BMCR 2003.10.22

Response: Herbert-Brown on Weiden Boyd on Herbert-Brown

Response to 2003.09.34

1 Responses

Response by

A recurring motif in Barbara Weiden Boyd’s review of Ovid’s Fasti: Historical Readings at its Bimillennium is the editorial shortcomings of the book. The motif is introduced in her second paragraph, then pops up again strategically through her appraisal of the essays of Barchiesi, Gee, Green, Littlewood, Newlands, and Pasco-Pranger. It reappears again in her final paragraph, where we are reminded once more of the book’s “inadequate editorial supervision.”

It is unusual to find protracted negative attention drawn to the editorial process in a review of a collection of essays, particularly when the reviewer is unable to expose any flaws of a serious nature in that regard. Compare, for example, Roy Gibson’s succinct assessment of Weiden Boyd’s shortcomings as editor of Brill’s Companion to Ovid (BMCR 2003.01.34): “There are occasional inaccuracies in the citation of dates of published works, and the editor perhaps ought to have forcibly inserted more cross-references between papers if the individual contributors were not able or willing to make the connections for themselves.”

Gibson’s criticism of Weiden Boyd’s inadequacy in the area of cross-referencing seems to be a sensitive issue to her because that is the area she focuses upon most when trying to demonstrate editorial mismanagement in Ovid’s Fasti. In addition, the manner in which she does so sometimes undermines even more the notion of impartiality in her judgement. Consider, for example, her words at the conclusion of her appraisal of Gee’s paper: “Finally, I note that G[ee] appears not to have had the opportunity to read Barchiesi’s contribution to this volume; . . . This circumstance has resulted presumably through no fault of her own.”

Weiden Boyd’s comment is indeed ironic, given Gibson’s observation of her own weakness. Unfortunately, that is not the worst of it. In the preface to Ovid’s Fasti, it is stated ( “Cross-referencing of subjects and themes is to be found in the index . . .”. Weiden Boyd omits to mention this. Yet at the end of the review, she admits that the index is “adequate”. The omission of the former and the admission of the latter makes her refrain about the book’s inadequate cross-referencing disingenuous.

The second category under censure comprises problems of a stylistic and structural nature. Weiden Boyd clearly has a “style” hobby horse, for she devotes many words to such matters throughout her unusually long review. My own argument is “convoluted and messy”, the papers of Littlewood and Miller could have been longer, that of Newlands could have been shorter in the first half, longer in the second; Gee’s style is too indeterminate, Keegan’s too determinate. And so on. But in two instances Weiden Boyd blames such problems directly on a lack of editorial control: Barchiesi’s paper could have been improved by “a firmer editorial hand”, and Green’s needed “editorial intervention”.

I did not see it as my place as editor to rewrite the papers of eminent scholars and indeed, saw no need to. Flexibility and tolerance are important editorial virtues. Perhaps the defects cited above are only perceived as such because they are not as Weiden Boyd would have written them. Her intolerance of Keegan’s style, for example, is blatant. Did she not read the BMCR guidelines for reviewers?

It is only in the third area, that of the bibliography, that I accept responsibility. The few errors of repetition to be found there are an oversight on my part. I apologise for those errors. I am relieved however, that my critic was unable to discover “inaccuracies in the citation of dates of published works”. I would regard problems of that nature to be far more serious.

It is just in the bibliography then, that attention needed to be drawn to an editorial oversight. Weiden Boyd’s repeated criticism of the editorial process throughout her review is gratuitous, and, when seen in that light, communicates rather more than she might have wished.