Evadne Price (Helen Zenna Smith) on Wikipedia

A few weeks ago I did some Wikipedia training at Sheffield Hallam University. Since then I’ve occasionally tinkered with editing some pages, but today I thought I’d get down to seriously sorting out the page on Evadne Price, which was something of a mess.
I gave a paper on Price (alias Helen Zenna Smith) at the recent Marginalised Mainstream conference, and it was an odd paper to write. I’d given in my abstract months before, and knew what I was going to say, but as I got down to the writing, I looked more closely at the record and discovered more and more ambiguities and contradictions there.
At first I had believed Price’s own account of her life (as given in a 1977 interview). I certainly thought Wikipedia must have got it wrong in suggesting that she was born in Australia in 1888, when the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography said she was born at sea in 1896. Now I think Wikipedia was right (because there are official Australian documents, but no British birth certificate, and she is not there on the 1901 and 1911 British censuses).
Well, she was from a time when ladies often felt it appropriate to stretch the truth when talking about their age, so maybe this does not matter. But as i went over her story of how Not So Quiet… was published, the less likely it was that she had not known that the publisher Marriott was a wrong’un who was passing off her fiction as a first-hand account of war.
I shall be publishing my paper in full on this site within the next few days, but meanwhile I’d like some critical feedback on my updating of the Wikipedia page. is it clear? Is it, so far as you can tell, accurate? Do I let my opinions show too much?
With Wikipedia one adds to and adapts what has already been put on the page, so by no means all the material there is mine. There are one or two facts given without citations of sources, and I didn’t cut these out, but left them in the hope that someone might be able to add citations.
I’ve tidied up the structure of the page a little bit, but once again I haven’t gone too far. Part of the value of Wikipedia is that people add facts about what they know, and these don’t always fit into the general assumptions of the rest of the page. I think that this is a very useful thing to do.
Writing Wikipedia is an interesting exercise, and occasionally frustrating. One has to keep strictly factual, and should cut interpretation and opinion to a minimum. The conference paper, as you’ll see when I publish it, is much more interpretative and critical.
Of course, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for a writer of fiction to be a born liar. Those two terrific writers of sea stories, Patrick O’Brien and C. S. Forester, were both incredibly unreliable about their own lives. The paradox in Price’s case is that, as Helen Zenna Smith, she has been praised for her truth-telling…

8 Comments

  1. janevsw
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Hi George,

    I did spot a couple of typos (soryteller for storyteller, and Young lent price for Young lent Price).

    Otherwise it looks fine. You know there is a capacity on the ODNB website to send them corrections?

    Jane

    • Posted December 9, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      That’s just what I needed, Jane. I can never spot my own typos, especially on screen.

      • janevsw
        Posted December 9, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        Don’t I know it! Any time….

  2. Jonathan Lighter
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Reads like the definitive biographical article, particularly concerning Price’s early life and her most famous novel.

    Well done!

  3. Posted December 10, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    That’s quite a detective job! Bravo!
    The only typo I noticed is in the first sentence under Helen Zenna Smith: “… to to write a parodic version …” Wikipedia is objecting to use of ibid instead of repeating the original reference .

  4. Roger
    Posted December 11, 2014 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    “Of course, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for a writer of fiction to be a born liar…The paradox in Price’s case is that, as Helen Zenna Smith, she has been praised for her truth-telling…”

    She was also a successful journalist, which at least requires some acquaintance with the truth, even to make sure you avoid it. Does anyone know what her reports as a war correspondent were like?

  5. Posted February 21, 2015 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Sareene Proodian and commented:
    So thankful for the work of George Simmers for giving us a clearer look at Price’s life.


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