Authorial Intent

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed Jul 16 08:14:13 EDT 2003


>On Tue, 15 Jul 2003 10:04:19 +0100, Charles Butler wrote:
>
>>My curiousity duly piqued, I looked at the essay on CL and TotS to see if it
>>made any claims about DWJ's intention - rather than simply noting
>>similarities between the texts. (Actually, it deal with Witch Week and TotS
>>as well, and is just part of a longer essay mainly devoted to comparing DWJ
>>and JKR -another tricky question of 'influence', which we can steer clear of
>>for now!) Mostly it contents itself with noting similarities, but once or
>>twice seems to go a bit further. DWJ - not just her text - is said to 'draw
>>on... the psychological thriller, as exemplified by TofS'.

That doesn't necessarily say she drew on TotS, it says she drew on the type
of thriller of which TotS is an example.  That might pass without comment
(using the tropes of a genre is not the same as plagiarising from a single
book, after all), but

"*Charmed Life* can be read as a much more profound and serious rewriting
of *The Turn of the Screw*".
"Miss Hodge in *Witch Week* appears to be a caricature of James's governess."
"Chrestomanci Castle is no playground for children but an agent of adult
repression.  Jones connects it to Bly..."

all seem to me to imply knowledge on DWJ's part of the content of TotS: I
don't see how one can rewrite or caricature something of which one is
ignorant, nor connect something to a place one didn't know existed.

>I sometimes wonder if such attributions aren't unconscious, especially if
>the rest of the text is very careful not to draw conclusions.  I'm thinking
>of how tedious it is sometimes when you seem to be writing the same phrase
>over and over again, and varying it just a little is such a relief!  But you
>could just as easily say DWJ *seems to* draw on etc. and cover your heinie
>that way.

Or that she and James have a similar body of material from which they have
both drawn.  That's *always* safe, there are archetypes to point to if all
else fails...

>At any rate, I can't see making the assumption that an author has read/been
>influenced by a particular work if you don't know that fact for certain.

It does seem careless.  It's also rather insulting, isn't it?

>And as you point out in the part I snipped, not making that assumption would
>have to change the whole tenor of the essay.

Well, of that bit of it, but not irrevocably.  It would be easy enough to
make it clear that one was talking about types that were *also* in TotS
rather than *originally* in it, and that way one is in the clear, and can
say pretty-much the same things in much the same way to make the points
being made.

The mirrors/seeing a face at the window business, for instance, certainly
isn't unique nor original to James.  Examples can be found all over the
place, so the point could be made that DWJ is making use of a particular
collection of tropes without suggesting that she is plagiarising James --
which is what it amounts to, really, if one says that an author has lifted
ideas wholesale from another author.  And anyway, why James?  There are
mirrors all over fiction, and in many cases they are Significant, as are
faces at the window, and loony or nasty governesses and female
school-teachers (the female characters in Jones' work isn't a governess
anyway, after all!) and child-unfriendly dwellings.

I would suggest that the text is being made to fit the argument rather than
the argument built from the text.  And that is my objection to a lot of
critical work, as I may have intimated a couple of times before.  From the
same collection of essays I look at another section of text, which to *me*
says in effect "I (the writer of the essay) am interested in the theme of
Orphans And A Search For Parental Authority.  I see all or at least some or
at least one or two of this author's works as being about Orphans And A
Search For Parental Authority.  To blazes with the fact that the
protagonist in one of the two texts I'm specifically discussing is not an
orphan, I'll get round that by saying 'although not technically an orphan,
Vivian is separated from her parents'," [like the characters in a high
proportion of books for children, because parents are a nuisance and get in
the way of the adventure by insisting on prep and bedtime and things],"and
I will assert that a man of 26 who has left home" [if he hadn't I suppose
it'd be oedipal!] "in the other text is an orphan *even though it states in
the text that he spends Christmas with his mother*".  Pah!

Sloppy.  Careless.  *Unnecessary*.    If one wants to discuss the theme of
the Orphan Searching For Parental Authority, why not at least choose
examples of orphans rather than examples of people who are *not* orphans?

Minnow


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