’s dark and mordantly humorous fiction was written as the civil rights movement tore through the South dismantling Jim Crow during the 1950s and 1960s, and it frequently mocks Southern whites for their condescension and rudeness toward blacks. However, O’Donnell also argues that “racism” is the correct description of O’Connor’s privately expressed views about black people in …

The Fight over Alternative Education

Articles in college alumni magazines, even in the Ivy League, are usually puff pieces about academic programs and professors. They are designed to make graduates feel so good about their alma mater and its intellectual achievements that they will write out yet another donation check. Seldom do the articles circulate much outside of the closed circle of alums. Not so with a 1,007-word piece in the May – June 2020 issue of the Harvard Magazine entitled “The Risks of Homeschooling” in which Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet recommended a “presumptive ban” against parents’ educating their children at home (as between three and four percent of US parents currently do). That is, unless these parents can prove to educational authorities “that their case is justified.” Bartholet had already expressed this view in an extensively footnoted 80-page scholarly article for the Arizona Law Review entitled “Homeschooling: Parent Right Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education & Protection” published earlier in 2020. There, she wrote: A very large proportion of homeschooling parents are ideologically committed to isolating their …

Higher Education’s Medievalist Moral Panic

On September 19, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS), a 36-year-old organization of academics specializing in the history, culture, and literature of England before the Norman Conquest, hastily voted to change its name. Indeed, the vote was so hasty that the organization had no idea what its new name ought to be (it is soliciting suggestions from members). Nonetheless, the majority of its 600-odd members were certain of one thing: they no longer wanted to be associated with the words “Anglo-Saxon.” In the view of many of those members, that term had become tainted, appropriated by an assortment of white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis that calls itself the “alt-right.” During the Charlottesville, Virginia melée of August 11–12, 2017, which included a supremacist’s murder of a woman by car attack, the white nationalists who marched had carried banners and standards incorporating iconography that, if not always precisely Anglo-Saxon in inspiration, was certainly medieval: Templar crosses, the double eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, and in one case, a Germanic rune beloved of neo-Nazis that was …

Tolkien—A Review

Alas, poor Tolkien the movie. The adjective “tepid” most accurately describes the critical response to this biopic, reverently directed by Dome Karukoski, which explores the early years of the author of The Hobbit (1937), the Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954–1955), and countless other works of medievalist fantasy. The idea behind Tolkien is that nearly every key theme in these novels had its origins in some episode of the young John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s life, first at the prestigious King Edward’s boys’ school in Birmingham (where, as the gifted son of a cultivated but impoverished widow, he had a scholarship), then at Oxford University (another scholarship), and above all, in the trenches of the Somme, where he was posted as a second lieutenant in 1916 and had ample opportunity to experience all the horrors of World War I before succumbing to trench fever carried by the lice that infested the cramped and filthy bunkers. Thus, Tolkien, presented as a series of flashbacks playing inside the brain of the fever-stricken junior officer, trades heavily in one-on-one …