The foundation that holds the copyright to The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank plans to add her father as a co-author to extend the term of copyright.
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20 November 2015
There is something terribly sad about this article. In my oft-odd way of thinking, I am reminded of the recent publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's apparent very rough draft for To Kill A Mockingbird.
The "connection" that comes to mind revolves around the damage that can be done to a book when some historical tidbit becomes sensationalized in ways that threaten the author's reputation.
In the case of Harper Lee, the publication of Go Set A Watchman, even in pre-publication, immediately became sensationalized pointing all attention to the possibility that Atticus Finch was actually a racist and that Harper Lee could also be a very mediocre writer. While at the same time playing down the more important serious questions about whether Harper Collins had actually secured the rights to publish Go Set A Watchman. It is not difficult to become suspicious that Harper Collins' decision to consider very thin evidence "proof enough" that Harper Lee somehow, maybe in a sort of way, was probably okay, with the publication. Potential damage to Harper Lee's literary reputation and to the reputation of one of literature's greatest protagonists be damned. There's profit to be made in publishing Go Set a Watchman.
Harper Lee, like virtually all published authors, had taken the advise of a professional editor, and recognized that serious revision was in order, leading to the much improved To Kill A Mockingbird. And, I suspect like virtually all published authors, she kept the first draft of her first novel as a personal keepsake.
As to The Diaries of a Young Girl, the idea of changing the authorship to include Otto Frank as a co-author raises concerns and suspicions that threaten the importance of having Anne Frank's tragic story available to touch our hearts and to influence our moral compasses.
The article points at two sad possibilities that may become the focal point of sensationalistic misdirection. The first being that the primary purpose of changing the authorship might be to work around copyright laws that would put the work into the public domain. The second being that there is something disreputable about the possibility that Otto Frank acted as an editor for the diary. There are acceptable defenses in both cases.
In the first case, particularly since the diary is a work relating to the horrors of the Holocaust, the end of copyright protection puts the work in the hands of Holocaust deniers who have ceaselessly taken every opportunity to spread their vile intentions. We can be sure they will be loud and unreliable in their exploitation of the end of copyright protection.
In the second case, changing of the authorship to include Otto Frank as a co-author shifts his role from having a degree of acceptibility as an editor to what the anti-factual haters can sensationalize as being proof of the story being little more than a deceitful fabrication; discrediting the essential truth of the story.
Did Anne Frank actually write the diary with intentions to publish? That may be unlikely. She was a young girl keeping a diary. Had she survived would the diary have taken on an importance that might have led her to polish the story a bit, perhaps with an editor? I would like to think so. Can Otto Frank be faulted for recognizing the importance of the content of his daughter's diary? I don't think so.
I do not know how much liberty Otto Frank took when editing the diary. I do not know to what degree he trimmed or enhanced the story. I do know that the essential narrative has served humanity in very important ways.
The questions raised in this article are fair. Are there ulterior motives at play? However there are responsibilities associated with raising those questions lest in pursuit of answers run the risk, exemplified by the article's title, of misdirecting attention towards what can be sensationalized as sharing negative assumptions similar to the distortion of the historical record often associated with the code phrase "revisionist history."
If we care, we must be careful.
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