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Friday, May 19, 2006

Sign of the times

I just finished reading a famous work of literary criticism. It's some 35 years old and still brilliant, but one thing really irritated me about it.

Every time the author refers to the works of another male scholar, he refers to said scholar as, simply, Lastname (e.g., Smith, rather than Mr. or Dr. or Professor Smith). On the relatively rare occasions on which he has occasion to refer to a female scholar, she is always Miss Lastname or (still more rarely) Mrs. Lastname.

I'm sure this was standard in the late 1960s, and it may even have been the publisher's house style rather than the author's own preference. But my God, it's annoying, and such a surprising reminder of how few women there once were in the academy--or in professional positions, period.

I'm not sure what the rationale behind this formula was: was it considered impolite to refer to a woman simply by her last name? Was the name, taken alone, seen as rightfully belonging to her husband or father (and thus the title situates her in relation to him)?

Whatever the reasoning, what a practical nightmare that must have been. Imagine: every time you wanted to quote a female scholar, you had to go find out whether or not she was married, so you could refer to her properly! And how demeaning for the woman to have that be the first and most pressing inquiry made about her: not what else she's written or where she teaches, but what her marital status is.

And here's the thing: this book was reissued by the publisher just a few years ago, in a new edition (properly speaking, the only thing new about it is the introduction--the rest of the volume looks as though it was set by simply photographing the original pages), and I'm sure it's still a good seller. Without an electronic file, going back and eliminating those titles would be expensive and time-consuming for the publisher, I know--but leaving them in dates the work in really unattractive ways.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:06 PM |


Blogger Cats & Dogma commented at 12:15 PM~  

The sad thing is, with current technology, it wouldn't be all that time consuming: with scanning and OCR technology, it could be turned into an editable document in no time. Which makes the whole tihng sadder.

Blogger Margo, darling commented at 12:52 PM~  

LL, are you reading The Pound Era? Kenner is notoriously vile (for MILLIONS of reasons), not the least of which is his totally ridiculous and anarchonistic insistence on calling women Mrs., as in Mrs. Woolf. (Maybe you're not reading it, but I can't resist taking every possible opportunity to say I HATE HUGH KENNER!)

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 1:56 PM~  


Nope. It's actually the most well-known book written by the Vortex of Evil.

Another thing I hate about it? It's got a serious "which" problem. Nearly every time VoE needs a "that," he inserts a "which." I'm not really a stickler about that/which, but it's ALL OVER THE PLACE.

Blogger Dr. Mon commented at 2:18 PM~  

Ugh--how annoying!

Blogger Hieronimo commented at 2:35 PM~  

I've wondered the same thing about how they knew whether to say "Miss" or "Mrs" (it's almost never "Professor" but sometimes "Dr" can help them out, especially the Brits). My guess is that the profession at that time--or at least the "research" part of it--was so small, and the number of women so few, that everyone already knew.

P.S. I think I know the book you mean, but will keep it to myself to protect the innocent.

Blogger Margo, darling commented at 7:33 PM~  

VoE!!!!! You are the BEST!!!!!! And now I have a better idea of your field. Have been trying to scrape together an idea of you forever. (B/C we like you so much Sfrajett and I are a little obsessed about figuring out not exactly who you are, but which school is INRU and what your field is. But we're not stalkers, just fellow soujourners who like you alot.)

And yes, that was on purpose--my way of blowing you a blog kiss.

Happy graduation, happy travels, happy families meeting, happy apt. hunting.

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 8:01 PM~  

Margo, you make me laugh out loud--and wish that I *were* moving closer to you and Sfrajett! Feelings reciprocated, totally, and I wouldn't care if you were stalking me for real, my dear.

Anonymous Anonymous commented at 4:02 PM~  

Sadly enough I found the same usage in a newspaper article. The male experts cited were referred to by their surnames; the women were referred to by their first names. I found it odd...

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