Motherhood Versus Literature

Are women with less children better at writing?

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There's been much interesting discussion of Katie Roiphe's essay, "My Newborn is Like a Narcotic," ably covered elsewhere at But beyond discussions of feminism, motherhood, and gender, the literary angle has received less attention. Roiphe, between her somewhat more controversial statement, asserted that women who have less children make better writers:

I remember visiting one of my closest friends on her maternity leave last summer. We sat on a wooden bench in her garden and drank iced coffees, and gazed at her second baby. She is a writer, and we talked about how the women writers we most admired had no children, or have had one child, at the absolute most, but never two. (Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen had no children; Mary McCarthy, Rebecca West, Joan Didion, and Janet Malcolm all had one.) My friend looked down at her newborn and her tiny eyelashes. She could entertain this conversation in an academic way, but as she adjusted the baby’s hat I could see how far removed it was from anything that mattered to her. Here, sitting in the garden, looking at the eyelashes, would you trade the baby for the possibility of writing The House of Mirth? You would not.

Edward Champion, a literary critic, dissented, listing several high-profile writers whose motherhood posed them no apparent problems. He tweeted, "Great women writers with kids: [Margaret] Atwood, [Ursula K.] LeGuin, [Marianne] Wiggins, [Marilynne] Robinson, AM Homes, [Toni] Morrison, et al. Stuff it, Katie."

No one else seems to have weighed in, although The Wire will be closely monitoring the National Association of Women Writers' blog for comment.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.