Books: She-Wits and Funny Persons

Five women who have something in comic

In a new book, Vulnerable People: A View of American Fiction Since 1945 (Oxford; $11.95), Literary Critic Josephine Hendin suggests: "One of the great weapons to emerge from the sexual revolution is a devastating she-wit." Hendin finds this biting, mordant humor in such comedians as Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Lily Tomlin and in such novelists as Cynthia Buchanan, Alix Kates Shulman and Lois Gould.

A good case can be made for contemporary she-wit; there are also clear historical precedents. Napoleon Bonaparte assessed Madame de Stael's offensive...

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