Philobiblon: The usual story - a woman's work is ignored

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The usual story - a woman's work is ignored

I was working yesterday from Halkett and Laing, A Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonomous Publications in the English Language, Third ed, Longman, 1980, in search of a 16th-century author I know as S.P. (And thanks to my commenter Clanger: I reckon I might know who he is, although more work is needed.)

But I was taken by the story of how this foundational book came into being. (In the preface by John Horden.)

The foundation of the work was done by Samuel Halkett, Keeper of the Library of the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, then continued (I'm simplifying) after his death by John Laing. A prospectus had been issued by a publisher and subscribers sought in 1871, but a statement by Miss Catherine Laing, John's daughter explained why the first volume (of four) was not issued until 1882 and the last in 1888:

"At the time of my father's death, eight years ago, there came into my hands an enormous mass of materials, comprising, in addition to his own collections, those of Mr Halkett and Mr HB Wheatley. No attempt had been made to arrange those materials ... In the process of reducing the slips to some rough alphabetical order, I discovered that a large number consisted of merely a word or two of the title, with a reference to one or more authorities. Consequently, those titles had to be complete, references verified, and not infrequently, in the case of duplicate slips drawn from different sources, rival claims of authorship examined."

Horden says, (p. xi): "From this and the rest of her remarks ... it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that strict justice would have required the inclusion of Catherine Laing's name on the title-page."

Why does this not surprise me?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick response to your interesting blog on Miss Laing.

Why did her name not appear on the title page? In the British upper class culture of the 19th century, it was considered appropriate, even admirable, for a woman to devote her life to the publication of her father's papers.

During her life this activity allowed Miss Laing to sidestep insipid social obligations and dwell in the realm intellectual thought and action, if only surreptitiously.

Victorian justice required the exclusion of Miss Laing's name on the title-page. Such an appearance would have undermined the credibility and respectability of her father's lifetime of literary collection. Her own efforts would have merely been discounted.

A woman's work, once ignored, is now a work to be explored.

We need herstory to help advance our own.

3/11/2006 09:13:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Indeed, that's why I fling out into the tender mercies of Google et al as many such "herstories" as I can manage. (And I do find many more than I can find the time to put out ...)

It is important today for women to know that a full involvement in scholarly and public life is not at all lacking in historical precedents, just that such models seem to fade from history far too fast.

3/12/2006 12:38:00 am  

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