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Wilde week

I’m going to let the obvious pun slide… But it has been a pretty fun week!

This was the final single-chapter week of writing up for my thesis, and it was focused on Wilde’s Dorian Gray. This chapter I have used, in a modified form, as a writing sample, so it was in good shape a a stand-alone piece. Again—and this is something of a refrain now—scaffolding was key to the week. I think of writing larger pieces as a construction project; segments that might stand alone, or which have an inherent coherence, need to be tied and pegged into one another in a way that is structurally valuable, rather than like a McMansion! At times, this can feel like structurally weakening the individual pieces, particularly if they’ve already been shaped, like this chapter, to hold their own weight.

Some highlights of the week:

  • Nicholas Frankel‘s two “unedited” versions of the novel. I have both hardback and paperback, as the former contains a greater depth of commentary. I’ve read them both a few times, but they remain a highlight of my Wilde research. For critical purposes, I think that this edition will probably stand as definitive.
  • Finally getting a chance to read the early chapters of Richard Ellmann‘s biography. I have mostly read the portions related to specific events or publications, but it was nice to read around Wilde’s early life a bit more! I’ve doubled-up with this research, as it’s also been really helpful as part of my digital humanities Wilde project.

Vernon Lee Week

Following the NAVSA2016 intermission, I’m back on schedule with writing up, and this week was Vernon Lee week.

I’d already done some fairly significant revisions when I was thinking of using this chapter as a writing sample (I eventually used my Wilde chapter, which will be the subject of next week’s extravaganza!). Again, the main task was structuring and interweaving. This chapter is the first in a second part of my thesis: part one deals with poetry (Field and Rossetti), and part two with fiction (Lee and Wilde). That means that part of this week was also writing the introduction for the part.

Some highlights from this week:

  • As most of my writing up seems to involve hanging around on digital archives, this week was mostly about the Colby special collection on Lee.  There’s a really useful summary of Lee’s correspondence with her family (PDF), as well as a bibliography (PDF).
  • Rereading some new work on Lee by some fellow doctoral candidates, such as Leire Barrera-Medrano’s ‘Dolls in Agony’. While requiring original thought, the PhD is often a case of also having to be seen trotting out the “standard texts” to demonstrate knowledge of the field. I always think it’s worthwhile finding less-cited pieces, and there is so much great scholarship being done by those close to completing, or just after completing, that deserves to be seen and brought into dialogue with ‘canonical’ scholarship.


Rossetti Week


Here we go. Week 2 of writing up, and I’ve been spending my time with Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Comparatively, this chapter has been through the most iterations beforehand, so the way forward seemed pretty clear when I began. Again, there was lots of building up my methodological framework and plenty of interweaving with other chapters to be done, and now I’m a little worried that it might be the chapter with the most work still to do when I come back to doing round two of this process.

Still, the week was a pleasure. Some of the highlights included:

  • Enjoying what might be the original Victorianist digital humanities project, the Rossetti Archive. What it lacks in an up-to-the-minute appearance, the site more than makes up for in comprehensive detail. It’s an invaluable resource for images of printed texts, manuscripts, and paintings, as well as summarising some of the key foundational critical works dealing with Rossetti’s work.
  • Taking advantage yet again of the wealth of texts and information available on Monoskop.org. This week it was a quick canter through Umberto Eco’s The Open Work as well as Gérard Genette’s Paratexts. Not only does it offer full texts in PDF form, but they’re searchable too. I promise, it’s one of the sexiest research tools on the web!
  • Coming back to a close reading and just thinking, “Nope. Plain wrong!” It’s wonderful quite how many interpretations a sonnet might hold, particularly if it has the convoluted and condensed syntax and imagery of a Rossettian one! In case you’re wondering, the misreading involved ‘A Superscription’, one of sonnets from “The House of Life” with some real pronoun problems! I think I have now satisfied myself as to what “that” in “the glass” is, but I may have changed my mind again by the time I come back to this chapter, so watch this space.


Image (c) Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University

Michael Field week

As part of writing up my thesis, I’ve decided to dedicate a week to each chapter. This week was Michael Field Week.

My Michael Field chapter was the first drafted, almost two years ago, so it inevitably needed a lot of work (if I’m lucky, it’ll be the most work of all my chapters).

The core argument was clear and still solid from when I left it. I’ve presented my overall thinking before, at a Birkbeck conference (the Prezi is online, and I subsequently blogged for BAVS about it). The overall theoretical framework for my thesis has developed hugely, though, and there was a great deal of reframing and signposting to be done, particularly to weave in some of my thinking around cultural techniques, and to create links between this first chapter and the three others that follow. For me, signposting and structural work is always the last thing to happen, and I will forever envy people for whom a definite structure is a starting point.

Some of my highlights of the week, aside from the copious coffee and the fun of editing on paper:

  • Needing to rifle through Michael Field’s life-writing, and finding this online archive of their diaries a total lifesaver, as the British Library is now a continent and ocean away! Marion Thain and Ana Parejo Vadillo are progressing a project to transcribe these so that they can be searchable, and I’m hoping to be a part of the team transcribing the 1890s diaries when we get to it.
  • Having fun using Sarah Kersh’s wonderful digital edition of Sight and Song (it uses a similar annotation function to COVE and is simply beautiful). I’m hoping to add some of my close readings as annotations to it, and I think it’s a great resource that anyone studying Michael Field should be using.
  • Playing around with graphs and charts that Excel and Numbers have to offer. I had a quick visualisation of the rhythm of the volume in my Prezi, which I included in the BAVS blog post, but it was crude. I’m not sure either package quite offers what I need, though, so once I’m going to look further afield once I’m done writing up.

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.

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!

Pitching papers

Inevitably at the end of the summer, there is a crunch period for submitting papers to conferences for the next academic year. Some of the biggest conferences have deadlines well in advance of the conferences themselves, as do journal editions that take years to produce, so getting things in for September and October deadlines becomes a bit of a struggle.

I find producing abstracts for pitching to conferences or journals to be a particular challenge because I so often don’t know what I’m going to want to say until I’m most of the way through writing!

Opportunities to review recent articles or new publications have also been coming out of the woodwork, so I now have a wide set of documents open lest I forget about them.

If I have any success at all with my abstracts, this year could be one of many irons in the fire…