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Romanticism: The CD-ROM. edited by David Miall and Duncan Wu

Tuesday, July 7, 1998 - 03:25
Romanticism: The CD-ROM. edited by David Miall and Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997. Single-user version, £395/$600US; network version, £1,250/$1,950US (ISBN: 0-631-19944-6).

Reviewed by
Charles Snodgrass & Jeffrey N. Cox
Texas A&M University

New technologies are coming to the aid of the study of Romanticism. E-mail keeps scholars around the world in contact as do on-line discussion groups such as the NASSR-Listserv. Websites — such as Romantic Circles itself — provide a gathering point for scholarly information and a meeting point for scholarly exchange. Now, with the issuance of Romanticism: The CD-ROM, created by David Miall and Duncan Wu and issued by Basil Blackwell, scholars and students have another useful tool at hand for the exploration of the literature and culture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

When one starts the Romanticism: The CD-ROM program, one is first presented with the "Home" page that also serves as an initial table of contents and a navigation tool for the components of the hypertext. We are first going to be concerned with the texts, which can be accessed by clicking the "Texts" button above that summons up an alphabetical list of primary literary authors, the "Index" button which offers a complete list of documents and most images, or the "People" button which moves to a set of short biographical notices that are linked to texts. The other features of the hypertext—contextual material, maps, an examination of the "Gothic"—are also available from this page as are the help, search, and other navigation functions to be discussed later.

The hypertext anthology reproduces Romanticism: An Anthology, edited by Duncan Wu and published by Basil Blackwell in 1994; that is, it provides the first Wu edition, not the second edition offered in 1998 which has a different selection of texts and expanded critical apparatus. The hypertext anthology has the virtues and the drawbacks, then, of the first Wu edition. There are many things to praise in Wu's anthology. One can only admire the return to manuscript and early printed sources; one is glad to have many texts offered in their entirety rather than in snippets. There are generous offerings from the six canonical poets. For example, the entire 1798 Lyrical Ballads is reproduced; Anne K. Mellor's and Richard E. Matlak's British Literature 1780–1830 (Harcourt Brace, 1996) offers about half of the poems. Wu provides complete texts of Songs of Innocence and Experience and of the Thirteen-Book Prelude, edited from the manuscripts, while Mellor and Matlak offer most but not all of Blake's Songs and the Two-Part Prelude of 1799 together with long excerpts from the 1850 version. (It is interesting to note that Wu's second edition now includes the Two-Part Prelude together with selections from the Five-Book Prelude, the Thirteen-Book Prelude, and the Fourteen-Book Prelude.) While one may have a favorite, say, Byron or Coleridge poem not included in the Wu selection, he enables any instructor to cover the canonical poets well.

He has also provided useful selections from a number of "minor" writers from the period from Thomas Warton and William Cowper through George Crabbe and George Dyer to Leigh Hunt and Bryan Waller Procter; one can at least gesture towards some of the literary currents flowing around and through Romanticism, with the selection suggesting that Romanticism begins as early as Warton and extends at least as late as Tennyson, represented by "Mariana" (1830). One could, for example, compare Warton's and Bowles's work on the sonnet with Wordsworth's; again, one could talk about the "Cockney School," going beyond Keats to include Hunt, John Taylor, Hazlitt, Haydon, and Procter as well as looking at an extract from "Z.'s" Cockney School attacks. One is glad to see George Crabbe, Walter Savage Landor, and Thomas Moore included. While we do not find anything as striking as Jerome McGann's recovery of the "Della Cruscans" in his Romantic Period Verse (Oxford, 1993), the anthology does allow one to show students that the literary scene during the period was more complex than a focus on the traditional six male writers would suggest.

The anthology is less successful in providing an opportunity for exploring the wealth of writing done by women during the period. Charlotte Smith, for example, is represented by two sonnets, whereas in the Mellor and Matlak anthology we get a gathering of sonnets, all of the important Emigrants, "Beachy Head," and one of the "Fables." Again, Anna Laetitia Barbauld receives 9 pages, where Mellor and Matlak give her 27 and include the fascinating Eighteen Hundred and Eleven missing in Wu. Wu includes a page from Baillie's "Introductory Discourse" but no play. Jane Austen, Lucy Aikin, Jane Taylor, and Mary Prince—all in Mellor and Matlak—do not appear in the anthology at all. (One should also note that, as in the case of Mary Prince, the Mellor and Matlak anthology does provide a superior gathering of texts surrounding the issues of slavery, abolition and emancipation.) Wu, to be fair, does include a number of women not included in Mellor and Matlak: Mary Alcock, Barbara Hoole, Charlotte Bury, Mary Mathilda Betham, Charlotte Dacre, Mary Tighe, Lady Caroline Lamb, Caroline Anne Bowles, Louisa Costello, Elizabeth Barrett, and Caroline Norton. The problem is that most of these women are represented by at best a handful of poems, with many having only a single poem included (and one should also note that many of these women are dropped from the new Wu edition as if in recognition that these brief selections were inadequate). If the anthology is to contribute to "a drastic revision of the literary canon" of Romanticism, as the introduction claims, then we need more than a poem or two here and there. We will never be able to teach Smith, for example, as occupying the same literary space as Wordsworth when she is reduced to two sonnets, and he is given over 300 pages. We cannot see how his Prelude, so central to Wu's anthology, is presaged by Smith's own blank verse meditation on the French Revolution, nature, and self-consciousness, when the Emigrants is not included.

The hypertext anthology also reproduces the editorial apparatus surrounding the poems, as in the case of Charlotte Smith sonnet, "To the South Downs". Smith is introduced in two sentences. The headnotes to the authors are, in fact, one of the weaker aspects of the anthology; Wordsworth himself only receives two brief paragraphs. These are not really adequate for a text that is to be used in undergraduate surveys of the period, and Wu has recognized this in the second edition of the anthology by expanding the headnotes and adding lists of "Further Reading" for each author. Within the hypertext, the "People" section offers somewhat expanded entries (Charlotte Smith, e.g., though in the hypertext these entries are not linked to the poetry), but there is nothing comparable to the introductions in Mellor and Matlak, let alone the full interpretive essays offered in David Perkins's English Romantic Anthology (2nd ed., Harcourt Brace, 1995).

The hypertext notes replicate those in the print edition. The light annotation is probably a good thing for undergraduates, who often are wearied by having to glance constantly to the bottom of the page. One can, of course, find things that should be annotated—Wu himself in the new edition has supplied Smith's own note to "Aruna" as "The River Arun"—and one might have thought that the hypertext format would have offered some possibilities for further annotation that would not have distracted readers. One of our major reservations about the CD-ROM is that the anthology is not linked strongly enough to the surrounding materials.

The inclusion of images is an advantage no anthology can match. It is good to see that, whereas the print anthology naturally enough reproduces only the text of Blake's poem, the hypertext provides a goodly number of reproductions of Blake's illuminated texts. There are also a number of cases where places mentioned in poems are linked to illustrations, though this is more likely to the case with well-known poems (i.e., "Tintern Abbey" or "Mont Blanc") than with other works that might just as well have been enhanced by illustrations. A strong selling point of Romanticism: The CD-ROM is its Art Index, containing 1,233 scanned images—stored in .pcx file format—and offering students a rare glimpse into the prodigiously varied portraits, landscapes, political cartoons, and historical paintings of the romantic period. There are also a number of color photographs of historical sites and/or landscapes included, but be aware that these photographs are not listed in the Art Index, so exploring the "Rompics" folder/directory will be necessary to discern them. Of course, most images, e.g., author portraits, are linked to corresponding texts. Artist and lender credits, and image dimensions (in centimeters), appear either with the image or in the Art Index. One real strength of Romanticism: The CD-ROM rests with these supporting illustrations and contextual materials.

The first set of contextual materials are offered under the rubric of Gothic, though once one clicks that location one learns it is "Gothic Fiction" that is to be examined here; while one could argue that the poetry anthology already offers some examples of Gothicism in verse, one might have included within the two million words of the hypertext an example of the incredibly popular Gothic drama. In any event, the Gothic novel is given a prominent place here. The Overview of the CD-ROM states that "Romantic writing, for the purposes of this anthology, is defined to include poetry, prose (essays of various kinds and informal writings such as letters), and the Gothic fiction that was being written at the same time." The texts of the novels are not included, but for most of the novels a detailed plot summary is offered. Contemporary reviews of the novels are a very valuable addition, as are the background materials included for some texts. We find here the legal cases used in Godwin's Caleb Williams and the scientific source material used by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein. There are also images of, for example, places used in Radcliffe's novels, of Walpole's Strawberry Hill, and of Gillray's satire of Lewis's Tales of Wonder. There are also some general guides for the study of Gothic literature. While the texts themselves are not here, this section offers a fine example of the use of hypertext to create an environment within which students can learn. There is a great deal of material for them to draw upon in the study of gothic fiction.

The Contexts section proper opens with another index page. Among the information included here is a year by year chronology from 1780–1834. One can, of course, quibble about what is left out of any such listing—for example, in 1816, we are told a fair amount about P. B. Shelley's movements, but we are not told that he meets Leigh Hunt and through him John Keats in the Fall of that year. The chronology provides links to the texts mentioned, but the texts do not link back to the chronology. The documentary selections are organized by topic: "Historical" (primarily commentaries on the French Revolution or the slave trade), "Social" (a short selection of legal commentary), "Education," "Gender" (including Polwhele's Unsex'd Females and excerpts from The Female Revolutionary Plutarch), "Theory: Literary and Aesthetic," "The Arts: Literature, Theatre, Fine Art, Architecture," "Science," and "Medicine." This section of the CD-ROM clearly offers a much larger gathering of texts than can be had in any anthology. It is thus a major contribution to the teaching of Romanticism, for it will enable students quickly and easily to access a large, varied body of material; it will save teachers from constructing elaborate xerox packets or creating large reserve lists at the library. Still, there are some drawbacks. A decision was clearly made not to supplement selections already made in the anthology: for example, we get some brief excerpts from Paine's Rights of Man in the "Texts" section, so he is excluded from the "Contexts" entries on the French Revolution, with the result that we get a much fuller extract from, say, Mackintosh's Vindiciae Gallicae than from The Rights of Man; again, the "Gender" section does not supplement the skimpy selections from Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman found in the anthology section of the hypertext. The linking between texts is also not always as robust as one might wish.

The Geography section also offers some very useful materials: there are hypertext maps and chronologies together with a generous sampling of travel and exploration literature. The maps are a particularly welcome teaching tool, with the London map, for example, enabling the teacher not only to show students where, say, Keats lived but also to call up images of Hampstead and environs or to show what the theaters he went to looked like or to offer images of the Elgin Marbles he so admired. It should be noted that here, as elsewhere, the contextual materials are most strongly linked to the six canonical writers. We get maps showing the travels of Wordsworth or Shelley but not, say, Hunt or Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan. Again, the chronologies offered are for Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Napoleon, Shelley, and Wordsworth; there are "timelines" for Mary Shelley and William Godwin offered in the "Gothic" section of the hypertext but they are not linked to these chronologies.

Another feature of Romanticism: The CD-ROM is the creative potential offered through Projects, whether in a student-teacher or group work setting. While the CD-ROM itself contains no pre-configured projects, this Projects section "contains advice to students on pursuing research questions, collaborating with other students, and presenting reports," as the accompanying instruction booklet indicates, thereby increasing the program's value as a teaching tool. Miall and Wu suggest the following varieties of diagrams which may be used as teaching and presentation tools:

* Trees
* Webs
* Cycles
* Matrices
* Flow Charts
* Time Lines
* Maps
* Venn Diagrams

Students may use diagrams such as these, exported and then printed sections of texts, and images to create materials for presentation. Some images of completed student projects are included as samples.

Tours is one of the most attractive features of the CD-ROM. This feature operates much like a slide show or PowerPoint® presentation, taking viewers through a sequence of pre-selected texts, contexts, and/or images.

By clicking on Tours on the Home page, you can pre-configure Tours or run existing ones. Once in the Tours area, clicking "Run Tours" will activate the Tours Function dialogue box; clicking "Create" will, in turn, activate the "Create Tours Form" dialogue box, offering two categories: 1) "Current History," and 2) "User Queries." For example, if a user or set of users (an entire class) will be searching for interrelated documents and images on, say, "Imagination," clicking the "User Queries" will keep an internal log of which hyperlinks are accessed from the beginning of that Tour creation. An added feature of a "User Queries" Tour is the option of delaying the number of seconds during which a stop should be viewed, enabling an instructor to vary time for perusal or discussion of a given text or image. Such a feature could be used for a quick review of a previous class meeting's material or for a demonstration of how (virtually) no two Tours through Romanticism: The CD-ROM will be the same. "Current History" may be utilized for the creation of an instructor's Tour for class presentation, linking through a thematically or chronologically organized set of texts, contexts, and/or images.

The Annotate feature, while ostensibly more single-user-compatible in that it allows for one's personal annotations of texts (only), can be used in conjunction with the Tours function. Simply clicking the "Annotate" button at the top of any text screen activates the "Reader's Notes (Annotation)" dialogue box which allows for saving or deleting an annotation. Once an annotation has been saved, the program's built-in HyperWriter indicates an annotation to a given text by inserting a check-mark in the blue active menu titlebar, as illustrated here; clicking this tick-mark will activate the annotation. If an instructor, for instance, has constructed a Tour for class presentation, notes on a particular text can be accessed while reading it during the Tour. Annotate, in effect, could function as a dependent set of hyperlink marginalia, as it were, for an entire class during a Tour. A user may also "Export" an annotation to a text (.txt) file for later printing so that a series of annotations might serve as brief lecture notes during a guided Tour. Unfortunately, because Annotate functions with texts only, annotating the 1,200+ images is unavailable in this CD-ROM release. However, Annotate is one of the more attractive features of the program's.

Whereas the tours give the user the ability to create slide show-like presentations, Bookmarks allow a user to create a set of predefined hyperlinks that serve as instant text locators. Clicking on the "Bookmarks" button at the top of any text page will enable a user to add quickly the current location as a returnable link in the "Bookmarks" dialogue box. (Names of bookmarks are limited to 19 characters.) Images cannot be bookmarked, but the locations of their respective textual hyperlinks can be.

There are two other utilities built-in to the program: Search and Link Map. The former functions essentially the same as a web-browser's Find command and offers four searching options as illustrated. The Search function is not active for the main indices of Contexts, Gothic, and Geography, but it is in all other text locations and the Contexts section's "Chronology: 1780-1834."

The Link Map utilitiy is intended to provide "a built in map of the links available from the current document," akin to viewing a web page's Pagesource or html information in a web-browser in order to determine the existing links. We discovered that while providing another welcomed feature in the program, the Link Map is not as user-friendly as it might be. That is, instead of displaying the titles of texts linked for students or users more familiar with romantic period titles, the "Local Map" of the Link Map function displays a directory of relevantly linked files according to the program's hyperlink language. Rather than "Note 1," for example, a Link Map may display "(No Name Given)(2)". If one cannot readily discern the link(s), then the utility of the Link Map is somewhat diminished if the user must click about to find the desired link(s).

Romanticism: The CD-ROM does not run on a MacIntosh/Apple® platform. System Requirements are as follows:

* PC with 386Mhz processor minimum (486 or Pentium® recommended)
* Windows® 3.x (Windows® 95/98 recommended)
* 4Mb of RAM (8Mb+ recommended)
* CD-ROM drive (4x+ recommended), mouse & SVGA Monitor
* 360Mb hard drive space for full installation (1.27Mb for compact installation)

As a teaching tool and library resource, it is recommended that the CD-ROM be installed and implemented over a LAN (Local Area Network). The licensing of the network version of the program permits up to "100 concurrent users" (cf. network pricing). However, the PC-compatible nature of the CD-ROM will preclude a networked environment where an institution's computer lab is a MacIntosh/Apple®-dedicated environment. Nonetheless, the CD-ROM's overall concept and design provides optimal performance in a networked setting.

Blackwell's also offers a FREE DEMO VERSION of the program that comes on a 3.5" PC-compatible diskette (1.28Mb). As this demo is "Romanticism: The CD-ROM Sampler Disk," its contents are limited and includes the following:

* From Texts: Thelwall
* From Gothic: Hogg, Reviews
* From Contexts (Historical): Thelwall, Defence
* From Contexts (The Arts): Art Index
* From Geography: Shelleys: I. Visits to Switzerland of 1814 & 1816

You may contact Blackwell for the demo or download it from David Miall's site.

Romanticism: The CD-ROM is a valuable addition to the range of teaching materials available to romanticists. It provides a visual library few of us will have. It includes contextual material that few students would see without extraordinary effort either on their part or on that of the teacher. In addition, all of this is linked to one of the more popular romantic anthologies currently available. Romanticism: The CD-ROM provides a good example of what the new electronic technologies will enable us to do in improving the tools for teaching Romanticism. While we have expressed various reservations about this hypertext anthology, we are still very glad to see it available. There is, however, one final problem facing the widespread use of this valuable tool, and that is its cost. As a recent discussion on the NASSR-List indicated, Romanticism: The CD-ROM is priced beyond not only individual faculty members but often beyond the budgets of departments and even libraries. While we understand the arguments that were made for the price, we still feel that the hypertext anthology would sell many more copies—and thus, presumably, result in higher profits—if it were priced more reasonably.