It's fair to say that I spend most of my time lost in the pages of a fictional romance. But I'd like to take a moment to ponder two romances making waves in the book market. Two famous, real historical personalities, Emily Dickinson and Anne Frank, are getting attention for romances they may or may not have had.
As a reader (and hopeless romantic) I always like to hear about the romances of historical figures, so I was intrigued by Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson And Her Family's Feuds by Lyndall Gordon. The book proposes that Emily Dickinson was not the reclusive figure that she is in public memory. Instead, Gordon discusses the likelihood of a longtime May-December romance between Dickinson and her father's best friend, Ottis Philips Lord.
The relationship supposedly began after the death of Dickinson's father, when she was in her late 40s, despite the fact that Lord was married to another woman. After Lord's wife died, when Dickinson was 47, she and Lord began to discuss marriage. According to Gordon, the pair continued their romance until she was in her 50s and decided they could not marry.
As a reader, I am much more likely to forgive a historical figure for doing things that would make me put down a book about a fictional character. (Clearly, I am of the camp that having loved and lost is far better than to have never loved at all.) In the case of Emily Dickinson, I can overlook that she was cheating with a man who had a dying wife and instead focus on the thought that she might not have been so lonely. It is also a treat to see quotations from the lyrical letters that went back and forth between Dickinson and Lord.
So why do I find myself much more up in arms in latest (and unabashedly more fictional) look at Anne Frank? Y.A. author Sharon Dogar has created Annexed, the fictional journals of Frank's childhood friend, and sometimes sweetheart, Peter van Pels. The novel, set to release in September, has already created a fury of controversy. There have been conflicting accounts of the response to the book from both Anne Frank's first cousin, Buddy Elias, and the Anne Frank estate.
The sticking point seems to be the amount of sexual content in the story. The Telegraph reported "Andersen Press, the publisher, said that Dogar 'feels they had sex, but this was taken out from an earlier version'." But there is no doubt that the story has Peter van Pels' account of his sexual response to Frank. In the Telegraph article, Dogar, defended her choice of making the fictional diary steamy by referring to the fact that in Frank's diaries they talk about sex. Despite Klaus Flugg of Andersen Press's assertion in Bookseller.com that "there are no sexual scenes" in the story, YAs do sometimes walk a fine line between "sex scenes" and "sexual scenes". And either way, I don't like the idea of Anne Frank being more sexually active than kissing and cuddling.
I am uncomfortable with the idea that someone has sexualized the life of this tragic historical figure, frozen forever at 16. And while I'd love Frank to fall in love with a cute boy, and am okay with the idea that that cute boy is Peter van Pels, I am not comfortable with Frank being sexually active. And while teens may be talking about sex and kissing boys, rarely are even 16-year-olds emotionally ready for the complications of being sexually active.
So, what do you think? Should I hold Emily Dickinson to the same standards that I do fictional characters? Are you unconcerned with the sexual fictionalization of Anne Frank - because, hey, it's fiction? Let me know!