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The Impossibility Of Disconnecting A Writer From Their Work

It seems to be the general rule, not always left unsaid, that when a reviewer discusses a novel they should not take into account the writer of it.

I struggle with this. It is sometimes possible to separate, depending on the book’s subject matter, but in more cases than not I find that neglecting to acknowledge the author’s personality as a contribution to the book means that the review only scratches the surface.

When I say these things there are three authors specifically in my mind. There is Philip Pullman, whose His Dark Materials hints at his Atheism. There is Alex Bell, whose book, Jasmyn, demonstrates in the use of a scene her dislike of animal testing. And finally there is the person who is responsible for this post, Charlotte Brontë, whose hatred of Catholicism, seen in Villette, is abhorrent for her writing of it in the extreme.

These three authors are not the same in the levels of writer/work connection. On one hand Bell’s dislike of animal testing is shown in a non-preaching and short way, the author makes her point without pushing it on the reader. On the other Brontë’s abhorrence is ever-present and extreme. She clearly cannot conceive the possibility of Catholicism being a denomination to ever tolerate.

Now that’s not to say that I berate Brontë for her feelings. I may feel she is extreme but then I am looking at the situation through the eyes of someone whose ancestors had done all the debating for me, I have all the history and reasonings in which to decide that there isn’t enough difference to be so negatively passionate about it in the way that she is. But there is no way I could review Brontë’s work without taking into account that, for example, Lucy Snowe’s feelings are a direct result of Brontë’s own, that Brontë is using Lucy as a puppet to voice her own views. And account for it I must, likewise I cannot simply brush it under the carpet because there were possibly people in that era who were forward-thinkers and opposed to seeing a difference.

However, of course, this does not speak for the other side. There are times when a book proposes a certain idea that has nothing to do with the author, for example perhaps a character is obsessed with science but the author themselves finds it incredibly boring. I know from the limited experience I’ve had of writing stories that this can often be the case. Here though, I generally find that you can tell by the way the author has written the text, or by the information in their author notes, whether or not the author writes personally about the subject and if there was specific research involved to fill a gap in their knowledge. But I have definitely found in most cases that it isn’t too difficult for a reader to gather this themselves without looking to the Internet for answers.

And that’s the thing. When an author writes about something they don’t know much about, they tend to tell you about it and thus you can assume that they are not their work. When an author doesn’t say this, when they are well known for speaking about the subject, or when they write it in such a way that shows they are very passionate about it, it is impossible to put them on one side and their work on another. This does not mean a person should always judge an author by their work, or believe that the work represents the author fully, but there is a definite connection that cannot be denied.

We cannot always disconnect an author from their work, and I do not believe that we should.


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