A New View on an Old Favorite Author

Before I begin discussing how this weeks essays changed the way I view one of my favorite authors, Mary de Morgan, I just wanted to comment on how surprised I was by the essayists’ continued references to the impact the reader has on a text/book.  This surprised me for two reasons: 1) Even though I have a fondness for Stanley Fish’s “How to Recognize a Poem When You See One,” and as a literary scholar am often occupied with developing my own interpretation of texts, I often forget that as a reader, I add as much, if not sometimes more, to the text than the author, as I am usually dealing with my personal interpretation of the author’s words, and 2) Even had I given this reader influence/input greater thought, I would not have thought it would be much of a focus when discussing the history of the book.  I therefore found the essayists’ discussion of the reader as part of the cycle in the history of the book to be very enlightening.

Turning now to Mary de Morgan, this week’s readings made me look at her works in a new light for several reasons.  Rather obscure even in literary studies (last I’d checked, there were three published essays on her and two dissertations discussing her works to some extent), I have been saddened and confused by the critical neglect de Morgan has received.  Although I can see that a woman who only published three collections of fairy tales could be lost in history, her stories are so beautifully crafted that I feel she should be more “rediscovered” by now.  In terms of the history of the book, her writing process becomes significant, as she perfected her stories orally first, by telling them to her family and the children of family friends before writing them down.  In this way, she not only followed in the steps of previous fairy tales through her stories’ oral origins, but also participated in the “oral traditions of tales and recitations” that Roger Chartier focuses on in his essay (95).  Her stories are not simply textual/print-based, but have an inherently oral aspect to them.

Thomas R. Adams and Nicolas Barker’s essay also provided a new perspective on de Morgan’s work.  Their discussion of how “reprintings and revivals . . . tell us something about the long-range impact of the text” is interesting to me, as I actually have no knowledge of her collections’ print histories (58).  I own a copy of her complete collection of fairy tales published in the 1960s, but since then there has not been a new edition of her complete collection.  The individual collections are currently available in a digital format as of 2009, and previously republished and (seemingly) packaged specifically as children’s stories in 1990.  But during her lifetime, although I have found announcements declaring enthusiasm for the publication of her third and last collection of stories, I do not know if they were ever had more than one printing (which seems like vital information to know and is now going on my list of things to research).

However, as Adams and Barker also discuss, “A much more elusive, and in many ways a more important and less understood, aspect of receptions is the way that the ideas, and even the actual wording of those ideas, are picked up and used with or without acknowledgement by later writers for a variety of purposes” (59).  This becomes interesting in regards to de Morgan as I think Oscar Wilde may have borrowed from one of her tales when he wrote his fairy tale “The Nightingale and the Rose,” as both discuss the similar topic of sacrificing one’s life for love in relation to pricking one’s heart with a thorn to turn a white rose red.  This connection is still tentative, as I cannot say with authority that this imagery and topic is original to de Morgan, but it is definitely food for thought, as whether or not her stories were ever (or often) reprinted, her books would seem to gain significance through Wilde’s borrowing.

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2 thoughts on “A New View on an Old Favorite Author

  1. I think one might usefully apply Bourdieu’s theory to figure out why she was or was not popular in her own time and why/how her legacy has been maintained (or not).

    The reprint history is interesting, but the edition on Amazon is not worthy of the name edition. The beautiful cover is so tantalizing, and then–yuck. And yes, i think “yuck” does qualify as a scholarly response. 🙂

  2. This is something that I was really interested in too! How is it that we just take things that are printed as true? I discussed this a little in my blog as well, not so much focusing on literature but on thing like email or even a text. If it’s in some form of writing or print it’s more real. I thought it was also relevant considered against Ong’s explanation of the mistrust of writing and print when the technologies were originally introduced (which John’s discusses also) and a preference to speech over writing.

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