Friday, July 24, 2009

All Requite on the Western Front

quiting--a literary "conversation" in which a writer answers or responds to a previously published work; derived from Middle English requite "a return to someone or something."

A noteworthy contemporary example of quiting is Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel, which requites the title and content of Wallace Stevens's poem,"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." In similar fashion, Wallace Stevens requited John Keats's Ode on a "Grecian Urn" with "Anecdote of the Jar." When he composed "Troilus and Cressida," Shakespeare was requiting Geoffrey Chaucer's Middle English "Troilus and Criseyde," which Chaucer actually picked up from the "Roman de Troie," written in French in the mid-twelfth century by BenoƮt de Sainte-Maure. Each of these versions added changes and perspectives, two essential elements to quiting. Similarly, James Joyce requited the poet or poets we now think of as Homer in Joyce's famed recounting of The Odyssey, known to us as the novel Ulysses.

Quiting may also be seen as a payback, as Montresor requited or paid back Fortunato in Poe's "A Cask of Amontilado." thus a contemporary writer may indulge in a "conversation" with another writer, even one long dead. American copyright laws that are interpreted to support a writer's use of his property expressly supported J.D. Salinger when another author sought to use characters based on his own inventions from The Catcher in the Rye. In this same construct, no one complained when Valerie Martin retold Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through the point of view of an Irish maid in her novel Mary Reilly, nor of Herman Melville's Captain Ahab in Sena Nasland's novel, Ahab's Wife, one evident message being: if you're going to requite an author, pick one whose work is now safely in public domain. Another message is to make some recognizable contribution to the effect and understanding of the original work.

You could argue that Shakespeare was one of the great quiters, having refurbished or reformulated the works of earlier writers such as Geoffrey of Monmouth (appx. 1100--appx. 1155), notably in Julius Cesear, Cymbeline, and Lear, not to forget his use of the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (1150-1220) for materials inspiring Hamlet.

Contemporary quiters have conjoined Jane Austen characters with vampires in what appears to have been a coup for followers of vampire fiction. The late, lamented Ed McBain, creator of the famed Eighty-seventh Precinct police procedural mysteries, was given to naming junior high schools set in his novels after his friends, a milder but amusing example of requiting

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