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!

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