Thursday 31 October 2013

Halloween Launch of the Shelley-Godwin Archive

A page from the Frankenstein manuscript, showing revisions
It's been a ridiculously long time since I last posted on this site, as I've been busy finishing my doctoral thesis (which has now been submitted - hurrah!). Lots has been happening in the meantime, which I'll be blogging about the coming weeks, but today I want to draw attention to a superb new digital project which will be launching this evening.

The Shelley-Godwin Archive will digitise and publish on the web a range of manuscripts by Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley. I've been lucky enough to work with some of Mary Shelley's manuscripts in the Bodleian, but this project will make these documents available to anyone with an interest in this family of writers, wherever they are in the world.

Let's hope it's suitably dark and dreary tonight, because site goes live at 8.00pm with - yes, you've guessed it - the Frankenstein manuscripts. These manuscripts show how the text was shaped by both Mary and Percy into the novel that we know today, and it really is fascinating to look at the revisions and corrections that were made to these drafts. I'm really looking forward to the launch of this site, and to looking at the manuscripts added over the coming months. If you'd like to be informed of updates to the project, you can join the mailing list by sending your email address to

Happy Halloween!

Friday 31 May 2013

'The Next Time(line)': Creating a Digital Timeline for Wordsworth's 'Prelude'

Back in February, I published a post reflecting on time in Wordsworth's Prelude, a topic I'd been considering in my role as Research Assistant on a project called 'The Next Time(line)'. The aim of this project was to create a new kind of literary timeline for the digital age, using the touch-screen device to offer an interesting, compelling, and ultimately more in-depth experience for the user than a traditional print counterpart could provide.

We considered three great works of literature - Wordsworth's Prelude, Hugo's Les Misérables, and Shakespeare's Henry V - over the course of the project, but for our final prototype app concentrated on Wordsworth. The timeline we produced allows the user to trace the development of The Prelude from its earliest manuscript form through to its final rewriting, with the visualisation on the screen demonstrating how the poem grows and transforms over time. 

The user is able to isolate a single episode from the text and see how it changes across versions; perhaps it moves position within the body of the work, contracts, expands, or splits as the text goes through a series of rewritings. Layered over this are a series of contextual timelines which offer an insight into some of the factors which shaped The Prelude across time, including the biographical, historical, social, and political contexts. It's possible to see, for example, what Wordsworth read in a particular year, and how and where this may have impacted on his revision of the poem. The user can choose which of these timelines to layer on the screen, focusing on certain contexts and isolating particular moments before moving back out and fitting these details into a bigger 'pathway' through the text.

This was a fascinating project to which to contribute, and it was lovely to work with such an innovative and ambitious team. If you'd like to know more about our digital timeline, this 4-minute film gives you the chance to hear the team talk about their experiences of working on the project and to see the app in action.

Saturday 30 March 2013

Romanticism on the web: Two essential sites

During the course of my work on The Next Time(line) project over the past few weeks, I've come across two great websites for Romanticists: 'British Fiction 1800-1829' and 'UK RED'. I'm always keen to encourage my students to explore Romanticism on the web, and both of these sites have gone straight onto the 'electronic resources' section of my undergraduate Romanticism reading list. Simultaneously scholarly and user friendly, these sites are noteworthy because they cater for a variety of needs; whether you simply require a small and specific piece of information, or want to spend more time exploring an author in greater depth, there will be something there for you.

British Fiction 1800-1829

During one of our recent REACT workshops, I got chatting to Dr Anthony Mandal, who is a Senior Lecturer in English at Cardiff, and whose Books and Print Sandbox project, Jekyll 2.0, is absolutely fascinating and well worth a look. Another project on which Anthony has worked is the British Fiction 1800-1829 database, a fantastic - and completely free - web resource from Cardiff University which covers the production, circulation, and reception of fiction written in the second half of the Romantic period. The database holds bibliographical records of 2,272 works of fiction written by approximately 900 authors, and also contains some fascinating contemporary supporting materials such as letters by authors and readers, reviews, newspaper advertisements, anecdotal information, circulating-library catalogues, and subscription lists.

Of course, the first book I looked up on this database was Mary Shelley's The Last Man, and despite being in the fourth year of a PhD on Last Man texts I was really pleased to find a couple of references which I haven't come across before. Alongside some familiar references to the novel from Mary Shelley's own letters, I found observations on The Last Man from the correspondence of Washington Irving, Mary Leadbeater, and Lady Louisa Stuart. The list of advertisements for the novel was comprehensive and clearly set out, and the information from circulating-library catalogues was similarly well presented and useful.

Without very much effort at all, undergraduates can use this site to enhance their understanding of an author or specific text, quickly accessing information about the contemporary reception  and availability of a huge number of works. Likewise, postgraduates and other researchers should find it a helpful starting point when approaching a work of fiction from this period. From Jane Austen to Sophia F. Ziegenhirt, this database covers both canonical names and lesser-known authors, and offers some really nice features, such as the ability to browse by publisher. This is definitely one to bookmark; I'm just annoyed I didn't find it sooner!


'A Young Girl Reading' by Fragonard (1776)
As part of my role as Research Assistant on The Next Time(line), I've been collecting a lot of contextual data surrounding Wordsworth's production of The Prelude (in its many forms) to go into our prototype app. Wordsworth was a prolific reader, and I've become particularly interested in the impact of his reading in the years 1785-1805 on his writing. Alongside Duncan Wu's superbly researched books on this subject, I've found the website UK RED very useful. This online database, compiled by the Open University, covers the experience of reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945, aiming to 'capture the reading tastes and habits of the famous and the ordinary, the young and the old, men and women'.

Like 'British Fiction 1800-1829', 'UK RED' can be either searched or browsed, and subjects can be looked up as both readers and authors; in other words, I can look at what Wordsworth was reading or, alternatively, I can see who was reading Wordsworth. The downside to this resource is that the data is currently not standardised so, for example, you'd be advised to search 'Austin' as well as 'Austen' in order to access all the information available. Having said that, 'UK RED' is a really rich resource, so is well worth the effort. It goes way beyond published fiction and poetry, covering a range of literature from playbills and tickets to graffiti and prison records; it also has some useful features, such as the ability to compile a marked list and save it as a PDF. I hope that you find something here to interest you!

Sunday 10 February 2013

'The Prelude': A poem through time

MS JJ: How does The Prelude change through time?
I'm currently working as the Research Assistant on a really exciting project led by Dr Bradley Stephens (University of Bristol) and Alex Butterworth from Amblr called 'The Next Time(line)'. As part of the Books and Print Sandbox, funded by the REACT Knowledge Exchange Hub for the Creative Economy, our project is looking at how to redesign literary timelines for the digital age.

At present, the timelines offered by literary apps don't do much more than their paper counterparts, so we're exploring how touch screen devices can be used to offer a more dynamic, intuitive, and ultimately interesting form of timeline. In developing our prototype, we are using three texts - Wordsworth's Prelude, Hugo's Les Misérables, and Shakespeare's Henry V - and, as the resident expert on British Romanticism, I have been spending the past few weeks thinking about how time flows through The Prelude, as well as how the text itself is shaped and altered through (and by) time. 

As part of the project, we have been keeping an online journal detailing our thoughts, questions, and discoveries, and this week I contributed a post, reproduced below, on Wordsworth and time. The original post can be read here, alongside some other fascinating entries from Bradley and Alex on adapting Les Misérables and contemplating pace and time. I hope that you enjoy exploring our project and will follow our blog over the coming weeks to see our work develop.

Wordsworth: The Growth of a Poet's Mind in Time

                                                Many are the joys
Of youth, but, oh, what happiness to live
When every hour brings palpable access
Of knowledge, when all knowledge is delight,
And sorrow is not there.

William Wordsworth, The 1805 Prelude (II, 304-08)

The Romantics, writing in an age of revolution and change, were fascinated by cycles of time. My doctoral research has focused on the second-generation Romantics, looking at how writers such as Mary Shelley and Lord Byron were inspired by the latest developments in geology and archaeology, as well as by contemporary thinking on population, empire, and posterity, to look ahead to the end of time and the death of mankind.

As Research Assistant on The Next Time[line], I am excited by the opportunities presented by this project to look at how time flows through texts, and this week have been thinking about the complexities of time in Wordsworth’s Prelude.

Wordsworth around the time that he started The Prelude
The Prelude is a poem obsessed, and enmeshed, with issues of time. Charting the poet’s formative years across some 8500 lines of verse, the text both adheres to a linear chronology and disrupts this order, playing with the flow of time and layering the years in which it was composed (1799-1805) over the years it describes (1770-1798). While the poem maps Wordsworth’s poetic development through time, it is simultaneously aware of the difficulties of transcribing time, and explores how the memory skips over whole years even as it focuses in on small, specific moments in great detail.

Wordsworth inserts markers of time into The Prelude on an almost obsessive level, but these can be as unsettling to the reader as they are indicative of stability and linear progression. Alongside numerous references to measurable hours, days, months, and seasons, Wordsworth scatters disconcerting moments where time can be observed to move at unnatural speeds.

In the dizziness of youth, for example, the solitary cliffs wheel by the young Wordsworth ‘even as if the earth had rolled ǀ With visible motion her diurnal round’ (I, 485-86). The natural flow of time, usually imperceptible, is here transformed into something fantastic which is both exhilarating and terrifying to watch. As the poet proceeds through his childhood, this sense of time rushing before his eyes recurs, and Wordsworth explains how ‘the year span round ǀ With giddy motion’ as he and his friends ran ‘a boisterous race’ through time (II, 48-49).

Wordsworth’s unsettling uses of time can be explored further if we look at the ways in which he revised his poem. Moving between different versions of the text, we can see that sometimes what appear to be definite, grounding markers of time are not always as they seem. ‘Well I call to mind’, Wordsworth states with reassuring certainty of an episode in Book I of the 1805 Prelude, ‘’Twas at an early age, ere I had seen ǀ Nine summers [...]’ (I, 309-10). If we turn to the 1850 rewriting, however, we find this marker corrected to read ‘Ere I had told ǀ Ten birth-days’ (I, 306-07).

Discovering that even seemingly fixed and accurate markers of time in the text can be destabilised in this way can remove the reader’s faith in the ‘authority’ of the poem’s chronology. In this sense, the older Wordsworth writing from memory about time can unsettle us as much as the younger Wordsworth’s giddy and immediate perception of wheeling time.

Taking these ideas forward over the next two months into The Next Time[line], our team will be looking at how The Prelude is shaped through time from its origins as the two-part 1799 version of the poem through to the 1805 thirteen-book text and possibly the 1850 rewriting. Charting how developments in Wordworth’s life and times flow through the text, we will explore possible external taxonomies such as the impact of Wordsworth’s reading on the growth of the poem through time, as well as perhaps looking at how we can categorise markers of time in the text itself into a useable set of data.

Just as it is often the instances of moments and minutes charted by Wordsworth in The Prelude which are most significant in his poetic development, so we hope that in pulling out some of these small strands we will gain a more complete understanding of the poem as a whole.

Having spent the past two days thinking about what some of these strands could be, and considering how they can be combined to form various pathways through the text, the team is excited to move forward to the next stage of the project. Over the next fortnight, we will begin collecting data and planning how this can be developed into a prototype timeline which is both intuitive and illuminating, allowing readers explore how a text is shaped both by and through time.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Romanticism: Life, Literature & Landscape

William Wordsworth by Richard Carruthers (1818)
I've been meaning to take a look at 'Romanticism: Life, Literature & Landscape' ever since Oxford subscribed a few months ago. I finally got round to exploring it this week, and am now wishing that I'd made the time sooner; if it's been on your 'to do' list for a while too, then don't put it off any longer! This database is an amazing and varied resource on Wordsworth and the wider Lake School, and its beauty is that it really does have something for everyone, whether you are a scholar looking to conduct serious research or a fan wanting to explore a topic for fun.

The main appeal of the database is that it makes available full manuscripts of works such as The Prelude, 'Michael', and so much else besides. At just a click of your mouse, you can explore the different manuscripts of The Borderers, view Wordsworth's annotations on his personal copies of Paradise Lost  and Charlotte Smith's Elegiac Sonnets, and explore various notebooks and proofs.

This resource also collects together documents by Dorothy Wordsworth, Mary Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, Robert Southey, and others. Amongst these verse and prose manuscripts, personal and travel journals, domestic diaries, maps, guide books, and letters are some additional hidden treasures which are a joy to explore: Dora Wordsworth's autograph album, for example, is definitely one to look at. The database is easy and intuitive to use, and has been designed with the needs of the scholar in mind. All of the documents can be downloaded as PDFs, and it is simple to zoom in and out without compromising quality.

Dove Cottage
As well as offering access to this extensive collection of documents, 'Romanticism: Life, Literature & Landscape' also includes over 2500 fine art pieces from the Wordsworth Trust's collection. Again catering for both the scholar who knows exactly what she's after and the fan who just wants to explore this amazing collection, the 'Art Gallery' can be simply browsed or actively searched using filters. The gallery includes both portraits and landscapes, and you can save a slideshow for use in teaching or research at a later date, which is another great feature.

For those wanting an introduction to the fine art collected here, the 'Art Wall' offers an in-depth look at five of the most important artworks included in the database, and features a series of short essays by Mary Jane Boland providing essential contextual information. A 'Photograph Gallery' provides some stunning shots of the Lake District, and here you can view Wordsworth's grave and the scenes that inspired his poetry. The rooms and gardens of Dove Cottage, as well as some of Wordsworth's personal possessions (including his socks and spectacles!), can be explored in 'Effects and Objects'. Dove Cottage is one of my favourite places in the world, and I'm luckily enough to have visited it twice now, but if you haven't then this detailed photographic tour is the next best thing.

If all this wasn't enough, the database also includes a section which features historical maps of Cumbria, Westmoreland, and the Lake District, and an interactive map designed to help the user explore the places important to Wordsworth and his circle. While you can view all of the points on the map at once, it is also possible to take a 'tour', such as 'Places that Inspired Literary Creativity' or 'The Prelude', with each location accompanied by a snippet of relevant verse or other information. Further features of this resource include the  'Literary Lives' section, which offers biographies for a whole host of Romantic figures, and 'Further Resources', which is a gem in itself, featuring essays from scholars such as Stephen Gill and Jared Curtis, a detailed chronology which offers the option to view related documents, an archive explorer tool, and a list of external links.

'Romanticism: Life, Literature & Landscape' not only offers some fantastic scholarly resources, but is also designed in such a way that accessing and exploring these resources is easy, intuitive, and interesting. This database should prove incredibly useful for researchers, teachers, and students alike, offering introductory material alongside documents which serious scholars will find invaluable. I'll certainly be making time in the near future to explore further what it has to offer, and I shall be recommending it to my students. If your institution subscribes, I suggest you do the same!