Katie Roiphe (BSS #129)

Katie Roiphe is most recently the author of Uncommon Arrangements.

SPECIAL PROGRAM NOTE: I had arranged an interview with Katie Roiphe because I felt that she might be misunderstood. Ms. Roiphe had laid down some interesting ideas over the years that had pissed more than a few people off, including the notion that women were primarily responsible for date rape in her tract, The Morning After. Extraordinary claims, of course, require extraordinary evidence. And it was because of this that I wanted to determine how much of Ms. Roiphe’s personal ideology influenced her views. Late in the interview, Ms. Roiphe grew contentious when I asked a personally reasonable question and quoted a specific passage in her most recent book, Uncommon Arrangements, in relation to an affair initiated between Harry Andrews and Winifred Holtby, which can be found on pages 282-283 in the hardcover edition:

They slept together, one spring, when she had taken a cottage by the sea. This was entirely her doing: she had decided to abandon pride and convention and push their romantically charged friendship to a crisis.

Ms. Roiphe at first denied that she had written this passage, until I found the page and showed it to her during the course of the interview. She then claimed that the meaning I had averred, that the woman is solely responsible for a sexual liaison, was wrong. Without passing the same judgment on Ms. Roiphe that she appeared to cast upon me, I leave listeners to make up their own minds as to whether the phrase “this was entirely her doing” reflects an instance where Ms. Roiphe’s personal ideology influenced her scholarship, or whether Ms. Roiphe was being needlessly belligerent. But then I’m not the one with the Ph.D.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Abdicating to dubious journalistic principles.

Author: Katie Roiphe

Subjects Discussed: On whether the state of a marriage can be judged exclusively upon letters and notes, inferring from perspective, Phylis Rose’s Parallel Lives, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, avoiding 21st century relationship terms, “marriage a la mode,” Radclyffe Hall, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, the relationship between class fixations and subject choice, interconnected aristocracies, the difficulties of obtaining divorce in the United Kingdom and the Marriage Act of 1949, contemporary pressure on women in thirties to get married, the influence of Jane Austen on married life, the theatrical nature of Ottoline Morrell’s philanthropy, the influence on Roiphe’s ideology upon her scholarship, relying upon books vs. relying upon empirical evidence, on being allegedly misquoted, and Roiphe’s unchanging ideology.


Roiphe: Anyway, I’m actually out of time. Um, you can have one more question.

Correspondent: Well, I actually wanted to ask you a question about The Morning After.

Roiphe: Okay.

Correspondent: If we revisit that, do you still feel that the word “survivor” is bandied about too much in relation to date rape or — and if the term “survivor” is still unacceptable to you, how do you expect someone to cope with a legitimate psychological grievance?

Roiphe: I’m actually interested in talking about this book and not my previous work. But, yes, I stand by everything that I said at the time that I wrote that book.

Correspondent: Okay. I mean, you know, don’t you — doesn’t your ideology change in any manner?

Roiphe: As I say, I stand by everything I wrote in this book and I’m right now interested in talking about Uncommon Arrangements.


  1. mkb

    I do think you were unfair with Ms. Roiphe at several points in this interview. In listenig to your podcasts, I realize that you like to ask challenging questions but you usually do so in a respectful way and it leads to some very interesting discussions. However, I thought you came across as quite dismissive with Ms. Roiphe on at least three occasions and I ended up wondering if it wasn’t your personal ideology preventing you from giving her a fair shake.

    Those three occasisions were:
    1) when you were completely dismissive of her argument that there is still pressure on women to marry — an argument for which I think you would find widespread support. You don’t have to agree with this, of course, but you’re response was basically “whatever, lady” as though this was some kind of extreme or unusal claim.
    2) the Jane Austin question made no sense — and she said as much, saying something like “I really don’t understand your question.” You basically repsonded with a aggreived sigh and asked another question as though she was being obtuse or argumentative. I think she was legitimately asking for clarification on a confusingly worded question — like I said I had no idea what you were getting at either.
    3) the incident at the end. Yes, she got a bit testy, but if I had been treated like that throughout an interview, I think I would have responded similarly. Is that sentence an example of her ideology affecting her scholorship — perhaps. It’s hard for me to say since I haven’t the book and wouldn’t want to judge based on one sentence. It did seem to me that you really wanted to make her make her look bad, however. That’s how it came acrosss anyway.

  2. zgatt

    What to do when a subject doesn’t agree with the assertions implicit in a question seems to me to be a difficult problem. It might seem at the moment like they are ducking, in which case asking the question more pointedly might be called for. They might misunderstand the assertions/question, and so defending them will clarify the question. Doing either of those things when there is a genuine disagreement about the underlying frame of the question just comes across as combative.

    It’s a turnoff to me here that you’re making it into a big deal, this entry and the podcast preamble seem to me to be pointlessly hostile. The dispute is clear in the actual interview, you asserted and she answered, repeatedly; it stands on its own. So your feelings are hurt?

  3. Ted K

    First let me identify myself as a male, and someone who had heard of neither Roiphe or Segundo in any more than a passing way until today doing some book hunting.

    I think in fact where this interview turns is where Segundo identifies himself as a George Bernard Shaw fan, then Roiphe has to inform/clarify to Segundo that it’s not an issue of aristocracy choosing characters when H.G. Wells came from a poor background (as poor as Shaw’s) and Wells’ first divorce occurred when Wells was still on a teacher’s salary.

    Maybe Segundo felt a little emasculated when Roiphe, who is obviously his intellectual superior, blows away his little preconceived ideas of H.G. Wells. Segundo seems to have some inferiority complex, and feels he can compensate for that by taking cheap shots at a Phd and then noting at the end of his rant “boohoo!!! boohoo!!! I didn’t have the fortitude to get my Phd!!! Whaaahaaahahaa Mommy!!!!”.

    Mr. Segundo, here’s a tip for you: don’t attempt to lecture an author on their own book topic, then go hostile, when she shows your vacuous knowledge of the background of one of the greatest writers (Wells) of the last 200 years.

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