Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 5, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: from Rodham, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with Rodham, by Curtis Settenfeld.  No need to introduce that!

Actually, I am uneasy about fictionalising the life of a living person…even if she was in public life, she ought not to have to put up with being used in this way IMO.

Of course it’s commonplace now, for authors to use the lives of the dead, and usually when there is some agenda to push.  Indeed, my last book was a case in point: The Sorrow of Miles Franklin beneath Mount Kajmakčalan, by Ivan Čapovski, translated by Paul Filev uses our Miles as a vehicle for raising awareness about the Balkan Wars.  I will not make the mistake of pretending to know what MF would have thought about that, but I suspect she wouldn’t have liked the postmodern style of it.

But someone else who I’m quite sure would not have liked her legacy being distorted, is Henry Handel Richardson.  There is currently a daft project somewhere, (the UK?) to republish the works of famous women who published under a man’s name, in their own names.  This pseudo-feminism seems absurd to me.  It’s a good thing to raise the profile of women’s writing, so it’s a good thing to raise their profiles, but it would be far better IMO to reassess publishing priorities and offer more publishing and mentoring opportunities to living women than to fiddle about with the names of long dead authors known by all literate people to be women anyway.  Seriously, who doesn’t know that Miles Franklin was a woman??  HHR would have been livid.  I have begun reading Henry Handel Richardson, A Life a biography by Michael Ackland (but got sidetracked by Litfests and Thea Astley Week) and apparently she insisted on being addressed, (sometimes to the point of rudeness), as HHR both in public and private life.

In the mail this week there is a bio I am really looking forward to reading.  It’s Lowitja, the Authorised Biography of Lowitja O’Donoghue by Stuart Rintoul, and she is one of the most admired Aboriginal activists in the country, with a string of remarkable achievements in public life.  As the blurb at Goodreads says:

Lowitja O’Donoghue is a truly great Australian. She is a former Australian of the Year and was the inaugural chair of ATSIC. She has represented Australia’s Indigenous people at UN forums in Geneva and New York and had Australia become voted to become a republic she would have been a contender to become Australia’s first president.

Actually, it’s interesting that this bio of this inspirational woman has taken so long to hit the shelves… and it made me wonder why Alexis Wright chose to write her bio about Tracker Tilmouth rather Lowitja O’Donoghue whose achievements are so impressive.   I must admit that I’ve enjoyed Wright’s fiction more: I was fascinated by Carpentaria (2006) even though at 520 pages it was a bit of a chunkster.

Some books can bear the weight of many pages (pardon the pun).  I have just finished Greenwood by the Canadian author Michael Christie and at 490 pages it’s a chunkster too.  But I romped through it in two days because I couldn’t put it down, and I thank the Melbourne Writers Festival for bringing it to my notice.  My review is coming soon.

Next month’s book is The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.  

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)


Responses

  1. Oh, good point about that project to publish the works of famous women who published under a man’s name, in their own names… when I first heard about this I thought what an interesting idea but if of course it’s just a cheap way for a canny publisher to make money out of works that have fallen out of print… though I think the books are available to download for free from the Baileys website. Perhaps they could have sold the books and used the profits to fund a mentorship as you suggest … ?

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    • Yes, I hadn’t thought of the books being profitable because they’re out of print…
      But the things is, those women *chose* those names, unlike the name they were christened which was chosen by someone else, and whose surname is a ‘man’s name’ anyway. I mean, who’s to say what gender a name has anyway? In the C19th, children were often named after cities, e.g. Florence, and then there’s Evelyn Waugh who’s a man, and the second name of our own Clive James is Vivian and so it goes on. Even the author of this month’s book is a ‘Curtis’, is someone going to rename her in time to come?!
      The whole issue is totally trivial and no wonder that women lose patience with modern feminism for focussing on stuff that really doesn’t matter. What matters is education; equal pay, opportunities and recognition; secure work and secure housing! When we’ve got that, then maybe there will be time for trivia like this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some really interesting biographies here. I’ll have to look some of them up. Here’s my chain. https://tcl-bookreviews.com/2020/09/05/6degrees-of-separation-for-september-5-2020/

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  3. Good to hear that you ‘romped’ through Greenwood – it’s on my radar but the motivation for chunksters has waned this year.

    I only just read Bill’s review of the Miles Franklin story last night and my first though was to #6degrees and how it would make an ideal first link :-)

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    • Great minds, Kate:)
      Don’t think of Greenwood as a chunkster… think of it as a book that you will go to bed early to read. And in my case, refuse to get out of bed in the morning until my eyes are just too tired to read any more.

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  4. Re “the daft project” I must say that I thought similarly to you. I don’t think it serves much purpose to republish them under names that may not be known to people. I think there was probably nuance to why women chose to publish under other names that this project may not fully encompass. I wonder if the books will sell (are selling) well.

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  5. I don’t get fictional biographies and never read them. Would rather read the real ones. Lowitja sounds interesting.

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    • Yes, what an amazing woman she is!

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  6. I don’t really have much interest in reading Rodham but as a starting point it is providing some interesting chains.

    I thought the Bailey’s books were all being rereleased for free.

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    • Yes, this month’s chains are great:)
      I expect you’re right about the books being free. but I still think it’s a pointless thing to do.

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  7. An interesting chain and I completely share your unease about this type of fiction and the renaming of the women authors – I think George Sand would have been mad as hell!

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  8. You liked Greenwood then? I’m pleased! It remains a top read of the year for me.
    That daft (😂) project is from the UK. You can download all the rejacketed renamed books for free (which I did). I know what you mean though, but I think the intent of the project is good. There were some translated titles in the set I hadn’t heard of.

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    • I agree that they probably meant well. But I still think they are wrong to do it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. That initiative is called Reclaim Her Name. When I read the announcement I thought they were putting the “real” name as well as the pseudonym on the cover but I see it’s only the birth name. Very odd idea.

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  10. I completely agree with you about fictionalizing the lives of living persons and used that as the basis of my chain, too.

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    • HI Mary, can we have the URL of your chain please?

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  11. You always have such interesting, unusual books linked up, even if you don’t agree with the starting point. I always mix up HHR with Henry Green, I have to admit, although they have nothing in common other than writing (and one is Australian, the other British) and I can never remember which one is a woman. It’s my literary blind spot.

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    • Ah, we all have those blind spots…something that’s not right lodges in the brain and it’s devilishly difficult to dislodge it…
      I love Henry Green, but oh yes, totally different to HHR!

      Liked by 1 person


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