Study Guide

Fran Lebowitz

Fran Lebowitz Essay - Critical Essays

Lebowitz, Fran

Introduction

Lebowitz, Fran 1951(?)–

Lebowitz is an American essayist. Her first book, Metropolitan Life, is both a popular and a critical success. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)

Jill Robinson

Astringent, meticulous with language, Miss Lebowitz is a sort of Edwin Newman for the chic urban-decay set. [In "Metropolitan Life", she] discriminates, takes authority and makes rules, "Large, naked, raw carrots are acceptable as food only to those who live in hutches eagerly awaiting Easter." This is refreshing if you're tired of everyone jogging up and telling you to wear life like a loose garment…. Fran Lebowitz wears life like an itchy muffler. She braids its fringes, flings it over her shoulder and savors its discomforts….

"Metropolitan Life" is not simply consistently cross, swift and sly, as if that would not be enough. It introduces an important humorist in the classic tradition. The satire is principled, the taste impeccable—there is character here as well as personality.

You must read about Chicken Little, the bar for the desperate unadopted children who try to pick up parents, and "Writers on Strike," wherein not-writing is done in public instead of at home. Miss Lebowitz has been doing a lot of writing. I want more.

Jill Robinson, "Swift and Cranky," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 26, 1978, p. 9.

Anne Fadiman

[In Metropolitan Life] Fran Lebowitz does for New York what W. C. Fields did for children and dogs. She's a professional fad puncturer….

Lebowitz is funniest when she's genuinely astonished—as when she hears that broken fingernails can be replaced by nails from a nail bank…. (p. 82)

When she and her victims are unevenly matched, Lebowitz is less successful. It's no fun to watch her pick on est or CB radios or leisure suits: They've already been bullied to death. Conversely, she can be overly offensive when she takes on topics too large for her, such as homosexuality and race. And sometimes she's just plain confusing—a cardinal sin in this brand of humor….

The major problem with Metropolitan Life is that it is a book instead of a magazine article. Lebowitz is strong stuff and should be taken in small doses. (p. 84)

Anne Fadiman, in Saturday Review (© 1978 by Saturday Review Magazine Corp.; reprinted with permission), April 15, 1978.

Edmund White

Like all satirists [Lebowitz] is a moralist, and like most moralists she is conservative….

Lebowitz is clear-eyed. She knows, "There is no such thing as inner peace. There is only nervousness and death." Hence her contempt for the false comfort of self-help books….

Her vigilance against hip new words is tireless. That is, she objects to CB slang because it is "on the one hand too colorful and on the other hand lacking a counterpart for the words pearl gray."…

There are few writers who, in the course of registering opinions, do not fail to render, however unwittingly, a portrait of themselves. Fran emerges as urbane …, as independent, snobbish and, dare we say it, just a tad lazy.

Urbane—or rather, urban….

Fran's snobbishness should be studied by psychiatrists since it is the perfect ego defense; she looks down on absolutely everyone. Perhaps this alienation arises from the plight of the modern artist in contemporary society. In Fran's words, "The servant problem being what it is, one would think it apparent that a society that provides a Helper for tuna but compels a writer to pack her own suitcases desperately needs to reorder its priorities." (p. 1)

It is as a purist, however, that Fran will be remembered. She pleads with the general public to "refrain from starting trends, overcoming inhibitions, or developing hidden talents." (p. 6)

Edmund White, "Boston Ferns Don't Make Fettucine," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), April 30, 1978, pp. 1, 6.