Though it only got a brief mention in today’s New York Times, the attacks on a soon-to-be-published novel about Anne Frank have received considerable more play in England. The Sunday Times of London broke–or rather, made–the news when it got Gillian Walnes, a member of the Anne Frank Trust, to publicly criticize Sharon Dogar’s upcoming Anne Frank-inspired novel. Walnes took issue with a section in the book, to be titled "Annexed," where Peter van Pels, a boy in the attic who Anne lived with, expresses romantic feelings for Anne. "I don’t understand why this story has to be sexualised," Walnes told London’s Sunday Times.
It looks like this latest kerfuffle will take its place in the long list of woes surrounding Anne Frank’s legacy. It’s worth remembering that Frank’s diary, published by her father Otto, in 1947, two years after his 15-year-old daughter died in Bergen-Belsen, has always attracted controversy. In last year’s "Anne Frank: The Book, The Life and the Afterlife," Francine Prose showed how even Otto tried to sanitize Anne’s writing, cutting out the parts where Anne belittled her mother or talked about her period.
To boot, Anne even edited herself, writing two drafts, the second a healthier scrub on the first. Later popularized versions for film and Broadway continued to whitewash her legacy, too. But what’s surprising in this latest case is the sensitivity of the safeguards of Frank’s legacy, the Anne Frank Trust. Dogar’s novel, to be published in England this September, seems to have just one intimate moment: Peter brushes his limb against Anne’s, eliciting a surge of imagined romantic lust. But there is no explicit sex, according to The Guardian’s detailed story. And the report seems thorough, given that Dogar told the paper that she had corresponded with a distant Frank relative about the book’s content and got her approval. Moreover, Dogar is a writer of teenage novels, so presumably she already knows how to handle adolescent romance tactfully.
Given those assurances, Walnes’ remarks seem even more problematic. She is right to be sensitive to Frank’s legacy–indeed, any caring reader of Anne’s diary should. But by putting a teenager’s sexuality off limits, we’re only taking away from the very real-ness that makes Anne Frank’s writing so profound.