05 August 2010

What’s the Story Behind C. C. Colbert?

After reading the graphic historical novel Booth, scripted by C. C. Colbert and drawn by Tanitoc, I had a couple of questions.

The first was, What’s the story behind C. C. Colbert? The author bio on the back flap is awkwardly worded enough to suggest that whoever composed it was trying to write around something:

C. C. Colbert remains fascinated by the Civil War and has spent several years in the United States researching topics of American history. After earning a degree in history from Princeton, Colbert now lives and writes in Ireland.
I should hope that an author’s interest in Civil War history would not be exhausted by writing one book about it; otherwise, perhaps that person shouldn’t be writing that book. As for “researching topics” and “earning a degree,” I’ve done those things myself, so am I supposed to be impressed?

The author’s note inside refers to “my two sons,…and their father.” It also quotes the bleak opening of Dante’s Inferno: “midway in the journey…I came to myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost.” (Hollander translation, apparently.) What unstated psychological drama warranted a quote from Dante?

Publicity interviews lay bare the mystery. C. C. Colbert is the married name of Catherine Clinton, a noted historian of women’s lives in the era of the Civil War and biographer of Harriet Tubman and Mary Todd Lincoln. Several years ago she left full-time academia to write more books, including children’s books. More recently, in addition to experimenting with the comics form in Booth, Clinton has returned to the university life, at Queen’s University in Belfast.

So the vague phrase “earned a degree” blurs the fact that Clinton has a Ph.D. from Princeton, where she studied under James M. MacPherson, after earning a bachelor’s from Harvard and a master’s from the University of Sussex. Okay, now I’m impressed.

The clause “Colbert remains fascinated by the Civil War” has the invisible dependent clause “even though she’s written a fictional comic instead of another scholarly study,” apparently meant for an invisible audience of fellow scholars. And the mid-life shift in course is not, as I first theorized, a decision to leave academia, but a decision to return to it. Once again, I’m impressed.

TOMORROW: The second question about Booth.

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