Thursday, September 04, 2014


I've been spending quite a bit of time lately following the Wikipedia pages of "Articles for Deletion" or WP:AfD in Wikipedia parlance. This is a fascinating way to learn about the Wikipedia world. The articles for deletion fall mostly into a few categories:
  1. Brief mentions of something that someone once thought interesting (a favorite game character, a dearly loved soap opera star, a heartfelt local organization) but that has not been considered important by anyone else. In Wikipedian, it lacks WP:NOTABILITY.
  2. Highly polished P.R. intended to make someone or something look more important than it is, knowing that Wikipedia shows up high on search engine results, and that any site linked to from Wikipedia also gets its ranking boosted.
Some of #2 is actually created by companies that are paid to get their clients into Wikipedia along with promoting them in other places online. Another good example is that of authors of self-published books, some of whom appear to be more skilled in P.R. than they are in the literary arts.

In working through a few of the fifty or more articles proposed for deletion each day, you get to do some interesting sleuthing. You can see who has edited the article, and what else they have edited; any account that has only edited one article could be seen as a suspected bogus account created just for that purpose. Or you could assume that only one person in the English-speaking world has any interest in this topic at all.

Most of the work, though, is in seeing if you can establish notability. Notability is not a precise measure, and there are many pages of policy and discussion on the topic. The short form is that for something or someone to be notable, it has to be written about in respected, neutral, third-party publications. Thus a New York Times book review is good evidence of notability for a book, while a listing in the Amazon book department is not. The grey area is wide, however. Publisher's Weekly may or may not indicate notability, since they publish only short paragraphs, and cover about 7,000 books a year. That's not very discriminating.

Notability can be tricky. I recently came across an article for deletion pointing to Elsie Finnimore Buckley, a person I had never heard of before. I discovered that her dates were 1882-1959, and she was primarily a translator of works from French into English. She did, though, write what appears to have been a popular book of Greek tales for young people.

As a translator, her works were listed under "E. F. Buckley." I can well imagine that if she had used her full name it would not have been welcome on the title page of the books she translated. Some of the works she translated appear to have a certain stature, such as works by Franz Funck-Brentano. She has an LC name authority file under "Buckley, E. F." although her full name is added in parentheses: "(Elsie Finnimore)".

To understand what it was like for women writers, one can turn to Linda Peterson's book "Becoming a Woman of Letters and the fact of the Victorian market." In that, she quotes a male reviewer of Buckley's Greek tales, which she did publish under her full name. His comments are enough to chill the aspirations of any woman writer. He said that writing on such serious topics is "not women's work" and that "a woman has neither the knowledge nor the literary tact necessary for it." (Peterson, p. 58) Obviously, her work as a translator is proof otherwise, but he probably did not know of that work.

Given this attitude toward women as writers (of anything other than embroidery patterns and luncheon menus) it isn't all that surprising that it's not easy to establish WP:NOTABILITY for women writers of that era. As Dale Spender says in "Mothers of the Novel; 100 good women writers before Jane Austen":
"If the laws of literary criticism were to be made explicit they would require as their first entry that the sex of the author is the single most important factor in any test of greatness and in any preservation for posterity." (p. 137)
That may be a bit harsh, but it illustrates the problem that one faces when trying to rectify the prejudices against women, especially from centuries past, while still wishing to provide valid proof that this woman's accomplishments are worthy of an encyclopedia entry.

We know well that many women writers had to use male names in order to be able to publish at all. Others, like E.F. Buckley, hid behind initials. Had her real identity been revealed to the reading public, she might have lost her work as a translator. Of late, J.K. Rowling has used both techniques, so this is not a problem that we left behind with the Victorian era. As I said in the discussion on Wikipedia:
"It's hard to achieve notability when you have to keep your head down."

1 comment:

Diane Hillmann said...

Wonderful post Karen--you're an inspiration!