Booker Prize winner A. S. Byatt is one of eight lecturers who have become embroiled in the row about Cambridge University Press's celebrated non-publication of a book about Greek anthropology, writes Simon Targett.
Ms Byatt, a former senior lecturer in English at University College London, last week addressed Cambridge University on "memory and the making of fiction", the final lecture in the prestigious Darwin lecture series. Around 550 people packed into the Lady Margaret Hall lecture hall, another 250 heard the lecture via a video link in a nearby theatre, and many more were turned away.
Publication of the lecture for a wider audience - traditionally a CUP privilege - is now in doubt because some of the lecturers are concerned about the publishing house's reputation for academic freedom. CUP refused to publish the provocative Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood by anthropologist Anastasia Karakasidou, fearing for the safety of CUP's staff in Athens.
Steven Rose, professor of biology at the Open University and one of this year's Darwin lecturers, has written to Ms Byatt and the other six lecturers, suggesting that an alternative publisher should be found if the rumpus is not resolved to the satisfaction of the Cambridge anthropologists.
It is too late for CUP to backtrack and publish Dr Karakasidou's work. "As far as we're concerned, that's history," said CUP's communications director Adrian du Plessis. A leading American publisher, the University of Chicago Press, which does not have an office in Greece, has already agreed to publish the book.
CUP has set up an emergency working party which will meet university representatives next week to thrash out guidelines on the decision-making process, taking account of the ethical questions surrounding book publication.
Karalyn Patterson, a research psychologist and one of the co-editors of the Darwin lectures, said she hoped this would be sufficient to mollify the lecturers. "We would obviously like to keep the lectures as a set," she added. Professor Rose said that the lecturers would probably accept the majority view, so ruling out the likelihood of a breakaway publication.
But if the matter is not resolved, there will be no shortage of willing publishers. Previous Darwin lecture sales have almost touched 10,000 per edition, no mean achievement for an academic tome.