Years ago, before I knew enough to notice authors’ names, I read a sc-ifi story in my big brother’s collection. It was about a brilliant scientist whose body was dying but whose powerful brain was still functioning. A means had been discovered of transferring his thoughts, work and memories to another brain so his creation could go on, so it was hoped. A convict on death row had volunteered to be the vessel for the great man’s oeuvre so it might continue. The black prisoner had no hope of reprieve but he hoped to continue some sort of life that seemed to be promised.
The story begins with the dying mans’ recollections of his past. Thus the reader can track his life as it is transferred to another man’s body/brain/memory. After the expected death, the narrative P.O.V. is transferred to the surviving prisoner. It seems to go well; he is not only functioning but brilliant as expected. One catch. All his memories are white. That is, his memory of lab work, of computing, of anything the scientist had done, is of white hands doing the work, in constant denial of a present reality in which the living hands were black. The discrepancy between memory and reality tears the host's mind open and he becomes himself, still a vicious killer, capable of the crimes for which he was initially condemned to death.
I thought of that often as I progressed in my academic/literary career. As old as I am, being born into an even more male-dominated world than now, where females were restricted and confined and where few of them managed to create in their own right, my knowledge and memories came from white, i.e. male, hands doing the creating , and continuing to do so. Had I been younger, that is, born later in the century, I would have been a Rhodes scholar. No women were considered in my time. The Student Union was chaired by a male president while the president of the Women’s Association was allowed to sit on the board, not even a vice-president. It was a good decade later before the late, esteemed Canadian author, Heather Robertson, also a University of Manitoba alumna, became the first woman editor of The Manitoban, the university newspaper. I used to contribute articles and poetry.
And so with the authors of classic literature. We were fortunate that a few dazzling aberrations survived: Aphra Behn, Amantine-Lucile Aurore Dupin and Mary Ann Evans (best known by their adopted masculine names: George Sand and George Eliot); the two Janes (Austen and Eyre); but many fell by the wayside. A number of the finest Restoration playwrights were women, with higher box offices than the men, but you never heard of them now, obscured as they have been by Congreve, Wycherley, Goldsmith et al. I grant you, Shakespeare was a man. You all know Virginia Woolf’s theory that if Shakespeare had been a woman, when she went off to London to make her name in theatre and began by holding horses, she would have been raped, knocked up, and then have died giving birth in a ditch, nameless and unsung. I wrote a play based on this plot idea. (Androgyne, first and only production 1995, but available as a play script from the Playwrights Guild of Canada.)
I do go on. And will continue to do so, as long as I'm allowed.