Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dueling Austen Scholars

From The Observer, Sunday 15 March 2009, by Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent:

Oxford academic and Austen authority Professor Kathryn Sutherland is claiming that a new book by award-winning biographer Claire Harman has copied her own radical ideas about the novelist, pulled together over 10 years of research and published by her in 2005...According to Sutherland, the two former friends met in her home shortly after the publication of her own book, Jane Austen's Textual Lives, from Aeschylus to Bollywood, in 2005. She says she let Harman read the book and was distressed to learn later that her friend was working on a popular version of its theories...Nick Davies, Harman's editor at pub­lisher Canongate, is not prepared to accept any large debt to the professor's book and points out that it is listed among the acknowledgments. "Until we receive something on paper from Kathryn Sutherland, detailing where she thinks her ideas have been reproduced, neither I nor Claire can really say any more," he added.

[Well, this should be interesting!]

1 comment:

Claire Harman said...

Dear Newpages blog,
Since you are taking an interest in this issue, you may wish to post the following statement, written in some frustration at not being able to get The Observer or the Telegraph to counter Professor Sutherland's unsolicited and totally false accusations.
Yours, Claire Harman.

‘Jane Austen scholars clash in textbook research row’

The Sunday before last, the Observer gave an uncritical home to a number of imputations by Professor Kathryn Sutherland that I had inadequately credited her published work on Jane Austen in my own soon-to-be-published Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. The Observer printed its story without acquainting me with her accusations or offering an opportunity for rejoinder and when I wrote to complain of this, they neither answered nor printed my letter. My publisher, Canongate Books, had requested that Professor Sutherland specify the concerns to which she alluded so ominously, but that request went unanswered. It wasn’t even clear if she had actually read the book.
If she had read it, she would have found herself mentioned in the text, the notes, the bibliography, the acknowledgements and the index. Not in the illustrations, perhaps, but you can’t have everything. Could it be that she was fabricating some agitation, while my book was still unavailable for comparison, in order to publicise her own scholarly study of Austen, Jane Austen’s Textual Lives (published by OUP in 2005)? After all, when Jane’s Fame is published next week, any reader will be able to see not just how groundless are her accusations of inadequate acknowledgement but how very different these two books are in scope, theme and style.
Meanwhile, I was reading in a national newspaper of a ‘row’ I had yet to join in. The Telegraph ran the story the following day, and it was picked up by several other journals and by bloggers too, of course, many of whom noted the whiff of sour grapes surrounding Professor Sutherland’s scattergun complaints and innuendos. What they couldn’t appreciate was the extent of her (or the paper’s) misrepresentations. I had been ‘very canny’; the professor and I had ‘met in her home’ where she ‘let me read’ her research, which she now ‘cannot write about’. This conjured scenarios of privileged access and even theft, a particularly juicy suggestion that chinese-whispered its way into one blog headline as ‘Former Student Helps Herself to Teacher’s Work’. For the record, I have known Professor Sutherland since 1976 but have never been to any of her homes and have never been given or sought access to any of her unpublished research. I did meet with her, by her invitation, at her college in Oxford in 2006, at which time she sold me a copy of her book for £35 cash. It had been published the previous year by a university press with, one assumes, the aim of promulgating its views and stimulating the work of fellow scholars.
The Telegraph removed their report from their website in the middle of last week and sent a legalistic disclaimer, but I have yet to hear from The Observer. Among the many accusations in their article was Professor Sutherland’s bizarre suggestion that this is a case of ‘identity theft’, and that my book (and one supposes, many others) may ‘end her own hopes of a wider readership’. There’s the rub: this is not a matter of identity theft or intellectual property at all, but of a potent professional jealousy that can extend even into the realm of the unwritten.
Claire Harman.