The Millions

“Tough Little Numbers”: Women and Criticism

Swept up in the wave of resignations and mea culpa that rolled through the literary establishment at the height of the #metoo movement late last year was Paris Review editor Lorin Stein.  Stein stepped down from his post on December 6, 2017, amid an internal investigation into his treatment of female employees and writers.  After he was tapped for the job in 2010, Stein had garnered media buzz as the Paris Review’s “new playboy,” according to a 2011 New York Times profile, a fixture of the glamorous, boozy New York literary life hired to reboot the magazine’s cool quotient.  It turned out otherwise.

But in the midst of this very public housecleaning, there emerged a curious erasure that was, if less spectacular than Stein’s ouster, perhaps even more telling as a measure of the uphill work women routinely face in the literary establishment.  For Stein, widely cited in the media coverage of the scandal as the third editor in the history of the Paris Review, was in fact its fourth editor.  This calculus left out Brigid Hughes, hired as George Plimpton’s successor in 2004 and dismissed just one year later.

How did this error manage to slip through the fact-checkers, become enshrined in print as the official history of a leading literary magazine?  , a London-based novelist and rare book dealer, provided an answer.  “I’m going to show you how a woman is erased from her job,” she announced in a posted to Twitter on December 7, 2017, the day following Stein’s departure.  Devers through the ’s coverage of the leadership, from Hughes’ dismissal in 2005 (a move the board’s female members met by resigning in protest), through the hiring of , through the latter’s replacement in 2010 by Stein.  The article announcing the changing of the guard failed to mention Hughes’s tenure, an omission that was sealed into the historical record one year later with the running of the “playboy” profile, declaring Stein “only the third to hold the title in the magazine’s 58-year history, and the second failed to retract or amend the error.

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