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#AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo: challenge complete

So with the conclusion of November comes reflection, as well as the pleasure of saying that the full piece is now up online: “The Faun of Rome: A Romance”, by Oscar Wilde edited by Nate Maturin.

This November has been one of the most productive #AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo’s I’ve had, I think in part because it was a combination of the two. Having those two styles of work to complete, when I got tired of plotting or figuring out what people were going to say, I could turn to finding references and connections. I always work best when I have multiple projects on the go, so this was a good combination for me.

The last few days were a little bit of a rush because, after finishing the novel itself, there were all of that paratextual elements to put together, and then of course all of the mark-up for putting each page on Scalar. I didn’t regret reverting back to Scalar 1 for a second. In fact, I’m really glad that I did. Still, though, publishing each page was a laborious process, and if I were to do a similar project again for web, I would probably write in a different application, rather than Scrivener, which is better suited to producing PDFs or the research stages of a project.

One of the things that I didn’t get time to do during November itself was produce a map of Rome, and Tuscany, based on the trips, meeting places, and homes that are mentioned in the novel. I think it would be an interesting visualisation, particularly within the city itself, to show where characters are pushed together and where they are able to find free space for themselves. I’m looking forward to doing this when I get a chance, as I’d like to keep improving the piece.

Finally, although I had some good fun producing matching Voyant visualisations for the two corpuses, they actually threw up some points that I would address if I were to redraft the novel. There wasn’t enough clear water between the two text’s use of proper names, for example. Any updating or editing will probably include addressing some of these points.

This experience threw up for me the question of how conscious authors are of the interpretive mechanisms that are going to be brought to bear on their works. When writing this piece, I had half an eye to the question, “What would an educated reader be excited by here?” Some of the answers were, “Echoes of later works”, and “Stylistic tics”, and I am curious about how much that sort of thinking affects writers more broadly. Although of course a writer is always thinking of the reader and how they might respond to the words on the page, never before when I’ve been writing have I been so conscious at a micro level of how each decision, semi-colon or period, alliteration, chiasmus, etc., etc., might be interpreted.

I’m going to give myself a few weeks now, and then I plan to re-read everything with only my academic head on!

Neo-Victorian #AcWriMo: week 3

Week three is up, and my #AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo project is on-track at 36,500 words and counting.

I spent a fair amount of time this week tinkering around with Scalar to try to improve the styling, and I’m increasingly sceptical of the merits of Scalar for digital publishing. It might be useful for people without the time or inclination to produce something independently, but the Scalar 2 interface is currently poor. In the end, I abandoned it and reverted the whole piece back to Scalar 1 in order to get something that was more manageable. In Scalar 2, for example, it proved difficult to change the background colour (because it overlays its grey-and-white page over the top of it) or right-align any text without it intervening into the space left for the annotation tab. The whole structure seems to be under-developed at the moment, so reverting felt like the right thing to do.

I also had to go through the pieces already posted in order to deal with html that followed me from Scrivener. I haven’t used Scrivener for quite a long time, as it didn’t really suit my PhD writing process. Although I still like the organisational structure it gives for chapters and other pieces, which works well for creative projects, for future chapters I’m going to take things first through Atom and do some marking up there, as the Scalar HTML content pane isn’t very friendly for larger pieces (this is one of the few points where the Scalar 2 interface had the upperhand).

In terms of the writing itself, the story is finally branching out from the original, so the amount of creative work required has increased substantially. There’s quite a lot of research to be done, but I’m looking forward to getting the story substantially completed this week, and then getting to work on the framing and final touches. Only 10 days left!

Neo-Vic digital humanities project, week 2

So this is week 2 of #NaNoWriMo, and I wrote last week about how I was tackling getting the digital humanities portion of my project—a rewriting of Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun as though by a young Oscar Wilde—up online. In terms of the actual Scalar presentation itself, there’s still some CSS stuff to do, but here are the first few pieces of the novel, letters and prefatory materials! I’m not hugely bowled over by what Scalar offers in terms of other website presentation, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt at the moment, and Hypothes.is is up and running, so annotations are more than welcome.

This week involved a bigger focused on thinking about content. How would Wilde change this novel, narratively and stylistically? What pressures would his prejudices, concerns, and experiences have brought to bear on Hawthorne’s original story?

As part of examining the style of the original, and thinking about which terms and phrases I might want to include/exclude in order to shift it closer to Wilde’s own, I used Voyant to produce some clouds and other visualisations.

The Voyant site proved a little unreliable. It produced a bunch of default visualisations from Hawthorne’s text almost instantly, but then went into spinning-beachball-of-death mode when I tried to export a simple word cloud. I tried switching browsers, only to a get a server-unavailable error message, and so that was the end of the first effort! It worked better after a quick pause, although I continue to find the multi-paned interface really cluttered. One thing that is definitely coming up for me in this project is that the tools that are available are not necessarily as user-friendly as they could be. That’s something that digital humanities needs to be willing to address—either in terms of training or in terms of the tools that we actually provide for each other—in order to normalise the use of these approaches.

In any event, the visualisations made me feel that Hawthorne’s novel (or at least the first, on which I’m working at the moment) was actually really rather boring! The predominance of “said”, both in word clouds, the link visualisation, and in co-locates analyses was just staggering, so I removed it (as well as “chapter”). Still, there were some few phrases that repeated (but only at a low frequency of two occurrences each) that caught my eye:

  • “On the edge of a precipice let us”
  • “At the foot of the precipice”
  • “Caught it in the air and”
  • “Foot on the head of his”
  • “Himself at full length on the”
  • “In the bowels of the earth”
  • “Of the palace of the caesars”
  • “One of the angles of the”
  • “The door of the little courtyard”
  • “They had now emerged from the”

I’m still trying to determine whether I want to conduct a comparative analysis of Wilde’s style based on his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, or a wider corpus, perhaps focusing more on the earlier works. At the same time, I need to produce a narrative that Wilde might have found compelling, or at least amusing and worth telling. It’s difficult to focus on these two components simultaneously, so this next week is definitely going to be content-focused. If I can establish a strong new narrative, then hopefully much of the style will come with that, and small tweaks can be made later on the basis of some of these macro-analyses.


NAVSA 2016: Phoenix, AZ


So, this is the last of my 2016 conference japes (read about the others on the #conferences tag).

The schedule put together by Arizona State University was wildly full, and although the theme of the conference was ‘Social Victorians’, there were a number of other interweaving strands to follow.

I moderated one of the opening panels, on ‘Ways of Seeing’. Presentations covered forms of mediated sight and the social function of seeing in non-fiction (Sari Carter‘s paper on Ruskin’s Fors Clavigera), novels (Jayda Coons‘ paper on Dickens’ Little Dorrit and Megan Hansen‘s paper on Collins’ Poor Miss Finch), and in galleries themselves (in Linda Shires‘ paper on the National Gallery).

After that, I mostly kept my panel attendances focused either on my thesis research or my digital humanities alt-ac writing project (*cough* NaNoWriMo *cough*). One of the threads that I followed was on hauntings and ghosts, as that speaks to my research into Vernon Lee and Wilde in particular (Lee Week to come next week!). The panels that I made it to along that theme included topics such as The Social Ghost & Occult Sociability (Roger Luckhurst, Nicholas Daly and Christine Ferguson), Haunted Victorians (Aviva Briefel, Elaine Auyoung, and Jonah Siegel), and Monstrous Victorians (Emily Zarka, Shannon Zellars-Strohl, Elizabeth Macaluso, and Terra Joseph).

Other themes included a focus on forms and formalism, and issues of materiality. I made it to a panel about Poetry’s Sociable Forms (Elizabeth Helsinger, Naomi Levine, and Erin Nerstad), as well as about Materiality and Modernity in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (Allen MacDuffie, Amanpal Garcha, and Claire Jarvis).

A number of the panels that I attended included presentations by people affiliated with the V21 Collective. In particular, I had a great time at the Rethinking Ideology panel (Zachary Samalin, Nasser Mufti, and Nathan Hensley, whose paper at the Swinburne conference I also really enjoyed!). Although Marx, Engels and Althusser are not my usual bedfellows, it was a nice change of pace, and really thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed Hensley’s focus on the critical langauge of past scholarship. Analysing our own metaphors and lexical/stylistic choices helps to draw out the (deliberately or unintentionally) hidden elements of our scholarship.

I didn’t take part in the professionalisation workshop, in part because of the additional cost, but also because I feel like as an experienced professional already, albeit in a different field, I would be taking the space of someone else who might get a lot more out of it. I did take part in one of the mentoring lunches, though, about completing a first book, which was interesting and professionally and practically very relevant! There is a real role for conferences in tackling these professional topics at all levels, so it was good to see NAVSA grasping that opportunity.

Neo-Vic lit, Oscar Wilde and NaNoWriMo

It has been years since I’ve had enough time to do any writing creatively. I’ve dabbled a bit each summer, but the full-time job and part-time PhD have been more than enough to handle. Now that I’m on career break to focus on writing up, though, I think I might actually get a chance to focus on some creative projects, and the fact that it’s almost November is just perfect. I’m going to go back to NaNoWriMo!

While researching my PhD chapter on Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray, I did a lot of wider reading and reread Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun. The homologies between the two novels—with characters and art blended in unusual ways—got me thinking, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Hawthorne’s tale might have been told differently. (Despite the very best efforts of Elisa New and her class on American poetry, my enjoyment of more overtly Puritanical nineteenth-century American fiction is always tempered.)

I started wondering how the bare facts of the story might be retold by a young Oscar Wilde, travelling Rome and the surrounding area. The ideas and values that produced Dorian Gray might have led the story in a completely different direction. I made some notes and toyed around with the idea a little a few years ago, so I’m going to resurrect it. As well as reframing the novel as a piece of neo-Victorian literature, I also plan to construct a critical paratext around the new text, framing it as a digital critical edition, with analyses of differences in style, form, and content.

Although most of my fiction and poetry writing has been digital, I’ve never conceived of novel-writing as a digital humanities project before, and it’s going to be fun to try out some of the skills that I’ve used annotating and creating editions on NAVSA’s Central Online Victorian Educator on an independent project.

Online publishing and pedagogy: some thoughts from working on NAVSA’s COVE

I have been working on various parts of NAVSA‘s Central Online Victorian Educator (COVE) for six months now, and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the experience, as well as on how COVE might serve educators in the future.


A question of machines

I’m doing some wider reading this week now that I’m in the final stages of revising my PhD, and I started reading through some of Steven Connor’s talks and speeches on machines. I’d forgotten just how much I enjoyed his writing. Try out How to Do Things with Writing Machines!