AUSTRALIA’S largest newspaper is facing a worldwide volley of criticism over an obituary calling the nation’s most famous author plain and overweight.
The Australian’s obituary of Colleen McCullough, whose novel The Thorn Birds sold 30 million copies worldwide, opened not with a list of her myriad accomplishments, but with a description of her appearance.
“Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer,” the obituary began. “Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: ‘I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men’.”
Soon, the hashtag myozobituary was trending on Twitter, as people across the world mocked the publication for what many viewed as a blatantly sexist treatment of a lauded literary figure.
British author Neil Gaiman, who is married to US singer Amanda Palmer, tweeted: “Although his beard looked like someone had glued it on & his hair would have been unconvincing as a wig, he married a rockstar. #myozobituary”
Ms McCullough, 77, died on Thursday after a long illness.
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Among the achievements which failed to take precedence over her appearance were her 10 years working as a neuroscientist at Yale Medical School in the United States, her establishing of a the neurophysiology department at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, and writing 25 novels.
The newspaper was also criticised for the implication that someone who was plain and overweight could “nevertheless” be witty and warm.
“A person of warmth and wit DESPITE being overweight? That’s incredible!!!! (also talent and stuff) #everydaysexism,” tweeted Kerri Sackville, columnist for the rival Fairfax newspapers.
“I did not realise that this was how we were doing obituary leads, now,” The Washington Post wrote. “Now that I know, here are some obituaries for men, updated lest we fall behind the new standard. Teddy Roosevelt: Resembling a fat walrus in little spectacles, he was, nevertheless, president at one point or another.”
The Australian’s editor Clive Mathieson declined to comment today.
Ms McCullough, who died at a hospital on Australia’s remote Norfolk Island, continued producing books in recent years despite a string of health and eyesight problems by using dictation, HarperCollins Australia publishing director Shona Martyn said. Her final book, Bittersweet, was released in 2013.
The Thorn Birds, her second novel, published in 1977, became a US television mini-series in 1983 starring Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Christopher Plummer. The Outback melodrama about a priest’s struggle between church and love won four Golden Globe awards.