Her Permanant Record: Why did the LOC Know Her Real Name?
July 27, 2010 7:35 AM   Subscribe

On last night's History Detectives, they were tracking down the real author and backstory of Diana: A Strange Autobiography (1939). During that investigation, Tukufu Zuberi went to the Library of Congress (paper) Card Catalog, and a slightly altered version of the author's real name was listed there after the published author's name. This leads me to several questions about LOC cataloging c. 1939:

The author listing said essentially: Frederics, Diana. Pseud. Francis Remmel.

Does or did the Library of Congress require a real name for pseudonyms? Or was the second name - "Francis Remmel" - supposed to be an editor/agent/publishing contact? All of the scholars who had been trying to track down the author had no luck, so this seems to be the only place that paired the two names together, which makes me think there was some requirement for responsibility in some form.

How closely did the Library of Congress check the information provided, if at all? The name listed used the masculine spelling (Francis vs. Frances) and the last name may have been missing a letter or two. This could have been deliberate (as a concealing measure) or simply a mistake by someone who had never seen the name spelled. Did the LOC just need a name, any name?
posted by julen to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(I am a librarian, I am not a cataloger at Library of Congress)

From your description of the catalog card, Diana Frederics would have been a pseudonym for Francis Remmel.

What you are talking about is authority control. LOC establishes "authoritative" forms of names of authors, titles, series, etc. so ALL the records belonging to one entity get linked together, regardless of how the name appeared on the particular work.

This explains a little more about that.

My understanding is that this was, and is, a process that involves lots of different participants submitting information to LOC (publishers, the writers themselves, journalists). How this might have worked in 1939, I don't really know, but I'm sure someone out there does.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:55 AM on July 27, 2010

And I think LOC used to use the "real" name as the authority. For example, all of Mark Twain's works were linked under the authoritative name of Samuel Clemens for many years.

This was changed at some point in the 20th century to use the more commonly known name.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:58 AM on July 27, 2010

I don't know the answer to your question, but it occurs to me that this is something you might want to ask the History Detectives themselves.
posted by trip and a half at 7:58 AM on July 27, 2010

Interesting. To add to the fun, Google turns up a Lorene Francis Remmel: "Born: 18 JUL 1891 at: Kewaskum, WI Died: 6 MAY 1941 at: Kewaskum, WI." She probably wasn't the author, but it's an unusual name.
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on July 27, 2010

Response by poster: Heh, LanguageHat, that same google find turned up in the show last night. It turns out it was a different Frances Remmel (they found her niece who helped clear up that the book was a fictionalized version based on Remmel's own life, but it was marketed as a straight autobiography with Doctor's forward to try and get around Comstock obscenity laws).

I was just really caught by the fact that for 40 years, scholars have been trying to identify the real author of the book and determine how autobiographical it actually was and were getting no traction. But in one place - the LOC card catalog - the author's real name was right there for potential zealous prosecutors to find and use the Comstock laws against her or for people to track her down. She kept her authorship (seemingly) a closely guarded secret otherwise.

Ultimately, I am curious about what rules and regulations the 1939-era LOC had in place that might compel her or her publisher to provide her real name, as opposed to just "Frederics, Diana." or "Frederics, Diana. Pseud." or "Frederics, Diana. Pseud. Anonymous." or "Frederics, Diana. Pseud. Faky McOtherFakeName." Or maybe she wanted some sort of permanent, official thread connecting her with the book for posterity. Hrm.
posted by julen at 8:27 AM on July 27, 2010

Just a thought, maybe the information came into the LOC's possession if they regularly try to track down women's maiden names?
posted by XMLicious at 8:37 AM on July 27, 2010

Best answer: The same info is in the Catalog of Copyright Entries as far back as 1939. So it might have to do with copyright registration.

If nobody could find that information they weren't looking very hard. Though I didn't watch the show so maybe they covered that.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:58 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is the sort of thing you might want to run by the Tretter Center at UMN, one of the foremost US authorities on GLBT literature. It is fairly unusual that a pseudonym would make its way on to an LOC catalog card but not into the larger system. You can tell that it's not there in any digital form. The link is really the publisher, most likely who is usually the source of the cataloging data nowadays. Librarianship is known for being fairly GLBT friendly [and anti-censorship laws] so I'd be curious to know the larger story behind this. The book was published in other countries [India in 1939 and France in 1946] which may have had more accurate cataloging information.
posted by jessamyn at 9:14 AM on July 27, 2010

If nobody could find that information they weren't looking very hard. Though I didn't watch the show so maybe they covered that.

I haven't seen the episode in question, but it often turns out that they can't find the person in question (or can't confirm that the person they're looking for is actually Real Person X) because of a death, badly kept records, someone who moves around a lot, etc. It's usually not because they Have No Idea that the person used a pseudonym.

For instance there was a recent episode where they discovered that the person they were looking for was not really named "John F.", but was using an alias. Too many of the people involved had passed away, the paper trail dried up, and they were never able to establish who "John F." was. I believe they even put out a call to the audience to come forward with any information they might have.
posted by Sara C. at 10:39 AM on July 27, 2010

Also, this question is awesome because it led to the discovery that I can now watch History Detectives online. Which is awesome, because it's the only show I miss since I got rid of my TV. Yes, I am a nerd.
posted by Sara C. at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2010

Response by poster: interplanetjanet: If nobody could find that information they weren't looking very hard. Though I didn't watch the show so maybe they covered that.

I did some poking around. When the book shows up in the several institutional card catalogs I've spent some time with, it doesn't have the real name; just the pseudonym. It never would have occurred to me that the LOC would have more info in their card catalog than my local institution's card catalog. (I am not a scholar, though, although I took some LS classes on my way to a MSIS degree). It sounds like most of the scholars tried to approach identification through the publishing house (defunct) and the name (pseudonym) and identifying characteristics/positions/biographical details of Diana (some of which were altered), and floundered. I suspect that a literary investigation/ criticism was much more up their alley, anyway.

The theories I've found so far have been interesting: Some thought it was written by a sympathetic sexologist/doctor (i.e. a man). Modern psychologists were pretty sure it wasn't written by one of them. Some thought it was purely or primarily fiction, basing its structure and other genre constructs on previous Lesbian literature using what would become standard genre constructs. A few folks thought it was a fantasy of a repressed Lesbian (because it couldn't possibly be real, of course.). A fairly big group thought it was a blending of fact and fiction; they turn out to be the closest, even if they disagreed on what was real and what was fictional.
posted by julen at 2:03 PM on July 28, 2010

I'm glad to hear this show is online too. I'll have to watch the episode.

As far as people not finding the info, I'm just a little surprised a scholar researching a pseudonym didn't think to look at the copyright registration for the book. It's certainly vastly easier to find now that the Catalog of Copyright Entries is scanned on Google but it would have been available in any large scholarly library in microfiche.

The whole problem of notes from library card catalogs not finding their way into online records is what Nicholson Baker was complaining about in his famous "Discards" article.

But not even Nicholson Baker has written an ode to the lost beauties of microfiche! Microfiche just gets no love.
posted by interplanetjanet at 1:05 PM on July 29, 2010

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