h2g2 Opinion Poll: Let's Talk Among Ourselves
Recently, we had an interesting discussion in Peer Review about how to report on cultural figures of the past – specifically, Edgar Rice Burroughs – who had opinions we could not possibly share these days without wanting to hide our heads in shame. Of Burroughs, Bluebottle brilliantly remarked that 'there is no denying that the starboard side of an albatross is less right wing than he was.' The problem in PR was: how did we talk about these people without validating their junk ideas and disgusting attitudes, and without getting swamped by them and losing sight of what else we needed to tell? We worked it out, as usual.
But that brought up another question, which the Editor here would like to put to the readership: what do you do with all those popular books from the past and their ridiculous ideas? Again, Bluebottle put it very succinctly:
Popular adult authors are even worse, such as HP Lovecraft and particularly Ian Fleming and Ian Fleming. (Ian Fleming is twice as racist, sexist and chauvinist as everyone else put together so I'm counting him twice). Even authors considered progressive for their time, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, are guilty by 21st Century standards.
So my question to you is: Are there writers from the past you enjoy reading whose personal viewpoints you disagree with? How do you handle that mentally? Do you think these books should be:
- Burned ceremonially, and the authors' remains dug up and pilloried?
- Expurgated? (=Revised to take out the offensive parts.)
- Left alone and enjoyed anyway?
- Read, but critiqued to within an inch of their miserable lives?
Remember: no opinion on this is right or wrong. Nobody's got the promontory of the 'high ground' on this. Just wondering.
While we're at it, let's make a list of the worst offenders. Bluebottle has listed:
- Edgar Rice Burroughs: Tarzan (the book version) is horribly racist and full of the 'White Man's Burden'.
- HP Lovecraft: [Dmitri here: I'm not sure what he did wrong, because frankly, he's one of those authors I can't manage to read. When I try to read a page of Lovecraft, my brain shuts down out of a sense of self-preservation. When I'm done, it's as if I'd been in a transporter to Alpha Centauri the whole time. My mind is a blank. The same thing happens with Virginia Woolf and organic chemistry textbooks.]
- Ian Fleming: The problem is Bond, James Bond. Although Idris Elba might improve things.
- Arthur Conan Doyle: If you think Sherlock Holmes stories aren't racist, you haven't read them lately.
So who goes on your list? Have you gone off those writers, or are they 'guilty pleasures', or do you just 'love to hate' them? Tell!