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A request for advice

I tried asking this on Twitter and did not get a single response. So I'm putting it here. This is a serious question that will have an impact on my next book.

How should we deal with historical racism? What do I mean? Well, in the course of my researches into Arthur Conan Doyle's Spiritualist tour of Australia in 1920/21 I came across an Australian newspaper article that was written a day or so after his departure for England.

As far as I can tell it was intended as a joke but was pre-fixed with a remark about the colour of the crew of the ship on which ACD was travelling.

So the question is - do I mention this at all? On the one hand you can say no because it has no bearing on ACD personally or his tour and therefore is of questionable relevance. You could also argue that it gives an idea of attitudes of the time and therefore is worthy of inclusion.

So do I include it or not? If I include it, how do I present it? Verbatim seems unlikely but can I enter it with asterisks (e.g. bl**dy hell)?

I'd appreciate views. Currently I'm of a mind to remove it.


Written by Alistair Duncan
Buy my books here

11 comments:

  1. Include it. It provides greater context, a better feel for the times. No need to gloss over truth.

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  2. I think it would be interesting to include it because it would give the reader a more detailed and complete view of the period. It's always little details that get you to better understand what life was like in the past, what were common opinions and behaviour.
    As to how, maybe just add a short note at the bottom of the page to explain more about the context ?

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  3. Excluding it because you don't like its racist contents feels like lying by omitting the truth. Otoh, if it's not needed to better understand what the book is about and it has no relevance to the subject...? Would you include it, if it wasn't racist?

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  4. I would include it. The trend with modern period pieces (I'm talking fiction here, but the point is the same) is to gloss over the inherent contextual prejudices, and instead have "enlightened" characters who often end up as basically modern characters in a period setting. I can see the logic behind that, so as not to alienate a modern audience, but at the same time it's important to acknowledge how different things were then. Including it gives a genuine example of those attitudes.

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  5. Wow lots of comments. It's interesting that the response here is to keep it and on Twitter opinion favours removal....

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  6. Include it or not, depending on whether it contributes to the story you are telling. If it makes for a better story, mention it. If it is a fact out of context to the Doyle story, don't include it.

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  7. Fascinating that a comment printed in a 1921 family paper would be unfit for inclusion in your book without perhaps editing it. Perhaps we should ask the nameless Inspector in "The Three Gables" what to do. If you are going to discuss or explore Doyle's racial and ethnic opinions, then I could suggest you include it

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    Replies
    1. If you saw it you might understand my dilemma. We're talking about the N word.

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    2. The same one as used by the nameless Inspector in 3GAB, no doubt. The word can be found in Doyle's (and many white authors of the era) 1879's "The Mystery of the Sasassa Valley" and as late as "The Poison Belt", if memory serves.

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    3. Going back to your first comment - if it was in relation to ACD's attitudes I'd probably mention it in some form but it is being used by the author of the article not ACD. Therefore its relevance to him and his tour is tenuous. I think the discussion has served its purpose. I shall omit it.

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  8. If it holds up in the concept of the purpose of your book, use it.

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