Wind in the Willows

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Mon Jul 14 15:58:40 EDT 2003


In response to my

>>Fine then: let's postulate that children's lit (and let's in the name of
>>any goddling or goddity of your choice *not* get into the "what is
>>children's lit anyway?" discussion!) can have Serious Ideas in it.  I'd say
>>if it doesn't it is probably not children's lit but children's pap, in
>>fact.  I'm just not convinced that the Class War wossit is the Serious Idea
>>*in* WitW.  It may be a Serious Idea that can be *read into* WitW, but that
>>is a whole 'nother kettle of (ahem) fish.

Robyn asked:
>Can you explain the difference, minnow? I would have thought, if one can
>read an idea in a text, that it is there. How do you define "read into"?
>Because at the moment, the definition appears to be 'any idea minnow didn't
>think of when she read the text'.

I'm surprised you don't understand the distinction, which I had thought was
well-known.  I also thought it was made reasonably clear in the same post
you quote, both in my paragraph starting "I think I can agree that it is
possible", and in my paragraph immediately following your selective
quotation above, but perhaps those are a little oblique.

One way to think of it might be: What is *in* the text may be subject to
debate, with various opinions being expressed by author, reader, critic and
so on.  What has been *read into* the text, provided always that the person
doing the reading is capable of expressing him- or herself with reasonable
clarity, is not subject to debate: that such *reading in* has been done is
indisputable.  One may think the person responsible has a bee in his or her
bonnet and would read, say, an Oedipus complex into "The cat sat on the
mat", or proto-feminism into "Have a banana! Let's all go down the
Strand!", but if that is what that person has *read into* a text, that's
the fact.  They did it, therefore it can be done, therefore it is a
possible reading of the text, however daft a reading and however mistaken
the premise upon which the reading has been based.

Some really obvious examples of a difference between *in* and *read into*
would be:

Charles Manson's reading of Robert Heinlein's *Stranger In A Strange Land*
was that it instructed him to commit ritual murder.  Nobody else including
the author appears able to find that instruction there, and it thus seems
likely it was not *in* the text, but was *read into* it by someone who was
frankly deranged and might have found such an instruction almost anywhere.
(*sigh*  Usually it's the bible they go by, which is less appalling for the
author whose work is thus abused, the authors being safely long-dead.)

Much has been made of Mr. Rochester's wife being "creole" and therefore
representative of the "racially other" in *Jane Eyre*.  Unfortunately, in
England and the West Indies in the 1840s the word "creole" meant not
someone of mixed race but someone of European ancestry who happened to have
been *born* in the West Indies (as Marryat [1792-1848] explained in one of
his works: "She was a creole, that is, born in the West Indies of French
parents.") -- eg Lady Nelson, as the Nelson-worshipping Brontes would have
known.  This slightly puts the kybosh on Bertha's being "racially other",
which can be *read into* the text, but may be assumed not to be present
*in* it.

A great deal of reference to and material derived from *The Turn of the
Screw* has been *read into* *Charmed Life*.  DWJ is fairly confident that
such is not *in* *Charmed Life*, for the simple reason that she has never
read *The Turn of the Screw*.  It seems therefore to follow that if
derivation from *The Turn of the Screw* is perceived in *Charmed Life*,
this perception probably has its origin not with the author nor with the
text but with the attempt of a particular reader, familiar with both texts,
to explain as imitation what might better be seen as parallel development
of an idea.  Not *in*, but *read into*, the text, apparently.

HTH, HAND.

Minnow (which by the way takes an upper-case initial when it is used as a
person's name; cf. Mavis, Jay, Linnet, etc.)


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