Reading the Literary Manuscripts of the Romantics
Course Description: The recent publication of many major Romantic-era literary manuscripts in digital form has greatly expanded the possibilities for engagement with archival materials (materials that are typically held in special collections, in the US and the UK, and accessible only to senior experts in the field). In this course, we will closely read and interpret a range of these digital manuscripts to ask a series of questions about them, including: What can we learn -- about literary history, authorship, and the texts themselves -- by studying original manuscripts? How does reading a text in its original manuscript form (via a digital copy) differ from reading a printed text? How successfully do digital editions represent the original manuscripts? Our readings will focus on the manuscripts of Jane Austen, Lord Byron, John Keats, Mary Shelley, and Dorothy Wordsworth. Some of the specific questions we will ask are: How (and why) did Jane Austen have to modify her style and subject matter to get her fiction into print? What strategies did Byron use to negotiate the problems of censorship, as his texts moved from manuscript to print? Did Percy Shelley improve or diminish Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, with his extensive edits? Why are there so few corrections to Keats’s poetic manuscripts? Why did Dorothy Wordsworth publish so little of her writing during her lifetime? In addition to focusing on these authors, we will also explore the manuscript writing of many other more obscure or unknown authors of the period. We will also study theories of textual editing and digital remediation. For their final project, students can choose between creating an annotated and contextualized digital or print “edition” of a manuscript text we read in class, or a research essay.