Update: Professor Jim Mussell, University of Birmingham, has kindly invited me to deliver this same talk on February 20, 3pm in the company of his colleagues. I look forward to chatting about all things digital, textual, and bibliographical.
Ray Siemens graciously invited me to deliver a talk at the University of Victoria the week after our big MLA Convention gathering in Seattle. I know Ray from way back in 2007 when we did a symposium together at Simon Fraser University on Digital Humanities: Practice, Methodology, and Pedagogy (hosted by the Centre for Study of Print and Media Cultures). The invitation, extended by Margaret Linley, was based on my work in literary annuals and as a digital scholarly editor on The Forget Me Not Archive. After that symposium, I bumped into Margaret, Ray, and Mike Everton (another interesting SFU faculty member) at various conferences on digital, book history, and textual studies.
Of late, my work has taken me into Digital Humanities a bit far afield from my original dissertation on British literary annuals — and it all began with Margaret’s invitation to SFU. After 4 years, I’m ready to return full force as a Romantic-era scholar and, more importantly, as a bibliography/history of the book/textual studies scholar. Though praxis, metadata, platforms, sustainability, and pedagogy still maintain their hold on my scholarly interests, this talk at the University of Victoria allows me to exorcise my dissertation and, finally, this literary history of literary annuals that I’ve been working on for, oh, including my dissertating years?, about 10 or 11 years.
These little books never quite leave me. In fact, I introduced them to my graduate Romantics Gustatory course this semester.
We spent an evening noshing in my apartment and gathered around my coffee table of only half my private collection. The only imperative was to read, wander, query through the books and talk to one another. To focus some of their searching, I supplied them with the Faxon and Boyle bibliographies (one with a list of authors, the other with bibliographic descriptions of literary annuals). They read through my PBSA article on femininity and the material object as well as a draft of the introduction for my forthcoming collection of Gothic short stories from British literary annuals. I lamented the fact that we don’t have an adequate database of all the poetry, fiction, non-fiction, engravings, inscription pages, title pages, authors, publishers, etc. of the literary annuals. Looking at the books sitting on my coffee table was daunting. Where do they start?
We used the Poetess Archive Database and the Forget Me Not Archive to search for famous authors or other poetry of the same theme. One student found a very unflattering engraving of Byron (which dashed all of their thoughts about his attractiveness). Others found references to Shakespeare within a severely truncated playbook of Romantic-era productions. Yet others found silly poetry and insipid engravings. We were traversing these literary annuals as a moment to decipher this concept of aesthetics, taste, pleasure, leisure in the Romantic Era. Who decides the literariness of Literature? Are there some gems buried in the annuals? (My answer is, yes, unequivocally.) And what’s the difference between reading these poems and writings in an anthology versus read them in their original? (We had to haul in extra light so everyone could read.)
I’m not quite sure how they perceived that day’s gathering or the efficacy of handling this type of collection. But, the final projects (as they’ve hinted at so far) are really interesting, far-reaching, exploratory, and delving into New Historicism methodology coupled with close reading. All of this, though, left me with a desire, perhaps that old mal d’archive, to finish this foundation, to complete the literary history of the annuals so I can move onto more literary criticism of things like the American publishers re-mixing/revising/re-using British literary annuals, the proliferation of botany in the annuals, the revision of Britishness for the ex-pat annual readers in India. These three chapters didn’t make it into the current book because, quite frankly, the book is already too long. (One chapter is 80 pages!!)
In January, at the start of my sabbatical, I return to these roots and commit to completing another book on the literary annuals. Perhaps I’ll even return to the tall order to digitize, encode, and revise the Forget Me Not Archive (maybe not?). I do know that if we can create a larger corpus of literary annuals, we will be able to study them much more fully. Hey, I might even be able to craft an entire course on the topic? We’ll see.
In the meantime, I accepted Ray’s kind offer and began coordinating with Jentery Sayers, U Vic’s most recent (enthusiastic and wickedly smart) hire. Details are below. I’m really looking forward to this talk. We’ll chat about archives, literary annuals, history, and dirty stories before moving briefly into the digitization of these gems, amulets, forget me nots, and keepsakes. I’m anticipating a wildly good time with the Canadians!
By November 1822, the British reading public had already voraciously consumed both Walter Scott’s expensive novels and Rudolf Ackermann’s exquisite lithographs. Audiences craved more decadent literary and visual representations of the burgeoning middle class. By wrapping beauty, literature, landscape art, and portraits into an alluring package, editors and publishers filled the 1820s with one of the most popular and best-selling genres, the literary annual. Despite being accused of causing an “epidemic” and inspiring an “unmasculine and unbawdy age,” the annuals captivated readers in early nineteenth-century England. Eradicating this powerful outbreak of femininity, though, was much more difficult than some literary traditionalists hoped. The annuals survived, even thrived from the attention offered by its readers despite – or as Harris argues, because of – its “feminine” writing and over-saturated, beautiful form. The annual’s history provides an integral view of public desire, literary development, authorial consciousness, and empowering femininity. Even literati Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Tennyson begrudgingly embraced both the genre and its overwhelmingly feminine audience. Relying on the material text, its literary contents, and contemporary reviews, Harris presents a literary history and digital archive that recuperate the annual as a literary genre, popular phenomenon in print culture, powerful feminine form, and cultural marker of early nineteenth-century “Englishness.”