This week’s readings on the development of the concept of intellectual property, of a written work as a “unique” (a word repeatedly used in several essays) creation by a “unique” mind and therefore the author’s property, was fascinating to me solely because I would never think to contradict this concept because it is now so culturally accepted. However, reading about how this concept developed did cause me to think more pointedly about the relationship between the author as an individual and his work/text/book as public “property” (in the sense that it is accessible to all). In particular, the circumstances surrounding the Oscar Wilde trials in 1895 and the performance of his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, seem to suggest an extreme view of the relationship between the author and his work.
While the essays this week focus on the author’s fight to obtain property rights to his works and therefore to be acknowledge as the creator and/or originator of the texts, Wilde’s conviction for “gross [sexual] indecency” and the abrupt ending to the performance of his play would suggest that the 1895 English public has taken this author/text relationship to its extreme. In this case, a successful, well-received work is practically rejected because of the author’s personal actions and destroyed reputation, and it isn’t until long after his death that the play is revived. In some ways, this could be seen as a kind of censorship similar to that of Joan Whitrowe (as detailed in Paula McDowell’s essay), yet the play itself is not overly transgressive or dangerous; it is the author, Oscar Wilde, who has been found to be indecent and therefore a danger to society. Such censorship seems to indicate that the concept of intellectual property has been fully accepted in Great Britain by the end of the 19th century.
Yet this makes me wonder if this same perception of the relationship between author and work (where the author’s personal indecency is grounds for the censoring of his work) is still true today. I can’t think of an author/book example of this type of public judgement and censorship, but in terms of actors, Mel Gibson’s personal reputation has affected his ability to obtain public work. Can the same be said today concerning authors and their works? Do we still judge and censor past works because of issues relating to the personal lives of their authors? Basically, how closely do we link a work to its author today? Furthermore, is a text/work transgressive merely because its author is transgressive? And does or should it matter?
Now, to change speeds (admittedly, rather abruptly), I came across this fascinating little snippet of information concerning Lewis Carroll’s Alice books and their origin. Although I’m a little sad that this manuscript is at the British Library, and therefore currently out of reach to me personally, it is interesting to see the evolution of the Alice tales, as well as the evolution of the illustrations. Furthermore, as the page of text shaped like a puff of smoke survives to be printed, I can only assume that the printers (especially the unfortunate man responsible for setting the type) were cursing Carroll and his authorial whimsy.