In 1979, Germaine Greer published The Obstacle Race, a compendious study of women painters and of their confrontation by ‘obstacles both external and surmountable, internal and insurmountable of the race for achievement’. In Slip-Shod Sibyls, she turns her attentions to women poets, including some on whose scholarly editions she has previously worked. Beginning with Sappho, Greer moves on to an exploration of English women poets, with chapters on Katherine Philips, ‘the matchless Orinda’, the Restoration poet and dramatist Aphra Behn, Anne Wharton, niece of the Earl of Rochester, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, and, from the nineteenth century, L E L (Laetitia Landon) and Christina Rossetti.
This is not, however, a celebration of women and their poetry. To applaud women for having produced poetry, Greer suggests, is too reminiscent of Dr Johnson’s analogy between women preachers and dancing dogs – it’s not a question of whether they do it well, but a marvel that they do