Maybe not so grand March 14, 2019 4:03 PM   Subscribe

This is fairly minor in the scheme of things, and I feel kind of weird making a post about it, but it never gets easier to see Georgette Heyer and The Grand Sophy warmly recommended.

For anyone who's not familiar, Heyer was the author of various light mysteries, thrillers, and particularly romances of the type to get recommended in threads looking for "gentle", "heartwarming, non-upsetting", "literary escapism".

Since those are exactly the things I'm looking for sometimes, I followed the recommendations here years ago and read one of her most frequently-recommended books, The Grand Sophy.

There comes a point where the titular Sophy goes to a moneylender to rescue a noble young scamp who borrowed funds to care for his poor family gamble with his buds.

"Faced with large debts of honour, already in hot water with his formidable brother for far smaller debts, what could he do but jump into the river, or go to the Jews?"

She goes to Mr. Goldhanger's office (whose greasiness and grime are described in great detail). It's all right because she's very brave.

"There was a pause, and she had an unpleasant feeling that she was being watched. She looked round, but there was no one in sight, and it was only when she turned her head again that she saw that an unmistakable eye was regarding her through a small hole in one of the panels of the door at the back of house. It disappeared instantly, there was the sound of a key turning in a lock, and the door was slowly opened to reveal a thin, swarthy individual, with long greasy curls, a semitic nose, and an ingratiating leer. He was dressed in a suit of rusty black, and nothing about him suggested sufficient affluence to lend as much as five hundred pence to anyone. His hooded eyes rapidly took in every detail of Sophy’s appearance, from the curled feathers in her high-crowned hat to the neat kid boots upon her feet. "

Even though "[t]he instinct of his race made him prefer, whenever possible, to maintain a manner of the utmost urbanity" she quickly strips him of that facade and, never fear, carries the day.


When I read this I was confused, because the books are set in the 1800s but I'd thought they were written at a much later period. So I looked it up, and sure enough, Heyer was writing about swarthy, greasy, leering, usurious Jewish moneylenders in 1950. Shortly after the Holocaust, though not so shortly that she or her publishers could have been unaware of it or of the role of those exact stereotypes in its development.

Personally I'd be happy if no one made any more money off her work, though I recognize she's a beloved author for many; as the comment that inspired this post points out, this ties into the overall debate about what to do about problematic art. What bothered me enough to make this post, though, is the knowledge that even antisemitism that crude and gratuitous (she could have just written an evil moneylender named Smith) just doesn't really bother people enough to not recommend the books with great enthusiasm all over the internet. I'm not sure it even registers for a lot of people. That's the part that hurts, and while I'd be most glad to not see Heyer recommended at all, I'd appreciate at least a content warning when recommending that book. Hardcore bigotry is the opposite of what at least some of those threads are looking for.
posted by trig to Etiquette/Policy at 4:03 PM (41 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

According to this article many editions of the book have an edited version of that scene with some of the worse stuff deleted, so I wonder if some of the people recommending the book have not encountered that passage as written.
posted by dfan at 4:38 PM on March 14 [15 favorites]


Oh, I hope that's the case.

I meant to say: I know it's tricky and that pretty much anyone who's not a thin white man of the proper class knows what it's like to come across bigoted depictions of themselves in (especially) older literature, and I think a lot of us learn early on to forgive authors for not seeing beyond the common prejudices of their times. With Heyer it's just the combination of the specific time when she wrote and the kind of greatest-hits nature of what she wrote that makes it feel like unusually vitriolic cruelty more than anything.
posted by trig at 4:56 PM on March 14 [10 favorites]


I was the one who recommended The Grand Sophy in that thread, and I have definitely recommended it here before. I wish I could say that my edition of The Grand Sophy is one of those with the edited text, but no, I just pulled it off my shelf and it's there in all its bigoted terribleness. So mea culpa, I'll definitely think twice before recommending the book again.

Not an excuse, but I read an awful lot of British literature and children's fiction as a child, and as a South Asian person myself, I tended to just automatically swallow a giant pinch of salt any time I came across a description of a non-Anglo Saxon person in the book. So my guess is that I just skimmed over that passage, not really registering its full terribleness. Agatha Christies were full of derogatory terms like "dago" and the like, Mary Stewart has some frankly racist descriptions of Arabs in her book the Gabriel Hounds, and let's not even talk about that favorite of Indian schoolchildren - Enid Blyton. In my head, I have always thought of them as period pieces, illustrative of the attitudes of people in that time - and as a child, the 1950s might as well have been the Middle Ages for how far away they seemed to me. It was only later, as an adult that I realized how very bigoted and racist people openly were within a generation or two (and honestly, still are). So that was a rude awakening. Anyway, as I said, I apologize, and while I honestly probably will not stop reading Heyer, I won't mention The Grand Sophy again without talking about that frankly racist passage you quoted.
posted by peacheater at 7:38 PM on March 14 [67 favorites]


So I looked it up, and sure enough, Heyer was writing about swarthy, greasy, leering, usurious Jewish moneylenders in 1950. Shortly after the Holocaust, though not so shortly that she or her publishers could have been unaware of it or of the role of those exact stereotypes in its development.

In the specific time, though, according to the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project:
Racial deed restrictions became common after 1926 when the U.S. Supreme Court validated their use. The restrictions were an enforceable contract and an owner who violated them risked forfeiting the property. Many neighborhoods prohibited the sale or rental of property to Asian Americans and Jews as well as Blacks.

In 1948, the court changed its mind, declaring that racial restrictions would no longer be enforced, but the decision did nothing to alter the other structures of segregation. It remained perfectly legal for realtors and property owners to discriminate on the basis of race.

In 1968, Congress passed the Housing Rights Act, finally outlawing discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity in the sale or rental of housing. Since then it has been illegal to act on the race restrictions that are embedded in so many deeds in Seattle and other King County communities.
And more specifically:
Richard Ornstein, a Jewish refugee from Austria, contracted to purchase a home for his family in the Sand Point Country Club area of Seattle in late 1952. Unknown to both Ornstein and the seller, the property’s deed contained a neighborhood-wide restrictive covenant barring the sale or rental of the home to non-Whites and people of Jewish descent.

In spite of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed racial restrictive covenants unenforceable in 1948, Ornstein’s case reveals that this ruling yielded little power over the application of these restrictions on the individual level. Daniel Boone Allison, Head of the Sand Point Country Club Commission, approached the realtor negotiating the sale and announced: “the community will not have Jews as residents.”1

Over the next several weeks Allison campaigned to stop the sale by both citing the covenant barring the sale of homes to Jews and by threatening Ornstein with a list of ways intolerant area residents “could” respond to the presence of the Ornstein family in the neighborhood. Despite the willingness on the part of the home seller, despite the support of civil rights activists, and despite the 1948 court ruling, Ornstein eventually became a victim of Allison’s threats and “made it clear that he [had] no intention of moving” into an area that did not accept his presence.2
What bothered me enough to make this post, though, is the knowledge that even antisemitism that crude and gratuitous (she could have just written an evil moneylender named Smith) just doesn't really bother people enough to not recommend the books with great enthusiasm all over the internet. I'm not sure it even registers for a lot of people. That's the part that hurts

I'm glad you wrote this post, and it reminds me of how I was introduced to Dickens in high school, with a similar content warning. These days, especially with news like Anti-Semitic Attacks Fuel Continuing Rise in Hate Crimes in New York (NYT), I think it can be important to talk about things like this.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:39 PM on March 14 [12 favorites]


(Oh and I guess one further clarification - I don't mean to say above that I didn't realize that The Grand Sophy was bigoted against Jewish people - I do remember thinking, wow, they're laying it on rather thick about Goldhanger - but I excused it as of its time - and was probably wrong to do so.)
posted by peacheater at 7:40 PM on March 14


I'm doing a bit more reading, and you're right, Heyer was egregiously bigoted, even for her time. This is a good discussion of The Grand Sophy specifically.
posted by peacheater at 7:48 PM on March 14 [9 favorites]


As the question poster, I really appreciate that folks gave this content warning; I loathe antisemitism in all its forms and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to not support this kind of work.
posted by terretu at 12:40 AM on March 15 [4 favorites]


I saw the first few sentences of this thread and thought "Oh no! I hope this isn't some thread praising that awful Georgette Heyer. I guess I'll skip reading it." so it is good to see that she is in fact being called out here.

I'm a fan of golden age mysteries and so am also used to, like peacheater, just quickly moving on from blatantly horrid characterizations or even charmless but well-meaning ones (see: Charlie Chan). But, honestly, Heyer is one of the worst.
posted by vacapinta at 3:09 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


I'm doing a bit more reading, and you're right, Heyer was egregiously bigoted, even for her time

Yeah, this is what kills me. Dickens and Fagan was legit a long time ago. Heyer should have known better, and what's worse is that what's in the book is just a sliver of some of the other shit she said and evidently thought. I wouldn't be surprised if I recommended Sophy on her at some point, either (yup, 2011 - It's not a great place to start, I take it baaaaaack!).

I used to really enjoy Georgette Heyer books, but reading up about her anti-semitic, racist, classist, tax-dodging ways and generally crappo sounding personality really soured me on her, and I haven't been able to read another one since someone here, I think made an offhand comment about her and I started reading up. Bad case of the Orson Scott Cards.
posted by smoke at 3:38 AM on March 15 [5 favorites]


The interesting thing about Dickens was that he was called out for Fagin and went out of his way to create sympathetic Jewish characters (who might be not beyond criticism themselves, but hey, it was the middle of the nineteenth century!), in particular Mr Riah in Our Mutual Friend (1865), as some sort of recompense.
posted by Grangousier at 6:39 AM on March 15 [15 favorites]


I think it's a great reminder about the purposes of books. If someone asked for "an overview of 20th century romances" or "the development of the historical / Regency romance" it might be fine to recommend Heyer (with content warnings, so that people can still decide whether they want to read it) because so many "classic" or "groundbreaking" romances are Problematic As Hell -- but it's important for us all to take special care when people specifically want escapist fiction for pleasure reading. (I still shudder at a thread somewhere where someone needed an escape from a loved one's health problems, and a poster recommended a Heyer that had a giant plot point in which a child was seriously, almost fatally injured and required extensive nursing.)

I wonder, too, if people who read romances have become so used to taking things with "grains of salt" -- or perhaps sublimating or forgetting whole parts -- because (like I said before), so much has Problems. Heyer is strange across the spectrum because she actually wrote varying types of romance plot -- so for example, she wrote some stuff that was pretty close to being a bodice ripper (Hello! This guy has tried to rape our heroine and she shot him! I guess it's a meet-cute?). And she wrote some weird age stuff, like before. The Grand Sophy doesn't really have those problems... but it does have that nasty anti-semitic part. I think there is a tendency to remember "the good parts" and then go back to a book and say, "Oh wait." If I recall correctly there are some unobjectionable books of hers that I really like, but then there is still the question of whether one can recommend her as an author.

Perhaps when we read for pleasure and as an escape, we remember the emotional feeling a book gave us more than the content. We recommend it to another because we want them to have that same feeling, but we can't all tolerate the same flaws in a book. And it's not wrong to read for pleasure and escape -- I don't think it's necessarily wrong to take pleasure in a book with problems -- but we overlook stuff.

In short, let's all keep reading the new stuff too, because more and more and better romances are being written every day, and they're not all perfect, but we need to find the good stuff. Read emotionally! Recommend critically.
posted by Hypatia at 8:22 AM on March 15 [7 favorites]


I really appreciate this post. I've seen Heyer's books recommended so many times as gentle feel-good reading. I've downloaded several and tried to read them a few times, never managed to get into any of them... and now I know it's fine to stop trying.

It's bad enough coming across that stuff when I know it was a product of its time. It would have been most unpleasant to find it in a 20th century novel that I turned to in pursuit of comfort and pleasure.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:34 AM on March 15


I am going to probably anger the above posters, but so what. If you ask anonymous strangers on the internet for book recommendations you get books that they liked. What offends you, may not offend them, though maybe it should. I have read all of Georgette Heyer’s works over and over again over a period of forty years. And I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them still, for me they are comfort reading, silly, funny romances. I feel the same about Dorothy Sayer, who is also problematic. So are Shakespeare, Dicken’s and many other authors. I can’t know what you are going to find so offensive that you have to publicly rebuke someone kind enough to answer a plea for reading material. If you don’t like an author that is recommended, quit reading that author, and move on. One person’s flower is someone else’s weed and vice versa. But saying, I don’t like Georgette Heyer and no one should recommend her is prescriptive authoritarianism in the extreme.
posted by Sunday Morning at 9:37 AM on March 15 [4 favorites]


But saying, I don’t like Georgette Heyer and no one should recommend her is prescriptive authoritarianism in the extreme.

Or would be, if anybody in here had the authority to say so and had said it, which is not the case. As I'm reading it, the point being made in the original post is: "while I'd be most glad to not see Heyer recommended at all, I'd appreciate at least a content warning when recommending that book."

This is a plea for people to remember to point out the problematic things, not any kind of a blanket statement that "Heyer will never be an appropriate answer to any question asked on this site." Indeed, as hypatia points out, failing to alert someone in advance about something like that is a disservice to the asker of certain questions. If someone were to ask a question along the lines of "I'm tired of the awfulness of the world and want to read some light romance fiction" then they might very well be well-served, rather than badly served, by being alerted to problematic elements of the work. That's not some kind of creeping authoritarianism: it is people being thoughtful about how to answer a question.
posted by gauche at 9:50 AM on March 15 [56 favorites]


And statements like this one: "One person’s flower is someone else’s weed and vice versa" suggest that there is some moral equivalence to both sides of the bigotry coin, which, especially on a day like today, is not a great thing to say or to think.
posted by gauche at 9:53 AM on March 15 [48 favorites]


... not a great thing to say or to think.
posted by gauche at 9:53 AM on March 15 [+] [!]


Eponysterical
posted by hanov3r at 9:57 AM on March 15


And statements like this one: "One person’s flower is someone else’s weed and vice versa" suggest that there is some moral equivalence to both sides of the bigotry coin, which, especially on a day like today, is not a great thing to say or to think.

I'll also add that The Grand Sophy isn't, like, a subtle case. It isn't even coded. Heyer wears her bigotry on her sleeve in The Grand Sophy. She goes to significant pains OVER and OVER and OVER in those passages to remind you that the moneylender is JEWISH and does JEWISH things in his JEWISH voice in a JEWISH room in a JEWISH area. Even the edited versions are blatantly anti-Semitic.

And I say this as somebody who has read a lot of Heyer, and enjoyed a lot of Heyer. "A Civil Contract" is one of my favorite books of all time. But I have never re-read "The Grand Sophy."

for me they are comfort reading, silly, funny romances

... yes, for you. But not for people who have experienced or are otherwise upset by anti-Semitism.
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:35 AM on March 15 [39 favorites]


As someone who owns five copies of Brideshead Revisited, I understand feeling defensive when a problematic fave is criticized; however, it doesn't hurt to give a heads up when something goes beyond period-typical racism or anti-semitism. I love Cold Comfort Farm, one of the books mentioned in the thread, and I've wondered if pre-WW2 and English is enough of a warning because the anti-semitism in it is so brief many readers miss it, or if it should be mentioned for readers who are unfamiliar with the genre. In the past I haven't mentioned it because I think it's unlikely that it would be someone's first pre-1945 novel if they are here looking for suggestions.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:19 AM on March 15 [7 favorites]


I can report that H.G. Wells The Comet is horribly antisemitic and also just plain super racist. Not in passing, but pretty much from start to finish as a major plot arc. The first time I read it I was so confused that I thought it was about to arc off into some complicated parody, but, nope.
posted by loquacious at 11:27 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


While I also don't see anyone saying NEVER READ THIS or w/e, I will say that there are so goddamn many books in the world and I have no time for this crap. So I won't read it, and I appreciate the heads up.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:50 AM on March 15 [17 favorites]


Wow, I will never touch her work again, and thank you for the information. What an abhorrent person! I certainly can't relate to others who say they'll just keep reading her other books, and just avoid this one. That's a real slap in the face to many I'm sure. In solidarity.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:48 PM on March 15


I appreciate this post, and also Botanizer's comment in the original thread. Heyer is so widely recommended for froth/fluff/comfort/escapism in particular; it's exceedingly reasonable to ask people to reconsider recommending her for those purposes, and to add an advisory note if they do choose to recommend.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 2:18 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


I can’t know what you are going to find so offensive that you have to publicly rebuke someone kind enough to answer a plea for reading material.

We can hope that anti-semitism (and other isms) are widely abhorred enough that one can assume the poster will find such things offensive and either a) not recommend a book that contains them or b) call them out as present in the book one is recommending. Also, the original poster of the linked thread and the commenter recommending the book have both spoken in this thread and appear to be glad the post was made.
posted by booksherpa at 3:53 PM on March 15 [16 favorites]


I've read a lot of Heyer, mostly as a youngster, and I had no idea so I think I must have read the bowdlerized Grande Sophie. But I do have a lot of sympathy for peacheater here as well because as a person of colour you cannot bloody read hardly any mainstream vintage English novels without being slapped in the face by racism and anti-semitism over and over again. And as peacheater said or implied, if you don't develop a habit of tuning it out, there's very little left for you to read.

No Kipling, no R L Stevenson, no R M Ballantyne, definitely no Edgar Rice Burroughs nor Capt. W E Johns. Absolutely not any Evelyn Waugh. No John Buchan - The 39 Steps might lead you over to Greenmantle and then where would you be - and I have my doubts about Beatrix Potter. No Conan Doyle. (Oddly enough you could probably have a go at reading Rider Haggard without injury as long as you were squinting through half-closed eyelids.) And also, as has been said above, some of us will have come across versions that have had the worst passages cleaned up - I can't tell you what a shock it was to read the original Treasure Island as an adult.

I think the call out is useful and valuable and it's a good thing to pay attention to. At the same time some of us have had to do most of our reading the way Laura Mulvey describes women privately re-interpreting male-gazey films. We've had to mentally reconstruct a better book than we actually read, to the extent that the horrid bits aren't remembered when we make a recommendation.

And there were and are so many horrid bits. Those are the books I grew up with above, and they were thought of as classics and children's classics.
posted by glasseyes at 5:56 PM on March 15 [20 favorites]


nobody's suggesting that Heyer ought to be banned. What's being suggested is that, when people ask for gentle, escapist reading, if you're going to recommend something racist, maybe an asterisk is in order.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:26 PM on March 15 [24 favorites]


I don’t think anyone is confusing Georgette Heyer with Tolstoy. She’s a trashy romance novelist—trashy is trashy.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:29 PM on March 15


I'm not a fan of entire genres, particularly those primarily read by female readers, being dismissed as trashy.
posted by peacheater at 7:38 PM on March 15 [35 favorites]


The genre is not the problem- the anti-Semitic author is the problem.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:48 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


I'm not a fan of entire genres, particularly those primarily read by female readers, being dismissed as trashy.

Yes, it's complicated. We recognize, for example, that Huck Finn has problematic aspects--but we also give Huck Finn a "pass" because it's Great Literature that we Ought To Read. But if the problematic parts are bad in and of themselves, then why should it get a pass? Or why should Huck Finn get a pass and "trashy" stuff does not? But then many of us say "A moral system should allow for people to read Huck Finn". And some people (I don't agree with them) also say "But since these books were written as light entertainment, you can't have the same moral standards as Serious Literature ought to have."
posted by Hypatia at 8:12 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


I don't think it would be helpful to take this MetaTalk into the wider question of what is Literature and what is Trash.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:38 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


I think Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tends to get a pass because the author wasn't writing from a position of poisonous racism; Clemens was, by all contemporary accounts, pretty progressive. If he'd been trying to write racist propaganda, I suspect he'd have had a different circle of friends, perhaps one that didn't include Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass.

But it would certainly change my feelings on the book if it turned out there'd been a huge error and the author was instead, I dunno, some slaveowning plantation king who penned it between KKK rallies while resisting Reconstruction. Or even just somebody in the 20th century without any firsthand experience of what they were writing. Sure, it doesn't literally change the text, but it'd be hard to ever read it again the same way.

And that seems to be the analogous situation to Heyer; it seems that yeah actually she was a pretty ugly antisemite, it's not like she was just trying to inject some historical realism or vernacular perspective into her work or whatever. I'm not comfortable telling people they should or shouldn't read something, but it seems pretty reasonable to make sure people know what they're getting into with a particular author, so they can decide if it's worth their time.

I appreciated the heads-up, at any rate.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:47 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


I especially appreciate you posting this here and framing it the way you have. It is good to have a reasonably calm discussion about something rather than an argument in the thread.
posted by Altomentis at 1:27 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


But saying, I don’t like Georgette Heyer and no one should recommend her is prescriptive authoritarianism in the extreme.

No, saying "I don’t like Georgette Heyer and no one should recommend her"and actually having the power to ban all of her books, burn existing copies and punish her readers with death is authoritarianism in the extreme. In this instance, saying "I don’t like Georgette Heyer and no one should recommend her" is just an opinion you don't like and are free to ignore.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:06 AM on March 16 [23 favorites]


I think posting warnings about antisemitism on a site like this is really important. My sense is that Metafilter tries to be inclusive. For someone to read a book based on repeated recommendations, and then find glaring antisemitism in that book, can potentially send a message that's anything but inclusive.
posted by BibiRose at 5:33 AM on March 16 [10 favorites]


Or why should Huck Finn get a pass

Huck Finn is one of the most commonly challenged books in the U.S. When it is taught in virtually any (public) school, its language and treatment of race and racial politics are very much part of the curriculum. It does not "get a pass" just because it's still in print.
posted by Etrigan at 5:38 AM on March 16 [13 favorites]


Well, that’s a bummer. I read a *lot* of Georgette Heyer as a kid, and apparently glazed over the racism/anti-semitism (and me a Jew, too). (I’m not sure I read The Grand Sophy though.) Guess I won’t recommend them to my daughter. Too bad, since it was my mother and grandmother whose books they were and who recommended them to me.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:08 PM on March 16


Thank you all so much for all the supportive comments in this thread. It's been an unexpectedly hard two days which is why I'm coming back in only now.

In response to the comment that asked "so what" - that's something I was struggling with when I was trying to decide whether to make this post, because in the scheme of things Georgette Heyer is really very minor, and like many in this thread I'm one of those readers who had to learn at an early age to make my peace with what would basically feel like a slap in the face from beloved books and authors. Like everyone else, I learned to look past things and accept them, and there are a lot of things I didn't register at all.

I think waking up to the news about the shooting in Christchurch helped me to clarify the feeling that had ultimately made me make the post the day before. (Whether I'll be able to express it coherently enough here is another question.)

The thing about forgiving authors for being a product of their time is that it's really about forgiving them for absorbing the lessons of the society they were part of, and of the specific circles they spent time in. In other words, the question is what they learned from the people around them. Dickens was an apparently well-intentioned person who inadvertently spread truly harmful stereotypes because they were unremarkable to him, just part of the water he swam in. If he had had enough friends or acquaintances who actually spoke in his presence about antisemitism and its various real-life consequences, he would have been that much more likely to recognize the quality in his own work and correct for it (as he did when it finally was pointed out to him). Someone like Georgette Heyer had no excuse as good as ignorance, but it's reasonable to assume that she also didn't worry about kickback from anyone in her own circles about her antisemitism. If so, that would mean that to the people she cared about her kind of bigotry would have been somewhere between unexceptional and lauded. She would probably not ever have imagined that anyone in her circle might disinvite her to tea or tell her, uncomfortably, that it hurt them.

What bothered me about the Heyer recommendations is that we are now the ones forming the societies and circles that teach people what to recognize and what to filter out, what's acceptable and what isn't, and why. And I think it really takes a critical mass for things to change. I know so many people who were happy to claim last week that Muslims are terrorists and threats to "our" civilization, and unless this week's shooting has somehow been a wake-up call in a way that all the previous ones haven't, they'll be no less fine claiming the same things next week, even to me, when they know what I feel about it. These are people who see themselves as good, and I'm pretty sure that being seen as good by society is fundamental to their self-image. They feel comfortable with specifically the forms of bigotry that they know most of their friends are comfortable with, most of their acquaintances are comfortable with, most of their media is comfortable with. When contradictory voices are anything less than pervasive they can be dismissed as hopelessly naive, bleeding-heart, unpatriotic - and, most importantly, as just plain not representative of good society as a whole.

The fact that a lot of readers on even the more progressive parts of the internet don't really register the antisemitism in TGS is a problem, and I'm not calling anyone out here at all - we all filter different things out, myself very much included. But that filtering out, that lack of pervasive acknowledgement when something is wrong or harmful - even when it's as ridiculously egregious as in that book - is what helps preserve the climate where enough people learn that it's normal or acceptable, and some people even learn that it's right.

I've been re-reading/re-watching a lot of old favorites lately, and it's been really something to see how many things I didn't pick up on in the past, and how serious some of those things are. I think a lot of the things I notice now are things I've learned to notice because of discussions on metafilter, and while on the one hand it sucks because it diminishes enjoyment of some things, on the other hand I'm really grateful for it because the last thing I want to be blind to is bigotry. I also always wonder when recommending problematic favorites to others how much of a heads-up to give them - do they really need it? Will it just come across as virtue-signalling? But thinking about my own reaction to the Heyer stuff has made me realize how much it helps just to know that other people see these things too. I want to live in a society where I know that people see the things that affect me, and where they know that people see the things that affect them. I don't have enough of that in real life unfortunately, and it can get really frightening and lonely.

It's funny because I don't like it when it feels that people are being prescriptive at me, and "you can't tell me what I can and can't read" is very much where I come down. But I don't think there's a contradiction here. I think there's a difference between not being allowed to read a book, and reading it with the knowledge that there are things in it that are broadly considered unacceptable, or that do harm even if it's not broadly recognized, for the following reasons.

Finally I just really want to thank peacheater for their extremely generous response. I definitely didn't mean to put you on the spot - this was something that had been eating at me for years and, like I said, I feel like I've been coming across Heyer recommendations all over the internet. I was worried about how this post would be received - I figured in the good case it would get a tiny number of comments and mostly be ignored - and it really helped to read all the comments here. The sheer pervasiveness of bigotry of any kind depresses the hell out of me and so it's been an especially hard two years, and I guess I was just personally at kind of a breaking point when I made this post. The comments here remind me that it's not pervasive everywhere - which I know intellectually, but turns out it really helps to be reminded.

So thanks again.
posted by trig at 4:43 PM on March 16 [55 favorites]


Your comment above: flagged as fantastic, Trig.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:18 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post, trig. It was thoughtful and well-framed.

As a voracious reader with a terrible memory, I’d like to add that one of the joys of MetaFilter is that we can build upon one another’s answers. I’m sure that there are books that I have recommended here that could have used a content warning, but I often forget minor plot points or character details, even if I take offense to them in the moment. I also tend not to look into the personal lives and beliefs of the authors I read. This is, of course, a benefit of my privilege, and it’s something I am approaching differently these days, but it’s not something I thought about for most of my life.

All this is to say that if one of your fellow MeFites makes a recommendation that strikes you as inappropriate, by all means make note of that in a comment, but remember that they may just be forgetful or oblivious like me, and more than likely do not intend to support bigotry and hate.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:03 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


[W]e are now the ones forming the societies and circles that teach people what to recognize and what to filter out, what's acceptable and what isn't, and why. ... I think a lot of the things I notice now are things I've learned to notice because of discussions on metafilter, and while on the one hand it sucks because it diminishes enjoyment of some things, on the other hand I'm really grateful for it because the last thing I want to be blind to is bigotry.

These sentences perfectly encapsulate my feelings on this sort of thing. My kids are old enough now that I’m able to remember things I enjoyed at their age, and sometimes rediscovering it with them is less delightful than I expected it to be. It’s prompting some awkward and unexpected conversations, but I would so much rather have them than pretend that there’s no issue to discuss. It’s also a good reminder to me that maybe I should pre-re-discover certain things before reading/watching/sharing with my kids. My dad sent us a complete set of Sherlock Holmes stories, for instance...

Trig, I really appreciate you posting this. I’ve never read Heyer, but the broader point is so important and as you say, something that MetaFilter has taught me a great deal about. Thanks for helping us all try to do a little better.
posted by nickmark at 9:25 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]


I was so horrified when I was listening to Oliver Twist on audio book with my kid and we discovered it's a flaming pile of anti-Semitism . I personally am willing to read a fair amount of offensive stereotypes in older books, but some cross my personal comfort line, and I never finished Oliver Twist.

When recommending books with racist, anti-semitic or other offensive content that I still found compelling for whatever reasons, I definitely think it's wise to give people a heads up so they can make their own choice.
posted by latkes at 3:09 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


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