May 2, 2005

HEY YOU, STAY OUT OF MY REALITY

An imaginary “scandal” (Theodore Dalrymple, The New Criterion, May, 2005)

I feel more or less the same about literary fraud (I am, of course, talking of the fully conscious variety, not the other kind, which is far too commonplace to be interesting). We all have our favorites in this genre: Napoleon liked his Ossian, but my favorite is Rahila Khan. She deserves to be more widely known than she is, for ultimately her fraud was no fraud.

Her oeuvre is very slender: a single paperback volume of 100 pages, entitled Down the Road, Worlds Away. It was published in 1987 by the Virago Press, a feminist publishing house founded in the 1970s that is now owned by TimeWarnerBooks, and it appeared in a series called Virago Upstarts—that is to say, parvenu termagants. You are never too young to resent.

“Virago Upstarts is a new series of books for girls and young women… This new series will show the funny, difficult, and exciting real lives and times of teenage girls in the 1980s.” No prizes for guessing the reality of the real lives, of course: and Rahila Khan gives us “twelve haunting stories about Asian girls and white boys ... about the tangle of violence and tenderness ...in all their lives,” written “with hard-eyed realism and poignant simplicity.”

As for Rahila herself, she was born in Coventry in 1950, lived successively in Birmingham, Derby, Oxford, London, and Peterborough, married in 1971, and now lived in Brighton with her two daughters. She began writing only in 1986 (presumably when her daughters demanded less of her time), and in the same year six of her stories were broadcast by the BBC. Virago accepted her book, an acceptance that, in the words of Professor Dympna Callaghan, Professor of English at Syracuse University and author of a Marxist analysis of the exclusion of women from the Renaissance stage, “seemed to fulfill one of Virago’’s laudable objectives, that of publishing the work of a diverse group of contemporary feminist authors.”

A literary agent contacted Rahila Khan by post and asked to represent her. Until then, Miss Khan had refused to meet in person anyone with whom she dealt, or even to send a photograph of herself: but she agreed to meet the agent who wanted to represent her. The agent was surprised to discover that Miss Khan was actually the Reverend Toby Forward, a Church of England vicar.

Normally it is wise to avoid any literary work that could be described as “multi-layered”, but this fascinating article is an exception.

Posted by Peter Burnet at May 2, 2005 9:20 AM
Comments

Like the Sokal Hoax, another demonstration that leftists are so formulaic and predictable that they can be successfuly imitated by anyone.

So much for the thory that you must be a victim to be able to whinge like one.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at May 2, 2005 1:28 PM

I read it. All I can say is, "Wow!" As in, "Wow, that vicar sure can write!" and "Wow, those academics are putzes."

Posted by: Mike Morley at May 2, 2005 1:31 PM

Hello to the Brothers Judd!

As one may imagine this topic-- of the unexpected person who can write pseudonymously in the unexpected voice-- it is of the special interest to the Manolo.

Of the course, the Manolo he could not agree more with the Theodore Dalrymple (if that it is his real name) that the academics they are the ridiculous, carping ninnies.

The good news it is that many good writers they will continue to write in this manner despite what the academics of the blathering say.

Best of the Wishes!

Manolo

Posted by: Manolo the Shoeblogger at May 2, 2005 4:24 PM

Manolo is reading the Brothers Judd! Get me a glass of water, I have to sit down.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at May 2, 2005 6:27 PM

Robert:

Water? And to think I once called you stout-hearted.

Posted by: Peter B at May 2, 2005 6:55 PM

Theodore Dalrymple is worth reading for the same reason George Will is: a fine English that gets us thinking.

Posted by: Brooks at May 2, 2005 10:49 PM

The Manolo, he is a man of impeccable taste.

Posted by: jd watson at May 2, 2005 10:56 PM

Dr. Dalrymple, in an essay touching upon ethical standards, would have done better had he displayed a greater degree of fidelity to the Hippocratic Oath, which holds that those things which a physician "may see or hear in the course of treatment or even outside of treatment in regard to the life of men" -- things "which on no account one must spread abroad" -- he "will keep to [himself]." Dr. Dalrymple quite obviously does not believe himself bound by this injunction. Consider Dr. D.'s introductory anecdote, concerning the "man who defrauded the [British] government of $38,000,0000 of value added tax," who also happens to read Wittgenstein. Now Dr. D. has done painfully little to disguise this patient's identity. Raymond Woolley of Stoke-on-Trent was sentenced in December 2002 to nine years in prison for his efforts "to defraud [the] UK Government of 38 million pounds" in a VAT fraud, according to news reports. Like Dr. D.'s patient, Mr. Woolley, who before his extradition had been living at Marbella, had been given the option by the Birmingham Crown Court of paying restitution or serving an additional four years in default of payment. Oddly, Dr. D. does not tell us that on February 23, 2005, Mr. Woolley absconded from Sudbury Prison in Derbyshire. But did he coyly refer to this escape when he wrote, in his article, that his patient's sentence "was almost over" -- when by the terms of the sentence Mr. Woolley had several more years yet to serve? Would not Dr. D. have done better to obscure the facts of his Wittgenstein-reading patient's identity before publishing his charming story in the public prints? Of course it is possible that Dr. D. never treated Mr. Woolley and simply lifted the account from a newspaper. After all Sudbury is some 50 miles from Birmingham -- a bit far for housecalls. Or does Sudbury bus its felons to Birmingham, Dr. D's hometown? Whether he has defrauded his patient or defrauded his readers, Dr. D. has given us, in "An Imaginary 'Scandal,'" a document that is scandalous in more ways than one.

Posted by: Mike B at May 18, 2005 2:43 PM

Dr. Dalrymple, in an essay touching upon ethical standards, would have done better had he displayed a greater degree of fidelity to the Hippocratic Oath, which holds that those things which a physician "may see or hear in the course of treatment or even outside of treatment in regard to the life of men" -- things "which on no account one must spread abroad" -- he "will keep to [himself]." Dr. Dalrymple quite obviously does not believe himself bound by this injunction. Consider Dr. D.'s introductory anecdote, concerning the "man who defrauded the [British] government of $38,000,0000 of value added tax," who also happens to read Wittgenstein. Now Dr. D. has done painfully little to disguise this patient's identity. Raymond Woolley of Stoke-on-Trent was sentenced in December 2002 to nine years in prison for his efforts "to defraud [the] UK Government of 38 million pounds" in a VAT fraud, according to news reports. Like Dr. D.'s patient, Mr. Woolley, who before his extradition had been living at Marbella, had been given the option by the Birmingham Crown Court of paying restitution or serving an additional four years in default of payment. Oddly, Dr. D. does not tell us that on February 23, 2005, Mr. Woolley absconded from Sudbury Prison in Derbyshire. But did he coyly refer to this escape when he wrote, in his article, that his patient's sentence "was almost over" -- when by the terms of the sentence Mr. Woolley had several more years yet to serve? Would not Dr. D. have done better to obscure the facts of his Wittgenstein-reading patient's identity before publishing his charming story in the public prints? Of course it is possible that Dr. D. never treated Mr. Woolley and simply lifted the account from a newspaper. After all Sudbury is some 50 miles from Birmingham -- a bit far for housecalls. Or does Sudbury bus its felons to Birmingham, Dr. D's hometown? Whether he has defrauded his patient or defrauded his readers, Dr. D. has given us, in "An Imaginary 'Scandal,'" a document that is scandalous in more ways than one.

Posted by: Mike B at May 18, 2005 2:43 PM
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