Monday, April 13, 2015

Tolkien and Women: Dorothy Everett

So, there's that phenomenon every scholar knows where you research, write, and publish a piece, only to later find out that you got something wrong. Some piece of information you relied upon turns out to be wrong, or you simply find new evidence which contradicts a conclusion you made based on all the information available to you at the time. That's why we have errata, and revised editions: to be able to set things to rights with a minimum of fuss. Still, it's a sinking feeling which helps keep us humble.

I don't think there's a word for the opposite phenomenon, that happy moment when you come across some fact that actually strengthens your argument, made on other grounds: something you'd gladly have included in your original piece had you only known of it at the time.

I had an example of that this week. I've been doing some research on the Clarendon Chaucer, Tolkien's never-finished collaboration with Geo. Gordon, as part of my Kalamazoo piece, and ran across a passage that'd escaped my notice before. It seems that in May of 1951, when Tolkien turned over all materials for the long-abandoned project to Oxford University Press in hopes they might be able to find another Middle English scholar to complete the book, Tolkien "has suggested that Dorothy Everett might complete the book" but the head of the Press "does not want to distract her from another project" (Scull-Hammond CHRONOLOGY, p. 375). Given that earlier it had been suggested that E. V. Gordon, Tolkien's collaborator on the SIR GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT and several other unfinished projects, and fellow future Inkling J. A.W. Bennett might take over the project, that Tolkien wd suggest Everett for the job seems to indicate that he had a high regard for her ability to do a good job as his collaborator. I had argued in my piece "The Missing Women: JRRT's Lifelong Support for Women's Higher Education"* that Tolkien was a strong supporter of women taking advanced degrees and pursing medieval scholarship (as opposed to the much more dismissive attitude of his friend C. S. Lewis), and this provides just another example which I'd have been glad to include, had I noticed it in time. As for Everett herself, I need to look up more about her. As it is, she flits through the great Scull-Hammond CHRONOLOGY without making much of an impact, leaving behind the general impression that she was someone who went to a lot of the same committee meetings as JRRT. I do know she died just two years after being mooted for the Clarendon Chaucer project, so that may have had something to do with its ultimately being abandoned.

--John R.

*recently published in PERILOUS AND FAIR: WOMEN IN THE WORKS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, ed. Croft & Donovan


Wayne and Christina said...

We also included an article about Dorothy Everett in the Reader's Guide, p. 269.

Wayne & Christina

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Wayne. Hi Christina.

Yes, and it does mention the Clarendon Chaucer. But the Clarendon Chaucer entry in that same volume (pp. 153-156) does not, I think, mention Everett as a possible successor the way it does EVG and Bennett. Hence I only learned of her connection to the project by reading all the CHRONOLOGY entries on the Clarendon Chaucer, which then let me know I needed to go back and read the Everett entry in the other volume. So once again the two-volume set proves to be a researcher's goldmine. I find I get the most out of it when I'm following up some thread, some specific topic (thanks to the excellent index).

--John R.