Feminism's Big Debt to the Genius of Nora Ephron

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Byline: Anne McElvoy

ONE thing we can be sure of: Nora Ephron, who passed away yesterday aged 71, would have found something witty and true to say about her own death. "It's all copy," said her mother as she prepared for her own death. "Take notes." Ephron's copy was just better than the rest and it made her the Dorothy Parker of our era. From magazine columns to screenplays and essays, she did more to popularise feminism than a thousand tracts and feminist theory reading groups.

Ephron knew that the most pointed weapon of all is humour, from her treatise on the attraction and incompatibility of the sexes in When Harry Met Sally, which gave us the glamour of Manhattan but the dating horrors, sexual tensions and frustrations of modern life everywhere. The hairdos and jackets have dated since 1989 but the repartee burns as bright as ever and the Katz deli orgasm scene is still a showstopper.

Who cares if Meg Ryan's Sally Albright was a journalist who seemed to spend more time at lunch with her mate Carrie Fisher than working? Or that Billy Crystal's droll Harry was a political consultant with no discernible interest in politics? Ephron's ability to combine crackling one-liners about exes' new girlfriends -- "What's she like?" "Thin, pretty, big tits. Your basic nightmare" -- with the search for love, not just sex, in the city, lifted her into the pantheon of great cinema writers.

I interviewed Ephron when You've got Mail came out and was struck by how seriously she took her feminism, for all her lightness of touch. She had, she told me, come out of a generation in which girls like her went to smart colleges but were not expected to achieve much in their careers. …