Feminist publisher gives great interview

Virago founder Carmen Callil holds forth on suicide, second-wave feminism and rich husbands.


Rebecca Traister
April 16, 2006 3:40PM (UTC)

Everyone should check out the incredibly appealing interview in the Financial Times with Virago Press founder Carmen Callil. Callil founded Virago -- an imprint "by women and for women" -- in the 1970s. The press published books by Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Elaine Showalter, Kate Millett, Maya Angelou and Adrienne Rich, among others. Callil resigned and Virago was sold to Little, Brown in 1995. Now she has published "Bad Faith," a biography of Louis Darquier, the commissioner for Jewish affairs in Vichy France from 1942 to 1944 who sent around 13,000 Jews living in France to their deaths.

The interview Callil gives to F.T. books editor Rosie Blau is just terrific: candid, funny and smart. She discusses her suicide attempt, her failed love affairs, the fact that she's "a bit of a drama queen" and someone who "feels things excessively." She also gets into it with Maureen Dowd, whom she describes as "a most remarkably nice woman and such a good journalist but what a rotten book."

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Callil maintains that second-wave feminism never promised women that they could have it all. "I've never in my life thought feminism promised women it was going to be easy to have a career and have babies," she tells Blau. "Ours was a celebration as much as about changing things, it was making women center of the universe."

What she really marvels at is the way she was "often accused of masculine behavior and I've never felt masculine in my life ... If you have a good mind they think you're masculine. That is tedious. Very tedious."

And, proving that old-school feminism just ain't always what its detractors assume it to be, Callil's final words to Blau, who on leaving the author's house remarks that she'd like to own a home in her tony neighborhood, are: "Well get yourself a rich husband, then."


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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