The publishers who made Shakespeare a global phenomenon


Bruce Amos/Shutterstock

Andrew Murphy, Trinity College DublinWalk into any decent bookshop today in search of Shakespeare’s plays and you’re sure to find at least one. And even if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the bookshelves, there is always the internet, where a great variety of different complete works and editions are also available – almost all of them free of charge.

This, however, has not always been the case. In fact, in Shakespeare’s time, the texts were rather hard to find. The incredible access we have now to Shakespeare’s work is thanks to a handful of enterprising publishers who saw the earning potential of making the bard’s texts readily available to read.

The first publisher to take a chance on the plays was Thomas Millington in the late 1500s. Millngton was a small-scale operator who specialised in throwaway popular texts about murders and monsters and whose business was tucked away in an obscure corner of London. Millington issued editions of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and of the second and third parts of the trilogy of plays that he wrote about King Henry VI. Despite the out-of-the way location of his shop, Millington’s editions sold well and his success encouraged others to take a punt on some of the other plays.

Shakespeare becomes expensive – then cheap

By 1623 – seven years after Shakespeare’s death – sales had been good enough for almost all of the plays to be published together in a collected edition – a volume conventionally known as the “First Folio” (folios were the largest-sized books). But this edition was very expensive, costing about £1 – the equivalent of almost nine days’ wages for a skilled craftsman. It was thus a luxury item that only the wealthy could afford. And it set the pattern that was followed for many decades, with Shakespeare’s plays remaining largely confined to an elite readership who had the funds to buy expensive editions.

The first person to try to break this pattern and open up access to Shakespeare was Robert Walker (circa 1709-61).

Walker had a lot in common with Millington in that he mostly published cheap, disposable, sensationalist texts. He also had a sideline in quack medicines, as he manufactured and sold “Daffy’s Elixir”, a concoction advertised as an effective cure for almost all known diseases.

Excerpt from Hamlet.
The first person to publish Shakespeare’s plays was Thomas Millington in the late 1500s.
Claudio Divizia/Shutterstock

In the mid-1730s, Walker waged a price war with the London publishing establishment, driving the cost of individual play editions down to just one penny each. This led to a significant expansion of Shakespeare’s readership and, consequently, to a much greater demand for performances of Shakespeare’s plays in the 18th-century theatre.

Shakespeare for all

In the following century, another out-of-the-way publisher, John Dicks, followed Walker’s example and lowered the price of access to Shakespeare even further.

Dicks came, himself, from a very humble background and was determined to make great literature available to the poorest sectors of British society. In the 1860s, he issued Shakespeare’s plays individually at the rate of two plays for a penny – half of Walker’s price more than a century previously.

Dicks then collected all of the plays into a single, paperback volume which he offered for sale for just 12 pennies, the equivalent of less than a third of a penny per play – far and away the cheapest price ever for a complete Shakespeare. Dicks estimated that he sold almost a million copies of this book, making it the most successful Shakespeare edition that had ever been published.

A large book of the complete works of William Shakespeare.
The first publisher to collate all Shakespeare’s play into a complete collected works was John Dicks.
Ana Hollan/Shutterstock

Dicks can be said to have done more to popularise Shakespeare than any other publisher. But even his achievement has been surpassed in our own time. The key figure today is, again, a rather obscure figure: a computer programmer called Grady Ward, who created a digital edition of the plays in 1993. Ward made his files freely available to others and they became the basis for a wide range of free-to-access Shakespeare websites and apps. The chances are that if you’ve ever looked at a Shakespeare play online, you will have been looking at some version of Ward’s original files.

We have seen that John Dicks sold nearly a million copies of his shilling edition of Shakespeare. Figuring out how many people have made use of Ward’s text is a little harder. A possible guide may be the number of users of just one version of it: Eric Johnson’s Open Source Shakespeare. Between 2006 and 2020 this site attracted just short of 19 million distinct users. Given this level of traffic on just one site, it does not seem unreasonable to speculate that the combined number of users for all the various sites and apps may well be approaching 100 million.

In our own time, Shakespeare is a global phenomenon, freely available to tens of millions of people around the world, either in print form or online. But we should never forget the debt we owe to those obscure figures who have helped to popularise his work over the centuries – the Millingtons, Walkers, Dickses and Wards – those unsung heroes who have helped so much to make Shakespeare what he is today.The Conversation

Andrew Murphy, 1867 Professor of English, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Harry Potter and the legacy of the world’s most famous boy wizard


Jane Sunderland, Lancaster UniversityHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first film in the eight-part series, has reached its 20th anniversary. Released in 2001, it became the highest-grossing film of that year and the second-highest-grossing ever at the time (it’s now number 76). The film follows Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as he begins his formal wizarding education.

The first film in the series came four years after the first book (of the same name) in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which is 25 years old next year. Gone, of course, are the heady days when children grew up alongside Harry Potter, queuing outside bookshops the night before the one-minute-past-midnight release of the next volume in the series.

But this enthusiasm gave rise to a very particular phenomenon, with suggestions that the Harry Potter series prompted previously reluctant readers – in particular boys – to read fiction. Indeed, massive book sales led to media declarations of dramatic changes in children’s attitudes to reading.

While this claim does have some substance, the phenomenon was not quite as suggested. Parents and grandparents often bought Harry Potter books for their children, unasked. And while many children watched the films, they did not read the books.

That said, of couse, many children did read them. And while some young purists post-2001 refused to watch the first film until they had read the book, it’s likely the films prompted other children to then go on to read the books.

In our own 2014 study of around 600 British primary and secondary school students, around half reported having read at least one of the books, and more of these readers were boys. The most likely number of books in the series to have been read was all seven – the second likeliest, just one.

A substantial minority of children clearly engaged hugely with the series as readers – and it can only be assumed this benefited their reading more generally. This level of engagement was partly because it was a series, bringing with it a sense of continuity and achievement.

Neither were enthusiasts put off by the sheer length of the later books. Indeed, this may have added to children’s enjoyment and sense of achievement. As Rowling herself has said, “When I was a child, if I was enjoying a book, I didn’t want to finish it.”

The boy who lived on?

While the films are frequently televised, and with news that Warner Bros is planning to develop a television series set in the wizarding world, the Harry Potter books no longer top the best-selling children’s book lists. After 24 years, Amazon however still ranks the Philosopher’s Stone at number ten in their list of best-selling children’s books, with the others in the series not far behind.

All this is not surprising. Harry Potter is both enduringly imaginative – the spells, the magic, the different creatures – and reassuringly familiar – basically, it’s a school story. It has memorable, appealing characters and the style is undemanding. And now, a new generation of young parents who grew up with Harry Potter may want their children to have their own Potter experience. Though it seems likely that more children will continue to watch the films than read the books.

However, Harry Potter has come in for criticism in more recent years. Many readers today may be more aware of the elitism of Hogwarts. There is an imbalance between the number of male and female characters in the series, especially teachers. Its racial diversity has been accused of being tokenistic. And it lacks even hints of LGBTQ+ characters. Rowling’s claim in 2007 that she thought of Dumbledore as gay is not even suggested in the books.

Rowling herself has also generated controversy through her comments about gender and sex in relation to the debate around transgender rights, first on Twitter and later in a 3,700-word essay in 2020.

Yet Harry Potter is far from alone in the canon of consistently popular children’s literature when it comes to most of these issues. And none of them appear to have affected book sales so far.

It remains to be seen whether such issues will discourage millennial parents from introducing Harry Potter to their own children or affect its popularity among future generations. And in this sense, only time will tell if the appeal of the books and the films will continue to endure.The Conversation

Jane Sunderland, Honorary Reader in English, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Betty Crocker turns 100 – why generations of American women connected with a fictional character


Betty Crocker’s first official portrait, on the left, from 1936. Her most recent portrait, from 1996, is on the right.
BettyCrocker.com

Elizabeth A. Blake, Clark UniversityThough she celebrates her 100th birthday this year, Betty Crocker was never born. Nor does she ever really age.

When her face did change over the past century, it was because it had been reinterpreted by artists and shaped by algorithms.

Betty’s most recent official portrait – painted in 1996 to celebrate her 75th birthday – was inspired by a composite photograph, itself based on photographs of 75 real women reflecting the spirit of Betty Crocker and the changing demographics of America. In it, she doesn’t look a day over 40.

More importantly, this painting captures something that has always been true about Betty Crocker: She represents a cultural ideal rather than an actual woman.

Nevertheless, women often wrote to Betty Crocker and saved the letters they received in return. Many of them debated whether or not she was, in fact, a real person.

In my academic research on cookbooks, I focus primarily on the way cookbook authors, mostly women, have used the cookbook as a space to explore politics and aesthetics while fostering a sense of community among readers.

But what does it mean when a cookbook author isn’t a real person?

Inventing Betty

From the very beginning, Betty Crocker emerged in response to the needs of the masses.

In 1921, readers of the Saturday Evening Post were invited by the Washburn Crosby Co. – the parent company of Gold Medal Flour – to complete a jigsaw puzzle and mail it in for a prize. The advertising department got more than it expected.

In addition to contest entries, customers were sending in questions, asking for cooking advice. Betty’s name was invented as a customer service tool so that the return letters the company’s mostly male advertising department sent in response to these queries would seem more personal. It also seemed more likely that their mostly female customers would trust a woman.

“Betty” was chosen because it seemed friendly and familiar, while “Crocker” honored a former executive with that last name. Her signature came next, chosen from among an assortment submitted by female employees.

As Betty became a household name, the fictional cook and homemaker received so many letters that other employees had to be trained to reproduce that familiar signature.

The advertising department chose the signature for its distinctiveness, though its quirks and contours have been smoothed out over time, so much so that the version that appears on today’s boxes is hardly recognizable. Like Betty’s face, which was first painted in 1936, her signature has evolved with the times.

Betty eventually became a cultural juggernaut – a media personality, with a radio show and a vast library of publications to her name.

The many faces of Betty Crocker.

An outlier in cookbook culture

As I explain to students in my food and literature courses, cookbooks aren’t valued solely for the quality of their recipes. Cookbooks use the literary techniques of characterization and narrative to invite readers into imagined worlds.

Handwritten recipe cards pictured above an open cookbook.
Recipes can be imbued with nostalgia, personality and aspiration.
Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images

By their very nature, recipes are forward-looking; they anticipate a future in which you’ve cooked something delicious. But, as they appear in many cookbooks – and in plenty of home recipe boxes – recipes also reflect a fondly remembered past. Notes in the margin of a recipe card or splatters on a cookbook page may remind us of the times a beloved recipe was cooked and eaten. A recipe may have the name of a family member attached, or even be in their handwriting.

When cookbooks include personal anecdotes, they invite a feeling of connection by mimicking the personal history that is collected in a recipe box.

Irma Rombauer may have perfected this style in her 1931 book “The Joy of Cooking,” but she didn’t invent it. American publishers started printing cookbooks in the middle of the 18th century, and even the genre’s earliest authors had a sense of the power of character, just as many food bloggers do today.

An American ideal

But because Betty Crocker’s cookbooks were written by committee, with recipes tested by staffers and home cooks, that personal history isn’t quite so personal.

As one ad for the “Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book” put it, “The women of America helped Betty Crocker write the Picture Cook Book,” and the resulting book “reflected the warmth and personality of the American home.” And while books like “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book” open with a friendly note signed by the fictional homemaker herself, the recipe headnotes carefully avoid the pretense that she is a real person, giving credit instead to the women who submitted the recipes, suggesting variations or providing historical context.

Drawings of two couples eating birthday cakes.
Betty Crocker dispenses advice for becoming ‘the most wonderful little wife ever.’
Hathi Trust Digital Library

Betty Crocker’s books invited American women to imagine themselves as part of a community connected by the loose bond of shared recipes. And because they don’t express the unique tastes of a particular person, Betty Crocker books instead promote taste as a shared cultural experience common to all American families, and cooking as a skill to which all women should aspire.

The “Story of Two Brides” that appears in Betty Crocker’s 1933 pamphlet “New Party Cakes for all Occasions” contrasts the good “little bride” who “has been taking radio cooking lessons from Betty Crocker” with the hapless “other bride” whose cooking and shopping habits are equally careless. The message here isn’t particularly subtle: The trick to becoming “the most wonderful little wife ever” is baking well, and buying the right flour.

Betty today

Despite its charming illustrations, the retrograde attitude of that 1933 pamphlet probably wouldn’t sell very many cookbooks today, let alone baking mixes, kitchen appliances or any of the other products that now bear the Betty Crocker brand, which General Mills now owns.

But if Betty Crocker’s branding in the supermarket is all about convenience and ease, the retro stylings of her newest cookbooks are a reminder that her brand is also a nostalgic one.

Published this year, for her 100th anniversary, the “Betty Crocker Best 100” reprints all of Betty’s portraits and tells the story of her invention. Rather than using the logo that appears on contemporary products, the front cover returns to the quirkier script of the early Betty, and the “personal” note at the opening of the book reminds readers that “it’s always been about recognizing that the kitchen is at the heart of the home.”

As Betty is continually reinvented in response to America’s evolving sense of self, perhaps this means valuing domestic labor without judging women by the quality of their cakes, and building community between all bakers – even those who won’t ever be good little brides.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter.]The Conversation

Elizabeth A. Blake, Assistant Professor of English, Clark University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What makes a good literary hoax? A political point, for starters


Spanish authors (from left), Agustin Martinez, Jorge Diaz and Antonio Mercero, who have been writing bestsellers as Carmen Mola.
Quique Garcia/EPA

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia and Kerrie Davies, UNSWLiterary hoaxes thrive on exposure. At best, they are politically transgressive. They strip away anything smug, pretentious or hypocritical to reveal an uglier reality underneath.

Hoaxes may use ethically questionable methods. But when they work, they tell us something about the relationship of art to life and politics. It’s the literary equivalent of Banksy shredding an artwork at Sotheby’s as the hammer came down.

If they don’t, then we should question if they deserve to be called a hoax at all.

Recently, hoaxes were in the headlines when three men leapt onto a Barcelona stage to accept a million euro literary prize awarded by the publishing house, Planeta – “unmasking” themselves as the Spanish writer, Carmen Mola in the process. “Mola”, a bestselling crime author, won the Euro prize for La Bestia – The Beast – a thriller about a serial killer stalking Madrid in the midst of a cholera epidemic.

Cue global shock, followed by shrugs from authors, publishers and critics. So far, the fury has centred on who is allowed to write what, and why. However author Margaret Atwood crisply and correctly called the unveiling a “a great publicity stunt”. This hoax was embarrassing and high profile. But it was also unoriginal and apolitical.

The men behind Mola said they were tired of lying. But might claiming a lucrative, prestigious prize – and a bit of ego – also have been a factor in unmasking themselves?

Margaret Atwood: described the invention of Carmen Nola as a publicity stunt.
Jordan Strauss/AP

Pen name politics

The Mola hoax infuriated many because the authors, who wrote a trilogy of ultra-violent novels starring a female detective, Inspector Elena Blanco, had generated a backstory that was more than a pseudonym. It was an identity. It was also stereotypically gendered.

Mola, which roughly translates as “Carmen the cool” in English, claimed she was an academic who kept her writing career a secret because she was bashful about the allegedly transgressive subject matter.

“I didn’t want my colleagues at the office, my sisters-in-law or my mother to know that I wrote a book where someone kills a woman by getting larva worms into her skull,” Mola said in an emailed interview. Email and claims of reclusiveness are the modus operandi for managing publicity arrangements for a problematic identity.

Lawyer and former director of the Women’s Institute in Spain, Beatriz Gimeno, tweeted that the authors had propagated the persona of a woman through email interviews for years, for financial gain. Another commenter called it gender bending “catfishing”.

According to Spanish journalist, Maria Ramirez, a Madrid feminist bookstore is now refusing to sell the Mola books on principle that “men don’t take all the space”. Historically female authors have been forced to use male pseudonyms to be published to fight for this space.




Read more:
Reclaim Her Name: why we should free Australia’s female novelists from their male pseudonyms


Did the authors see themselves as taking a poke at the history of women’s writing or gender oppression? No. They reportedly said they chose the name by chance and for fun and there was no politics associated with their choice of a woman. “Choosing a woman’s name was not a thought out thing, we don’t want to send any message. We could have put R2-D2 on it,” they said.

In Australia, in the 1940s, Dymphna Cusack and Florence James used the male pseudonym, Sydney Wyborne, to win a newspaper competition for an unpublished manuscript. They make an interesting comparison to the Mola case. Sadly, once unmasked, the prize was withdrawn. They didn’t get the money or the publishing contract.

Their book wasn’t published until 1951, under the new name Come in Spinner, by another publisher. According to Cusack, the delay was complicated by obscenity laws at the time, and editors’ resistance to publishing the women under their two real names.

Asking questions

A true hoax provokes. It questions cultural biases, shatters conventions, leaving fragments for discussion that linger for years, if not centuries.

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, for instance, is widely credited as the first realist English novel but it was initially read as a “true history” when published in 1719, under Crusoe’s name. The first novel, or one of the first fake memoir hoaxes? This is a conversation that continues.

Fast forward to 2006, when the Australian newspaper launched a “sting” on Australian publishers. The article was titled, “Would a manuscript from the 1973 Nobel laureate pass muster today?” A chapter of Patrick White’s Nobel prize winning novel, The Eye of the Storm, was sent to publishers under a pen name that was an anagram of Patrick White: Wraith Picket. The idea was copied from a similar sting by The Times of London, using writing by V.S. Naipaul.

Furious publishers who rejected White’s manuscript said they were not given enough of the book to make a decision and it was sloppily presented. This simple hoax was in the tradition of the fictional Australian poet from the 1940s Ern Malley. It made a cultural point – much of the book world is driven by rank commercialism and passing fads. An editorial eye is hit and miss.

Less salubrious – and more obvious – are the cultural commentary hoaxes on the saleability of sex romps, from a 1970s satire of the writing of Harold Robbins to a more recent parody of the writing style of 50 Shades of Grey.

Intercultural thefts are a separate matter. They aren’t hoaxes. They are harmful appropriations. Most commonly, such theft is committed by a dominant culture and the victim is the literary heritage of an oppressed minority.

This sorry history includes the so called “Virago Vicar”; an Anglican vicar named Toby Forward who published a collection of stories with the British feminist publishing house Virago under the pseudonym Rahila Khan.

Identity theft involving non-fiction forms or memoir is beyond this category – it belongs in the realm of fake news and “alternative facts”.

One interesting theft that keeps everybody talking – and may well endure – is the case of writer “Jeremiah Terminator Leroy”; a New York based television writer named Laura Albert who adopted the persona of a queer male sex worker from West Virginia, whose novels gave rise to a cult following. Albert convinced her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop to play the part of the reclusive author at book and other celebrity events.

The Mola men’s best defence might be that collaborations are rarely rewarded in the publishing world and they aimed to explode that status quo. But they have made little of this, other than mentioning how they “combined their talents” to write their crime trilogy along with this new novel.

Planeta, meanwhile, are expected to honour both the publishing deal for La Bestia and the lucrative associated TV adaptation of the Blanco trilogy under the Carmen Mola name. Filming starts in January.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia and Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guide to the classics: Euripides’ The Trojan Women – an unflinching look at the brutality of war


Aomawa Baker as Andromache in a production of The Trojan Woman in Los Angeles.
Wikimedia Commons

Chris Mackie, La Trobe UniversityThe story of the long struggle for the life of the city of Troy might be thought of as the pre-eminent Greek myth. Extensive narratives of the war are told in the oral traditions of myth and literature, and they also appear very significantly in the material evidence of Greek art and architecture.

The Trojan Women, a play by the great Athenian dramatist Euripides (485-406 BC), was produced at Athens in the early spring of 415 BC. It is set immediately after the fall of Troy and the killing of the Trojan men when the fates of the royal women and children of the city are being decided by the victorious Greeks.

The grim subject-matter and mood of the play in its Trojan setting have a parallel in the Peloponnesian war, which was being fought at the time between Athens and Sparta (431 to 404 BC). The Trojan Women speaks both to the renowned war at Troy, described most famously by Homer in the Iliad, and to the great military struggle taking place in Euripides’ own lifetime.




Read more:
Guide to the classics: Homer’s Iliad


Bust of Euripides. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from circa 330 BC.
Wikimedia Commons

If there was a historical Trojan war it was probably fought in the late Bronze Age, perhaps in the 12th century BC at Hisarlik in north-west Turkey. Accounts of the war seem to have been passed on orally culminating in epic poems that probably date to the end of 8th century BC and after. The Iliad (c. 700BC) and the Odyssey (dated perhaps to a generation or two after the Iliad) are our two surviving early Greek epic poems on the Troy theme.

But we also know of a series of poems, now lost, called the “Epic Cycle”, six of which are focused on the Troy saga. All of these offered accounts of different parts of the Trojan war (which in the Greek tradition lasted for 10 years).

Early Greek epics made no attempt to document the historicity of the conflict in a modern sense, not the least because history hadn’t been invented when they were composed. History (a Greek word meaning “research” or “enquiry”) is a product of later (ie 6th and 5th century BC) rationalism and literacy.

One of four themed plays

As a late 5th century BC Athenian dramatist, Euripides is an heir both to the traditions of oral poetry and mythmaking, and to the rational enquiry of philosophy, rhetoric and history in a broad sense. Whilst Homer was greatly admired by the literati in 5th century Athens, he does represent a world long gone. (Homer’s Iliad may date up to 300 years before Euripides’ Trojan Women – as distant a period as the early 18th century is for us.)


goodreads

Euripides himself (485-406BC) was still writing into old age, not unlike his contemporary, the tragedian Sophocles (497/6-406BC), who was still producing plays at Athens into his early nineties! Euripides wrote about 90 plays, of which 18 survive, whereas the evergreen Sophocles wrote more than 120 plays, only 7 of which survive. They often competed at the dramatic festivals, with Sophocles easily the more successful.

Euripides wrote four plays for performance on that day in the early spring of 415BC, although only The Trojan Women has survived. We know, not the least from fragmentary evidence, that the first three plays were on the Trojan war theme, but they were not a tightly inter-connected trilogy of plays, as is Aeschylus’ Oresteia.

First was the play Alexander, which focused on the earlier life of the Trojan archer-figure Paris, or Alexander, as he is often known. In the myth of Troy it is he who judges the divine beauty contest (the Judgement of Paris), that precipitates the war between Greeks and Trojans.

The second play was the Palamedes, about a clever but rather obscure Greek prince at Troy. The Trojan Women was the third play presented on that day, and was followed in turn by a more light-hearted “satyr play” called the Sisyphus.

We learn from an ancient source that Euripides’ plays came second in the dramatic competition of 415.

Cold calculation

The Trojan Women focuses on a small group of women of the royal house of Troy who await their fate in Greece – Hecuba, the widow of king Priam; Cassandra, the prophetess daughter of Priam and Hecuba; Andromache, widow of Hector and mother of the boy Astyanax; and Helen of Sparta, who has to plead for her life from Menelaus, her former husband. The chorus of the play are captive Trojan women.

The only Greek prince to feature as a character is Menelaus himself whose task is to decide on Helen’s fate now that she has been captured. The cruel decisions of the departing Greek forces occur with Odysseus as a key player, but these are enunciated to the women by Talthybius, a Greek herald.

The women are dispersed as slaves to particular princes throughout the Greek world who have led contingents within the Greek army. The obvious cruelty of this process is added to by the cold calculation as to who will go where.

Thus, the girl Polyxena, daughter of Priam and Hecuba, was supposed to go to Achilles after the war; but seeing Achilles is now dead, she is sacrificed at his tomb.

Hector’s wife Andromache goes to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus because Hector and Achilles were rivals and had a major single combat in battle (told in Book 22 of the Iliad). Hecuba herself is to go to Odysseus – a terrible fate, upon which she laments her ill-fortune: “it is my lot to be slave to a vile and treacherous man”.

Cassandra will go as a sex slave to the lascivious and repulsive figure of Agamemnon, whilst Helen – the face that launched a thousand ships – is given back to Menelaus.

Attic plate depicting Ajax and Cassandra, circa 440-430 BCE.
Wikimedia Commons

Cassandra is murdered with Agamemnon upon their return to Mycenae, whereas Helen is a remarkable survivor upon her return to Greece. We encounter Helen again most especially in Homer’s Odyssey Book 4, where she has a kind of “normal” life and marriage with her former husband Menelaus in Sparta.




Read more:
Guide to the Classics: Homer’s Odyssey


It is important to remember that the extended story of the Trojan war is a genocide narrative, and that this comes through very emphatically within the play itself (as it does in other Greek literature).

The Greeks did not shrink from describing Greek atrocities perpetrated on the defeated Trojans. Indeed it is a feature of their narratives to focus on Greek cruelty. In the Iliad, for instance, Agamemnon urges his brother Menelaus on the battlefield to kill all Trojans, “even the boy that is carried in a mother’s womb”.

Hector’s last visit to his family before his duel with Achilles: Astyanax is on Andromache’s knees. Apulian red-figure column-crater, ca. 370–360 BC.
Wikimedia Commons

The horrific culmination of the cruelty in the Trojan Women is the killing of the boy Astyanax, the very young son of Hector and Andromache. This occurs within the course of the play itself (off stage, of course). Odysseus comes up with the idea of throwing him from the battlements of the city, and the Greeks even threaten to refuse the burial of his body if the Trojan women don’t co-operate with the decision to execute the boy.

Astyanax is a silent character in Homer and in Euripides, but his fate in the aftermath of the war speaks to us about infanticide, much as the fates of the Trojan women do with regard to rape and murder and the enslavement of women in war.

Women’s suffering

It does seem to be significant too that the only compassion for the women coming from Greek male characters in the play belongs to Talthybius, the (non-aristocratic) herald of the Greeks.

The Athenian audience in 415 BC knew very well the main mythical narratives of the aftermath of the Trojan war and the return home. They would know all about the death of Astyanax and about the return of Helen to Sparta to live again with her husband. They would also know, not the least from the prologue of Euripides’ play itself, that the Greek fleet will be hit by storms on the journey home on account of the rape of Cassandra by Locrian Ajax at the altar of Athena – an unpunished act which occurred prior to the opening of the play.

So the Trojan Women deals with the sharp end of Greek brutality in the war for Troy – the enslavement of women, human sacrifice, rape and infanticide.

The graphic violence dealt with in the play speaks to us about the absence of heroism in the narrative of Troy, despite what Homer and the epic poets provided in their earlier accounts.

The focus on women’s suffering in the war is in keeping with other works by Euripides, many of whose plays focused on female lives and female suffering in relentlessly male dominated environments.


goodreads

Inevitably, Euripides’ play has inspired many later treatments of the Trojan women theme. Two modern conscious responses to the Greek poets are novels by English author Pat Barker, who was moved to write The Silence of the Girls, based around the Iliad, and (most recently) The Women of Troy: A Novel, to hear the voices of the women themselves from Euripides’ play.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s review of The Women of Troy in the Guardian reiterates the violence of the language in Barker’s version: “clearly and simply told, with no obscurities of vocabulary or allusion, this novel reads sometimes like a retelling for children of the legend of Troy, but its conclusions are for adults – merciless, stripped of consoling, impressively bleak”.The Conversation

Chris Mackie, Professor of Classics, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New research finds a growing appetite for Australian books overseas, with increased demand in China


Actor Nicole Kidman and Big Little Lies’ Australian author Liane Moriarty at the Emmys in 2017.
Peter Mitchell/AAP

Paul Crosby, Macquarie University and Jan Zwar, Macquarie UniversityMany authors dream of overseas success for their work, but how Australian books find publication in other territories and languages is not well understood even in the publishing industry.

Our new research has found that between 2008 and 2018, the number of international book rights deals made for Australian titles grew by almost 25%. This was driven, in part, by the international success of adult fiction titles from 2012 onwards and increased demand for Australian books in China.

Interestingly, during this time, over half of all deals were for children’s books. Still, there was a significant increase in the number of deals struck for adult fiction, which now accounts for around 30% of deals each year. More than 9,000 deals were made over the decade.

While almost one in five deals specified the title would remain in English, 13.7% were made for Chinese translations, followed by Korean (7% of deals). The data also reveals the increasing importance of Eastern European markets such as the Czech Republic and Slovenia, along with decreased demand for German, Dutch and Spanish translations.

13.7% of deals were for Chinese translations.
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This is the first major attempt to measure the scale of Australia’s international book rights sales. Advances from them deliver a total of around $10 million each year to Australian writers, providing a valuable additional income stream.

Large, medium and even small Australian publishers are negotiating rights deals for their authors, and Australian literary agents are an established part of the international scene.

The success is across a broad range of genres including crime, romance, action thriller, contemporary women’s fiction, self-help and literary fiction.

Rights management involves a seller (who could be a publisher, literary agent or author) licensing the right to make and sell copies of a print, ebook or audiobook, and adaptation rights such as television, film and theatre.

63% of senior agents and publishers told us they felt there had been an increase in international interest in Australian authored books over the ten-year sample period.

Our findings include a report and case studies that aim to shed light on this important commercial and cultural aspect of the book industry.

The kids are alright

Titles aimed at younger readers (picture books up to young adult) were very popular with overseas buyers.

The reasons are not entirely clear: ultimately, the books themselves must work on their own terms in overseas markets. In addition to well-known series such as the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, Judith Rossell’s books featuring Stella Montgomery, and John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband adventure series, there are hundreds of lower-profile titles which have “travelled”.

The decades-long expertise of Australian authors, publishers and agents in specialist children’s genres (often overlooked in the industry before the success of the Harry Potter series) is also likely to be a factor.

Deal-making

Since the 1980s, Australian publishers and literary agents have quietly been building international networks based on years of attendance at key book fairs in Frankfurt, Bologna, New York, London and more recently, Shanghai. These fairs, along with welcoming delegations of publishing executives and other strategies, help them find exactly who might be receptive to a pitch about their latest Australian books.

As Libby O’Donnell, Head of International Rights and International Business Development at HarperCollins Australia, puts it, “Every book can potentially have some readers overseas but not every book can have a market overseas that makes it viable to publish.”

While attendance at book fairs and personal relationships are key to successful deals, we observed different models of deal-making. O’Donnell was involved in international auctions for Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe and Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss.

A theatrical production of Boy Swallows Universe at QPAC.
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She describes developing a carefully timed international campaign to draw out the biggest bids for these books. Six groups competed for the television rights to Boy Swallows Universe.

But rights sellers who work for some of the largest Australian publishers also described their passion for finding overseas publishers for books with less commercial potential. For Ivor Indyk at the highly respected literary press, Giramondo Publishing, it’s about forming alliances with like-minded literary publishers enabling overseas publication of Australian books that may become part of a literary canon.

Although publishers and agents benefit financially and in terms of prestige, ultimately, the biggest beneficiaries are authors. For most authors, the majority of their income will be from the Australia and New Zealand market. Rights income is “icing on the cake”.

A small proportion of Australian authors can live off their rights income, or sell substantially more books overseas than here. But most authors are excited by the opportunity to have their work read and appreciated overseas; offering another income stream and enhancing their international reputations.

However, the pandemic has hit the international book industry hard – with international travel on hold for so long.

Our report recommends initiatives such as mentoring arrangements and continued investment by industry and government in outgoing and incoming trade delegations (including to key book fairs). This will be more important than ever as publishers and agents re-establish connections after a hiatus of nearly two years.The Conversation

Paul Crosby, Lecturer, Department of Economics, Macquarie University and Jan Zwar, Faculty Research Manager, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.