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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

An Edmund Yates Dilemma

What do you do when the subject of your research is accused of not being the author of some of his most popular works? I mentioned this in my previous post on Edmund Yates but it's suddenly become a prominent issue in my thoughts as I prepare my upgrade chapter for submission.

To recap: there was a rumour circulating that Irish novelist, Frances Cashel Hoey, had written some - perhaps all - of Yates's novels. According to sources, Hoey confirmed this privately in the early days of the twentieth-century. However, these allegations were first levelled by two people Yates had quarrelled with in earlier years: his publisher, William Tinsley, and his colleague at the Post Office, Anthony Trollope. Those are hardly lightweight names in the world of Victorian fiction. The allegations were printed in Tinsley's memoir of 1900 and reprinted in many sources thereafter.

There are numerous questions about why Hoey didn't come forward in the years between Yates's death in 1894 and the publication of Tinsley's book. It reeks of jumping on the bandwagon somewhat, particularly as she continued working for Yates's the World in the years after his death. I can also state with substantial certainty that the tone of many of Yates's books are the same. His habits of digression, the way he describes characters and his plot progression all feel consistent throughout his work. They also match the tone of journalistic articles which it is certain he wrote. The scholar who has written most on Edmund Yates to date, P.D. Edwards, has said the allegations are 'unlikely' to be true but points out that it's impossible to say for certain. He does, however, make a compelling case against them. His attitude mirrors my own: he suggests that Hoey must have been a remarkable mimic and Yates a scrupulous editor hiding traces of her authorship. To be perfectly honest, I believe the time it would've taken Yates to check through all the work Hoey supposedly produced would've negated the time won by her writing anything in the first place.

In scanning the Internet over the last few days I've come across references to the rumour given as fact in early twentieth-century books. One pointed out that Yates abruptly stopped writing novels in the mid-1870s and suggested Hoey refused to cooperate further and that was why his fiction ceased. I'd counteract that with this: in 1874 Yates set about publishing his most successful periodical, the World. It's supposed that apart from the editorship, Yates contributed many other articles anonymously, nor did his additional work cease. It doesn't surprise me that further novels had to take a back-seat to these ventures. Equally, the popularity of the three-decker and sensation fiction generally was waning. Collins was still going, of course, but many sensation novelists had either sunk or diversified.

I could write a compelling argument of my own against these allegations if I so wished but that's my problem: I'm focusing on specific themes within Edmund Yates's work. I don't really want to engage with every person who held a grudge against him in his long career. In earlier drafts I've written these allegations off with a simple footnote and a reference to Edwards's research on the subject. Is this enough? If it isn't, what is?

I'm beginning to learn why Yates's has been critically abandoned for the last century!

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