Old books can be kinda (very) racist/sexist/homophobic
So, how do I reconcile liking them?
It’s NOT enough to justify it to yourself as an attitude acceptable at the time. I mean, sure it WAS an acceptable attitude at the time (though, to think there weren’t individuals fighting that long before it became a societal push is foolish.) but we, nowadays, know it’s not.
I like to think I’m as unracist as is possible. I mean, I accept I have priveleges others won’t (I’m a white girl born in the UK) but I reckon any racism I perpetrate will be accidental and out of ignorance rather than hate. I think it’s impossible for me to say I’m not racist at all, and talking about how racist you aren’t always leads people to believe you are… but as things go, I am fairly unprejudiced.
Bear in mind, I’m not talking about a character being prejudiced in some way- that’s just being honest to your character. I’m talking about the BOOK being prejudiced, which is a much trickier thing to realise or analyse. Very simplified:
If the book mainly puts one type of person into villain/hero roles, or only has one type of person in it as a vaulable character, it may be prejudiced
For example where all the bad guys are black and the good guy is white may not mean to be, but probably is prejudiced. There are much better and more in depth discussions online, and I strongly recommend a read through. ANYWAY back to what I was talking about.
How do we deal with being a fan of an author (especially one from a previous time period) while disliking their personal politics? Especially if those personal politics are very prevalent in the books?
Lets take, for example Lovecraft. I like his work. He’s not the best writer- especially not for dialogue, but he had a fuck of a lot of imagination. I adore his books, and if I sometimes find him hard going, it’s not uncommon for books of his era.
But he’s a racist. And – note this – racist even for his era, which is pretty amazing. And it’s not like some books, where the racism was a quiet thing coming about because he was a white man raised in the era he was, so I can’t just calmly accept it as an unpleasant part of history and move on – he’s racist in the actual pages of his books. Every non white character is a cowardly, criminal painful stereotype. At one part the fact that a woman had a black ancestor at one point is treated with the same horror as the fact that an eldritch abomination is on the rise. The racism is so obvious it would be cartoonish if it weren’t so uncomfortable.
With Lovecraft, I can comfort myself with the fact that his later letters expressed distaste over his previous views, and the fact that, at least very slightly, he changed his mind. But I can’t do that with other authors.
So, here is my conundrum. I enjoy to book, but I don’t want to express the idea that these attitudes are, or even were, OK?
I don’t actually have an aswer. So far my technique is to read those parts chanting in my head ‘this is not an OK attitude and by liking this book I am not saying I agree with it’ but that kind of drags me out of the story. And a lot of these are brilliant books! Really good books, just with nasty little attitudes I believe are unacceptable!
So what the hell do we do? I disagree with bowdlerisation or censorship, and constantly bringing up the values dissonance is kind of pointless when the author’s been dead a century.