Renaming, Removing, Rewriting History

Published by: Squidge on 25th Jun 2018 | View all blogs by Squidge

I'll apologise up front - I'm not usually controversial, but this one has got me thinking and wondering;

Wondering what other cloudies think? 

I'm in a bit of a quandary about it; I loved the books as a child. I always accepted that they were historic and of their time, and that how they were written was how the people who lived back then viewed the world and the people in it. Especially people who weren't like them. I knew - even as a child - that it shouldn't be like that. 

By doing things like taking an author's name off an award simply because their writing doesn't fit what we know is right and acceptable in this moment in time, are we in danger of removing too much of 'what life was like back then'? I can totally understand that for eg, the way Native Americans are portrayed is not complimentary. And there are probably hundreds - thousands - of books in which the author expresses a view about 'other' people that would have been considered acceptable at the time of writing, but is considered inappropriate now. There's been something recently about Einstein (I think it was him) writing a travel journal and he is most uncomplimentary about people of other races. Do we now ignore the theory of relativity because of that?

Do we retain these books, these writings, these author's names to remind us never to go back to that place? Or remove them - like we're removing statues and portraits of those judged wanting by today's society's 'norms' - and try to forget these awful things ever happened? 


Which way is better? And where do we draw the line about what we keep and what we hide from sight? 

Not sure I know...but I think I would lean more towards having examples that we can point to and say 'that was wrong' than wiping stuff away and kidding ourselves we've always done the right thing. 



    by 26 days ago
    I feel pretty much the same way, Katherine. I think censorship like this, rather than allowing common-sense and lesson-learning to prevail, is frightening and unsettling. Most of us understand that the author is from another era and it is educational to observe how times have changed. But do we continually erase history as we go along, our own writings offending future readership, and not allow anyone an opinion? Of course we should always remember how things were and never go back there, but this sort of censorship is too Big Brother for comfort, for me at least.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 26 days ago
    This is over the naming of the award, it isn’t in any way censoring the books themselves. I can only look at in terms of what an author or a child from a black or native American background might think and feel - that the award for children’s writing bore the name of an author whose views went beyond racism and white supremacy to the extent thay she did not consider native Americans to be human. Yes, this was of its time and place (slavery was considered abhorrent in much of the world long before Wilder was writing, and plenty of people would have disagreed with her about the humanity of black and native American people). There may be much that is good in the books but as a white person I can’t ignore the fact that it is framed through a prism of white supremacy. Nobody is saying don’t read the books, as far as I can tell, they are just taking the name of the author off the prize to ensure that it’s a prize for everyone, including those who Wilder considered to be less than people. It is in effect saying that we recognise ‘what life was like back then’ and rejecting its norms. I’m afraid I’m all for it.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 26 days ago
    I should add that many of the books I loved as a child just aren’t acceptable now, and that’s a hard thing to realise. I loved Biggles and Tintin, for example - Biggles in particular taught me a great deal about using your wits to respond to bullies, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be without that. But I don’t think I could recommend them to anyone now as the attitudes to other ethnicities are pretty horrific. It can be painful finding out your childhood influences weren’t as wholesome as they seemed, but I think rather that than we had stayed as we were.
  • KazGinnane
    by KazGinnane 26 days ago
    HI Squidge, I just commented on your post on FB too - a very interesting post, I've just been having an animated discussion with husband as there are so many aspects to these discussions!

    Yes, pretending history did not happen is wrong We should acknowledge what has gone before and keep it top of mind. Teach around it and hopefully learn from it. BUT - let's not forget that much os the history we have is already 'wrong' - written from a certain perspective and presented in one way. Certainly our history here in Australia has aways been very 'wrong' - ignoring whole swathes of indigenous experience and white violence and oppression, in ways that are just beginning to be opened up now.

    I am in agreement with this action. Nobody is banning Wilder's books, or burning them, or striking them off in any way - they are simply removing her name from an award for children's literature. An award which is representative of literature for ALL children, equally. It is absolutely right that people in a position of privilege and influence should recognise that this award needs to reflect everyone. How would a child from a Native American background feel to know that an award for books she loves is named after someone who believed her ancestors were less than human? I do not have an issue with re-naming awards, or suburbs (as happened here in Melbourne recently), or the like. It is an important step to reframing history, not rewriting it. I applaud the action.
  • mike
    by mike 25 days ago
    'Uncle Tom's Cabin' has suffered the same fate!
    Edward Said is still remembered for his books and he does have a point. Do remember I posted about a blind historian who wrote about the Nile Valley in 1832. Even though a day to day journal he kept, is a factual record, he is viewing the East from a prism of perspectives - the Enlightenment,
    the Romantic movement, Chartism etc. I could counter that Said is an American academic and views the area from a similar perspective but I think I would be shot down.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 25 days ago
    As others have said, nobody is banning the books; history is not being re-written. Yes, it's important not to pretend these attitudes never existed, so we can see how far we've moved on from them. But to retain Wilder's name on an award could be seen as an endorsement of those attitudes, whether or not it actually is.

    I'm sure that Wilder didn't consider herself to be a racist. The word would have been meaningless to most people in her day. It was simply taken for granted, as a self-evident fact, that anybody not sharing your own (i.e. white) skin colour, and often not coming from the country you happened to come from, was inferior.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 25 days ago
    Kaz, I can totally understand that this action is justified and makes the award more accessible, and Daeds, I read Biggles too! Totally get what you're saying about the stereotypes etc. I read The Three Musketeers recently and was appalled at how much chauvanism and misogny I didn't pick up on first reading it at 18.

    I guess I'm trying to say that if we're going to take these steps, whether in literature, art, grand colonial houses, street names or whatever, we have to be careful not to forget. Not in order to maintain that gloss of 'we're all right now, we do things better', but to remind ourselves that actually, we've been pretty s****y as the human race in the past, and we should avoid going back there and strive to be better in the future.

    It's a big issue, and I'm not sure I have the answer...
  • Janeshuff
    by Janeshuff 25 days ago
    Great blog, Squidge and great discussion. Like many of you there are books I read as a child and teenager whose attitudes towards race and gender horrify me. No, I don’t think we should rewrite history or censor books because they put forward ideas that are offensive, but would I let a child or grandchild read them? I am not sure. We would have to discuss the issues raised and I wonder if that would take away from the pleasure of reading.
  • Raine
    by Raine 25 days ago
    I think if we were talking about someone having received an award and that being taken away some years later, than I'd say it was too much like cleaning up our history. We need to be able to point at those past events and say 'see, we were so warped that we thought this stuf award worthy'. BUt in this case - where its the name of the award, then that name is still being used synonymously with quality and superlativeness (?). So no, I don't think they've done wrong. She should not in any way be linked to excellence.

    LIkewise, I think there's a difference between, say, a street name, and a statue. One is simply a signpost to our past, the other commemorates and celebrates those individuals. So keep the street name, tear down the statue. IMO.
  • Debi
    by Debi 25 days ago
    Interesting discussion, especially as I've come here straight from FB. I read - and loved - Little House on the Prairie as a child. Of course I had no awareness of the explicit racism, which reflected the attitudes of the time, taking for granted that Native Americans were bloodthirsty savages and white people were civilised and good. I wonder to what extent I, along with all my generation of young white readers, will have internalised the prejudices and assumed they were valid, simply accepting them as 'true'. As an adult, I'm still trying to unpick those prejudices.

    We definitely need to learn from history, and re-writing it would prevent those lessons from being learnt. But, as others have said, the books are still available if people want to read them - or want their children to read them. We all have that choice. Personally, I chose not to have any Roald Dahl books in our home when my children were little. Though I know how widely loved they are, there are plenty of other wonderful children's books out there and I chose not to give space in my home to any written by a virulent and unrepentant anti-Semite - even if that anti-Semitism doesn't appear in his books. I would never criticise anyone who decided otherwise.
  • Raine
    by Raine 25 days ago
    As I was walking just now, I was thinking about the point I made re not taking awards away for the sake of cleaning up our shady pasts. And I think I have a qualification - if we are talking taking awards away *posthumously* then I think they should stay, as long as their problematic nature is talked about in the public domain and so is available long term.

    But if that person is still alive, and thereby potentially still benefitting from an award that has since been proven to be questionable .... then I think I'd be for taking it away. I'm thinking of Aung San Suu Kyi & her Nobel Peace Prize. She was awarded it for good reasons, but she's betrayed those reasons profoundly. So she no longer deserves the accolade she carries. She also deserves the public approbation of seeing her award stripped away.

    Debi, I wrangled over Roald Dahl a lot - not helped by daughter being introduced to it at school. I decided that if she encountered the books away from me, then I'd not actively *stop* her from reading them. Too much risk of giving them importance. BUt I did have chats with her about him being a deeply horrible man, like I talked with her (and still do) about older books being full of dated and damaging messages. Still not sure whether our chats were enough to counteract the subliminal passing on of those prejudices, but I hope so.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 25 days ago
    Do we know if Wilder held those views as an adult when she wrote the books? Or was she reflecting the conversation she heard around her as a child? I don't know the answer to this.
    Should she have censored her inner child's voice? If she'd edited those views with adult ones from a later time, the stories wouldn't have been so authentic and enthralling.
    I can certainly remember many views being expressed as a child that I don't hold with now - but back then, they were taken for granted. If I were writing a book about my own childhood, should I omit them on purpose? And - the adults I heard expressing those views mostly didn't intend offence. That's important. The intention.
    It was also taken for granted in my lifetime that women were inferior to men. It riled me, yes, but I didn't always take it personally (OK, maybe in my teens I did) and Fay Weldon and Germaine Greer were revelations to read.
    Even Dickens wrote his fair share of passive, simpering women.
    In years to come, we may be shocked by words we use off the cuff which we haven't realised offend other groups. Words like 'posh people' or 'nobs' or 'down-and-outs' or 'alkies' or 'plebs' or 'queers' or 'tree-huggers' or dwarfs or giants - the list is endless.
    I do worry that we feel now, we've got it right - that there *is* a 'right' view. And I'm uncomfortable with that. In the future we may be judged to have got it very wrong.
    Chairman Mao destroyed many ancient Chinese statues and buildings; the Taliban blew up those vast ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. They were deemed unsuitable for their modern beliefs; while I see it as vandalism.
    As for removing Wilder's name from the award, I don't feel strongly either way. I'd never heard of the award until now.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 25 days ago
    Interesting point, Whisks. I always felt that the books were written in a childlike voice, but have no idea when they were actually written in Wilder's life. And re intention...yes, I can think of a few instances in my childhood where I used/heard things that I would be dead against now, but knew no better at that time because it was accepted usage. Agree with you completely about vandalism...

    I bought the whole set of Little House books recently to reread them - and donated them to the school library where I volunteer as a librarian, after. I've encouraged children to read them since, always explaining that they are historical and very different to what we're used to. Wondering whether I should also be pointing out that the views held by the author of Native Indians are the cause of much hurt today... Hmm....

    Thanks everyone for such honest and open discussion though - it's made me look at it from other ways, even if I can't decide what's 'right' or not.
  • BellaM
    by BellaM 25 days ago
    I am uncomfortable with this but it is, after all, simply removing a name from an award. However, I keep coming across very worrying (to me) developments in the rush to sign up to the "right" views. - I'm with Lionel Shriver on this.

    We now have "sensitivity readers". We have publishers requiring their authors to sign morality clauses.

    The thing is, how will we ever know what evil people think if we don't allow them to express it? We won't stop them thinking it but if we know what they think we have some chance of trying to persuade them (or their readers) to other views. Shoving it under the carpet isn't the answer.

    Also, an evil author is, in my view, entirely capable of writing a good book and I would like to continue to have the option of reading it and making up my own mind about the subject matter.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 25 days ago
    Many of the commenters have said they've read these old books as children, written in different times when such views were prevalent, and yet haven't turned into raving racists, misogynists, imperialists, whatever.
    No adult ever had a conversation with me about what I read, or should or shouldn't read.
    Are today's children so weak and weedy that they won't be able to form their own opinions, and need to be protected?
    That's scary. I do hope not.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 25 days ago
    I don't think evil people ever had a problem expressing what they think. That seems to be less and less of a problem for them. I'm rarely the target of any of it, and I certainly wouldn't like to be.

    Personally I think Lionel Shriver is creating a huge straw man to hack down. PRH isn't imposing quotas, whatever the rights and wrongs of that would be. If publishing is so riven with political correctness, where are all these awful books by minorities she complains about? If there wasn't a fundamental problem in our society with affording equal opportunities to people from minority groups we wouldn't have such a disparity in the books published. Does Shriver really think the current publishing scene already results in the very best books? I find that hard to credit.

    Alternative view here

    I don't think it's about whether the books turn individual children into racists, but that their presence on a canon of children's literature is extremely excluding to people who are on the receiving end. I didn't become a racist from reading Tintin, no, but the thought of a Congolese child seeing 'Tintin in the Congo' on the shelves of a bookshop... I similarly shudder when I think what a Native American child might think of any literary prize associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    My fear is not that this is too much but that it's only lip service and nothing will really change
  • BellaM
    by BellaM 25 days ago
    @Daedalus - where is she complaining about awful books by minorities? Have I missed something?
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 25 days ago
    In her Spectator article - "Thus from now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes. We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling. Good luck with that business model. Publishers may eschew standards, but readers will still have some."
  • Knicky Laurelle
    by Knicky Laurelle 25 days ago
    With regards to rewriting our history: If we rewrite our history, and in so doing, erase our past, what will we have behind us to reflect on and learn from? If we expand our echo chambers from social media to the arts and other imaginative spheres, in effect censoring ourselves, how can we allow ourselves to express and create to the fullest extent of what is humanly possible? It is one thing to believe that you are right, it's quite another to insist that the rest of the world reflect your brand of "rightness." We do not set the criteria for the (rest of known) universe, which is morally relativistic at best, and I mean none of us. To me the only invariable, inalienable 'right', is the right and the freedom to choose.

    With regards to renaming the award: I think it's fine.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 25 days ago
    And still there's more coming in to think about...
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 25 days ago
    This is not censorship, as people have said. It is not removing or altering her books. It is simply saying, yeah, not wanting her name on it now.

    That is all.

    A recently published textbook in the States, meanwhile, has removed mention of the Trail of Tears and included a line saying the native population were happy to 'make way' for the new settlers. Now that is rewriting history.

    There is also a huge difference between a book which portrays bigoty as wrong and one which explicitly condones it. The thing is, a book which contains it but does nothing in any way to frame it as bigotry, but rather just as the natural way of things, is tacitly condoning it. It doesn't matter whether the writer meant for it to. It does.

    Deciding to remove something from high visibility in the public eye, or to detach it from an award, is not censorship.

    If someone suggests actually banning or burning books, and taking them away from people or making it illegal to read them, then that needs to be opposed. A book not being given a platform is not the same thing. A name not being on an award anymore is not the same thing.

    Shriver's strawman is bundled together from misunderstandings and a lack of logic, as well as a worldview which I would like to be able to call naive, but instead have to plump for calling ignorant. As in, pretty sure they are missing the point on purpose.

    Censorship is dangerous. Thinking we have hit on what is eternally 'right' is deluded and dangerous. Insisting we give a spotlit platform to artworks and people whose views we now know to be harmful is a drop in the ocean which in no way stands a chance of tippping everything the other way. Not least because plenty of people are willing to stand up and scream 'stop oppressing me!' at such things, but want groups who suffer the impact of systemic bigotry to shut up and get on with it. That line is quite well defended. No more footsoldiers in that heroic battle are needed.

    Honestly, there are many cases of people, names, artworks which fall somewhere on the spectrum of being reevaluated, and they aren't all strictly comparable.

    This decision does not censor anything. Another situation around authors of the past might do. A hard-line of 'you can't' or 'you must' remove something to do with them will not work in every case.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 25 days ago
    "...a book which contains it but does nothing in any way to frame it as bigotry, but rather just as the natural way of things, is tacitly condoning it. It doesn't matter whether the writer meant for it to. It does."

    Yes. This.
  • John Alty
    by John Alty 24 days ago
    Even fiction?
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 24 days ago
    I was talking about fiction
  • Barny
    by Barny 24 days ago
    Of course, Fiction. That’s what Squidge is blogging about.

    I have no problems with renaming the award - tastes and attitudes change and how we give recognition should be able to change too. But I can’t find it in me to criticise the authors of these older books as deficient or corrupt - they are a product of their time, appreciated then, and times have changed which is not the fault of the author or the then apppreciaters. But yes we can and should position and re-position them against our current world view.

    @Daedalus - I don’t entirely agree (but don’t completely disagree) with your comment about an author not (explicitly) framing bigotry being the same as condoning it. In general neither writing nor reading is so binary as that, IMO. Writers intend different things by their words and stories: something, nothing, and all the rainbow inbetween; and as readers we each can take and create different meanings from the same words whatever the writer’s intention (or lack of it) - misinterpretations, over-interpret, simply not bother to interpret, not want to interpret... Just as a single swallow doesn’t make a summer, neither does a single glacier melting signal climate change, but the swooping flittering passerine flight or the disappearance of an icecap, i.e. weight of opinion and evidence, does mean something: so we as individuals need to develop our own critiqual awareness and form our own opinions and also to access to assimilate or reject others’ biassed or balanced critique.
  • Raine
    by Raine 24 days ago
    Interesting stuff, people. Whisks, I take your point about statues - I guess I might draw the line between statues that celebrate harm done to a people & those that celebrate gods. And yes, we could argue that some of those ancient regimes did harm to people (& justified it via faith perhaps), the ancient Egyptians kept slaves, for example, so should we tear down the pyramids? Obv, no.

    So why do I firmly believe statues commemorating Confederate generals should be removed from public view (not destroyed, but kept in a museum, with relevant context)? I think it is about living memory. The Holocaust is within living memory - and that counts for the children and grandchildren of those affected too - their granny was there (for e.g.), they carry the scars of it too. Apartheid, John Crow laws, they are all within living memory. The people hurt by those have a right not to see their oppressors/murderers being celebrated.

    As WB says, it's not censorship simply to cease promoting something.

    As for whether we should consider a book's bigotry harmless because it's of the time ... would the book really have been wrecked if she hadn't referred to first nation people as animals? No. Does it mean she was a hateful person? Possibly no. She was part of a systemic hateful society that we were moving away from (until Trump), and it's not that I, reading it, might suddenly be converted to racism, but that a first nation child reading it will be hurt.

    This has waffled on, but John A, if you are meaning current writing, then I have thoughts ... writing the past now, in the voice of the past, is possible without writing those small background derogatory references. But if (part of) the point of your hypothetical historical novel is to explore bigotries, oppression etc, then yeah, the bigotry does unfortunately need to be in there. But then also yeah, I do think we as writers have a responsibility to challenge that system whether that's via a character's storyline, or by something more dramatic. It's not hard, in fact I think it's complacent and lazy not to.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 24 days ago
    Daeds was quoting me, there, Barny.

    To clarify, I said 'text', not 'writer'.

    There are going to be varying levels of bigotry, implicit and explicit, unthinking because they have been normalised around us or fervently defended for whatever reason. We are all capable of holding views we might later realise are harmful or unkind or all manner of other things that mean we no longer hold them.

    And I agree - readers will have different responses, also on varying levels of awareness.

    When discussing our feelings about a book and what it presents, our own understanding and experiences are absolutely part of the process. Reader response theory - the meaning of a text is created by the interaction of the reader and the text. The writer's intention is, in many ways, irrelevant once the book leaves their hands and goes before the reader. Our famous 'Death of the Author'.

    At the same time, there are going to be examples where the text (and I agree a range of texts by the same author will be more telling for the most part) reveals attitudes that are held by the author. I would not use one book as firm evidence of an author's real life views one way or the other, not if I had to make a decision about their views (for some reason) with real world consequences. Well, not as a general rule. There are some texts where it is staggeringly clear what the author thinks just from that one example.

    I can certainly make a decision on what the single text is saying, though.

    That can be open for debate, of course. There are certainly texts where the POV character holds disturbing beliefs or reactions, and readers may disagree over whether that is itself making them feel sympathy for the narrator and their views, or whether the lack of awareness on the narrator's part adds to the disquiet in the reader, thereby intensifying the sense that such beliefs are not healthy.

    An author and their text are closely interlinked, but they aren't exact mirrors, no. They are also not exact mirrors of the society which formed them or which surrounds them at the time of writing. I stress the word 'exact'.

    I also did say that where bigotry is presented as the natural way of things, that is implicitly condoning it. This is not simply presenting without comment. I agree there are nuances and all manner of elements to consider, if we are trying to set up a guide for things to consider in this matter. (And wouldn't that be a huge and overwhelming task?)

    What Raine says about writing set in the past is in absolute lock-step with how I view it.
  • John Alty
    by John Alty 24 days ago
    Just seeking clarification re Daed's quote from Woolly's post which followed this:
    "A recently published textbook in the States, meanwhile, has removed mention of the Trail of Tears and included a line saying the native population were happy to 'make way' for the new settlers. Now that is rewriting history."

    Barney, you have a pretty abrupt bedside manner, if may say so.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 24 days ago
    Well, non-fiction is also subject to the writer's bias, even where said writer works really, really hard to be objective.

    But I was talking about fiction specifically there.

    In both cases, though, people can conflate the writer with their text, and also try to entirely separate them, and that is also not a hard and fast, one-reading-fits-all approach. The framing etc is still important.

    Were someone to write a book set during the Trail of Tears and write it as a happy moving-house story where the people being forced off their land were depicted as cheerfully decamping and waving goodbye with big smiles on their faces, I thnk that might seem more striking than the textbook. There can be the danger of feeling a textbook is being objective and rational even when it isn't.

    On the other hand, textbooks can seem more like deliberate controlling of the narrative when historical details are so clearly warped.

    Be critical readers and don't rely entirely on any one book would seem to be useful maxims, here!

    It can be surprising where bigoty/bias/any level of subjectivity can hit you right between the eyes in a book, no matter the subject.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 24 days ago
    I mean, we're quite far off the 'does removing her name from this award count as dangerous censorship' issue, having established it is not.
  • Raine
    by Raine 24 days ago
    Ah, I see what you meant John A. Although re fiction and non, I'd say there's interchange between the two, the one affecting the other etc.
  • Raine
    by Raine 24 days ago
    ....just realised I referred to 'John Crow'! Jim, godammit. I blame auto complete and/or lack of tea.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 24 days ago
    There are different shades here of course and I imagine we're less likely to find a consensus on implicit racism than on the explicit variety. It's hard for white people to step back from the norm that our history and our version of history is the official version. On the point of 'censorship' and 'where does it end?' though, I honestly don't think we have anything to worry about. You can still buy Mein Kampf in the UK, in an English translation. It's still in print and available for all the reasons people have outlined above. Just because a text becomes generally unnacceptable as attitudes change doesn't mean it vanishes. If anything, controversial texts may retain a profile that is higher than they would otherwise merit.
  • Knicky Laurelle
    by Knicky Laurelle 24 days ago
    Yup. Reading through the comments that came after, a thought occurred of whether or not the artist should be allowed to represent their time realistically as it is or limited to represent it idealistically as it should be. To limit what is represented to me is to limit what can and should be experienced and explored, as the human condition is not a thing of ideals. But this is an errant thought, as I understand that censorship of art was not the original issue in question. I do find how the conversation evolved to be very interesting though, almost like the subject matter itself.
  • Barny
    by Barny 23 days ago
    @John - sorry didn’t mean to abrupt you
  • mike
    by mike 23 days ago
    In a different blog, I mentioned a play in which a major part had been played by a -- what do you say - a very short actor. What would a critic say? The actor played the part well. I only read a few reviews and no mention was made of the actor's aize.
    What is omitted is just as revealing. Look at the Dick Van Dyke Show'Doe or I love Lucy.
    One cannot ban Nesbit because she writes about middle class children, ( We live on an era that mainly celebrates a working class culture)
    I must admit, I have a slight reservation about re- working classics. This does happen in the theatre, I would rather see the play the author has written but I can see the point doing a new version. On the other hand, I saw a recent production of Twelfth Night' that made no sense. An all male cast would have made Shakespeare's comments about gender identity with greater perception.
  • John Alty
    by John Alty 23 days ago
    @Barney - no abruption taken.
  • Dolly
    by Dolly 23 days ago
    Dangerous path to take, censorship. I read Robinson Crusoe as a child and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have a friend who thinks it should be banned on the grounds that it was racist, due of course to inclusion of Man Friday. This book was written four hundred years ago, and because it doesn't fit in with so called 'modern thinking' should not be banned. I can see and agree with his point. Don't ban it, point it out for others to see. No, leave it in warts and all. If you want to remove or rewrite parts of history because it makes you feel uneasy, then you're not going to have much history left. History is important, it points out things that should not be forgotten, not that it will make much difference. There were two world wars in the last century, millions died, and we've had a lot more since. The horror and devastation can be plainly seen, but it doesn't stop them doing it. Which bits do you want to take out or rewrite?
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 23 days ago
    This is not taking out any bits or rewriting them. A name is no longer going to be attached to an award, going forward. That is all.

    And nobody has said they want to censor or rework the classics. People have talked about setting them within a discussion, which means they are still there, in the world, but with the chance to reflect and consider them.

    That whole attitude of the wild savage is racist, and handing a book like that to a child now would hopefully lead to questions, which would be a good thing.

    I certainly don't approve of people putting 'the wild savage' in a book now, not unless it is to seriously subvert it. Maybe, if set 400 years ago (though not everyone thought the same thing, then. But let's say for this argument they did), the Robinson Crusoe character would still think the same way, but I'd hope the text would provide the POV of the island's inhabitant etc.

    And if someone did write that book, a new version of Robinson Crusoe and his enthralling tale of finding things to eat, that wouldn't erase the existing book. It would be talking back to that book, from a modern perspective. If anything, it would enrich the whole experience, being able to compare the two. Anyone who wanted to could still trawl through the whole exciting adventure of finding bits of corn in a sack and so on. (I loathe that book, but that is because I found it painful in how dull it was, and I am not trying to say anyone who enjoyed it was wrong to! I just...didn't.)

    Wide Sargasso Sea explores the backstory of the 'mad wife in the attic' from Jane Eyre, after all, adding a new perspective and exploring and challenging some of that book's presentation of things. Jane Eyre still exists, though. Very much so.

    Have to say, when books are banned, historically, it is not usually because they are racist. It is more often because they point out that society is racist.
  • Knicky Laurelle
    by Knicky Laurelle 23 days ago
    I love Wide Sargasso Sea. And it's a great example of experience explored ^.^
  • mike
    by mike 22 days ago
    Asquith. About a month ago I read a biography of Asquith. The book had been written in 2004 and called 'Margot at War.' Asquith had an odd relationship with his daughter's best friend, which resulted public humiliation for his wife. I might have a different view of the book had I read it in 2004.
    Nesbit had an open marriage with Herbert Bland. It will be interesting to read a new biography of her life. The one I am reading would make an interesting drama about writing biography as the biographer makes comments about the source material and the people who did - or did not - provide her with information and, indirectly, illustrates the frustrations of the genre.
  • Raine
    by Raine 22 days ago
    Do you know, I don't think I've ever read Wide Sargasso Sea. I think its one of those books I sort of assume I've read, but actually haven't. *adds to tbr pile* *tbr pile collapses on Raine & she's never seen again*

    And briefly (from beneath the tbr pile) @Dolly, as WB said. No-one was talking about banning books or editing books to 'clean them up'. So no need for those concerns. It's about how to read those books/talk about those authors, in context to today's better awareness of societies beyond our own. I think we all agree that erasing horrible parts of history is a demonstrable catastrophe.
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 21 days ago
    Raine, Wide Sargasso Sea is a great read. I had to do a contrast and compare on it and Jane Eyre, many years ago in English Lit, so pleased I did. It changed my perspective on a lot of things.

    I'm not sure how I feel about the subject of this blog. It's a fact the book was written for its time and as such is read in that context. I wonder how many other great reads will disappear from lists for being 'not suitable for this day and age.'
  • Barny
    by Barny 21 days ago
    Long time since I read Jane Eyre and I’ve never read WSS so that seems like an interesting comparison to make.

    No-one is talking about censoring/banning books, Newbie - but using the name of a writer for an award does seem to me in some way to promote that writer as someone whose writing ought to be universally admired perhaps something about it worth aiming for oneself - but as we read that writing now it has deficiencies and isn’t widely considered a good style/theme/approach for modern writing.
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 20 days ago
    Yes, I understand the book hasn't been banned, just the writer's name withdrawn from childrens reading lists. Appreciate your explanation, Barny :-).
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 20 days ago
    Hi Newbie, what is being discussed is not the removal of her books from chidren's reading lists, but a change of name from the "Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal" to "the Children's Literature Legacy Award".

    Are people proposing to remove her name from lists? I hadn't heard that.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 20 days ago
    I've never evern seen her name on a reading list to worry about it being removed, though I imagine it could appear more on lists in the USA.
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 19 days ago
    Ah, sorry, should have re-read the blog.
  • Aonghus Fallon
    by Aonghus Fallon 19 days ago
    Childrens' books seem to be particularly fraught in this regard. I remember Enid Blighton's 'Noddy' sequence undergoing a major purge a couple of decades ago. For example, when Noddy first arrives in Toy-Town, he gets a job with a garage owner, an irascible Gollywog who was replaced by a doll called Mr Sparks. I'd never realised until then that a Gollywog was a racist caricature (I appreciate my attitude might have been different if I were black) and I've always been allergic to the whole idea of censorship of this sort. On the other hand, the authorities weren't eviscerating Tolstoy.

    Wilder wrote the books as an adult, with the help of her daughter, so I suspect the attitudes portrayed in the books were pretty much hers, unless they were accompanied by some sort of qualification. There was a similar brouha over the World Fantasy Award a couple of years ago, as the statuette is a bust of H.P. Lovecraft (a pretty hideous one, it must be said) and Lovecraft was a known racist.* I read a few of his stories - I've always regarded him as a pretty terrible writer - and while his attitude towards race is dubious, it's not a defining feature of the stories. It was really his letters that damned him. But then we're talking about private correspondence.

    I think censoring a piece of work probably does depend on (a) the age bracket of the readers involved - this would hold true anyway; children don't have access to certain books which adults do have access to & (b) how offensive it is - yeah, yeah, I know: how long is a piece of string? But I think it has to be quantified somehow. Chesterton's Father Brown stories are rife with a sort of low-grade antisemitism, but the stories themselves are great, and his attitude would have been very typical for the time. Furthermore, I think Chesterton has suffered some reputational damage because of his attitudes (ie, I suspect the stories would have been more popular were it not for his beliefs and opinions) which is only right and proper.

    Finally, I think censorship in the States has to be seen in context - ie, as a push against an increasingly regressive attitude (remember all that business about the civil war statues down south?) rather than an attempt to usher in some sort of politically correct police state.

    * my issue with the use of Lovecraft's image is that he was a horror writer, not a fantasy writer.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 19 days ago
    Made me wonder AF - is this issue viewed differently because of it being a children's author? Or at least, an author with books aimed at children - I'm not sure whether she wrote stuff for adults as well. I suppose as an adult, you make your own decisions on reading material, but as a child, you are somewhat captive to the views of the author as expressed within the novel you're reading...
  • Aonghus Fallon
    by Aonghus Fallon 19 days ago
    I would think so, Squidge. To look at it another way - supposing you were a native American kid and you got one of Wilder's books out of the library because you thought it might be interesting. You're really enjoying it, then you come to a part in which a native American is presented in a negative and/or stereotypical fashion. An adult might take a qualified view ('I like this author, but some of her attitudes are just plain wrong') but I think a child would find this a lot more difficult, as they expect to take what an adult tells them at face value.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 18 days ago
    If I may make a small diversion concerning AF's comments about H P Lovecraft:

    Lovecraft did actually write a fair amount of fantasy, especially in his earlier years. I'm not saying it's very good fantasy, and it's not as well known as his horror stuff, but it's there.

    There is one story, 'The Coils of Medusa,' concerning a scion of an old and aristocratic Southern family who brings back a mysterious bride from Paris. Various strange and horrific consequences ensue, but the crowning horror, as Lovecraft obviously saw it, revealed in the very last sentence, is that the woman had a dash of negro blood. Strangely enough, this story doesn't seem to get anthologised.
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 18 days ago
    Thanks for that, Richard. On the strength of your small diversion I tracked it down and read it ( and what a very odd little story it is. There are undoubtedly a few creepy moments, but I do believe it wouldn't get off a slushpile today, unless it was heading for a bin. Not his finest hour in spite of efforts to pull it into the Cthulhu world: "Marse Clooloo, come up outen de water an git yo chile".

    He's not alone in his nasty little prejudices. Edgar Alan Poe's novel "the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" a fantasy sea adventure, published as a supposedly true account, contrasts the alleged superiority of the white races over the black races throughout. Near the end our hero meets a (treacherous) race of black people, who are so black that even their teeth are black. One of them travels on with Pym towards the South Pole where they encounter increasing whiteness, white water, statues and so on. The black man dies, presumably unable to survive the whiteness.

    It seems that Roald Dahl was an extreme and unrepentant anti-semite.

    The Wind in the Willows, a book I loved as a child and still look back on fondly, contains a polemical attack on the poor (wild wood ferrets and weasels) who are contemptuously given all the worst attributes: greed, viciousness, cowardice, envy. The stout and upright yeoman, Badger, dispenses justice and restores the "natural order". The episode is a clear reflection of the fears and prejudices of the Edwardian middle class.

    If you want to play the game even further, then take a look at the way the coaches and troublesome trucks are treated by the arrogant, fickle, often cowardly ruling engines in Thomas the Tank Engine. Yes, well.

    I wouldn't ban any of these as it goes. Or censor a single word. And I still like the Wind in the Willows. I might think twice about the Lovecraft, Poe, Dahl award for contributions to racial understanding.
  • mike
    by mike 12 days ago
    An American production of the musical ‘The King and I’ is on the London stage. It highlights the issues of this blog. I read a few reviews and the problem has been noted by some critics. The ones I read give a fair assessment
  • Aonghus Fallon
    by Aonghus Fallon 11 days ago
    You've probably already read this, Athelstone - but just in case you haven't!
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 11 days ago
    Well thank you for that link! I hadn't seen it, but the themes in Thomas are quite clear after a few readings and I'm not surprised that there are others who noticed. I had no idea that there are "obscure corners of the Internet where people interpret the show—at length—as a depiction of a premodern corporate-totalitarian dystopia".

    My father was born into a very different world at the start of the C20th. When we were children he was already in his 40s and he read us stories about the greatest amateur detective of all time, Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond. These are ripping yarns on a grand scale with our plucky hero fighting near-superhuman villains. Unfortunately, for Drummond anyone with politics to the left of Oswald Mosley is part of some vile conspiracy, and his views on other races, particularly black, Asian or Jewish are beyond repeating. There are a number of strongly Fascist themes. The question of whether the author Herman Cyril McNeile who wrote as "Sapper" should be condemned or even censored is moot. There are no Sapper prizes and his work no longer sells. In a way, Drummond has reemerged in characters such as Bond, maintaining the man of action appeal, but losing (most of) the bigotry. In many ways I count myself lucky. By the time my children were old enough to demand bedtime stories, writing for children was a vast industry with plenty of choice.
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 10 days ago
    Ah yes, Bulldog Drummond. I once read the stuff out of curiosity. It was long enough ago for my memory to be a bit hazy, but a few images have stuck with me.

    At the opening of the first book Drummond is pining away with boredom in his Mayfair (of course!) flat because WWI is over and there's no excitement in his life. Despite the overt military connotations of his nom-de-plume, Sapper can have had little idea of the realities of the Western Front, it seems to me. In the same book, we are asked to believe that a waiter in a Parisian hotel feels physically sick because he overhears some people talking German.

    In another, a gang of dastardly white slavers (Did such a thing ever really exist, or was it the product of overheated paranoiac racist imagination?), who just happen to be all Jewish, are given a jolly good horsewhipping by Drummond and his fine, upright pals, defending (in the best traditions of the Ku Klux Klan) the sanctity of white womanhood.

    I would also mention Dennis Wheatley, whose stuff was very popular, I regret to say, among my classmates when I was a teenager. In one of his books a young woman feels sick, 'as any well brought-up white girl would', when an Indian (the villain, of course) touches her. Fortunately Wheatley, like Sapper, is more or less forgotten now. The man couldn't write, either.
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