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Letters from the Editors of the New Romantic Anthologies

  • Susan Wolfson,
  • Peter Manning,
  • Duncan Wu,
  • Anne Mellor,
  • Vivien Jones,
  • Jerome McGann et
  • David Perkins

Corps de l’article

The Question to which Editors of the new and revised anthologies of Romantic literature responded:

  • Do you have in mind specific ways that your collection might be used in teaching? Were there any specific difficulties you had in editing your text because of marketing requirements, canon reform, and/or other pressures?

Susan Wolfson, coeditor with Peter Manning of "The Romantics and Their Contemporaries" section of the Longman's Anthology of British Literature:

Briefly, we were encouraged to provide more of less for the author's sections, resulting in substantial selections of a select group of women writers: Barbauld, Wollstonecraft, Baillie, Robinson, Wordsworth, Hemans, Shelley. The men authors are Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Clare. Under "perspectives" section on the Revolution, Rights of Women, Slavery and Abolition, Ballads, and Authorship, we include shorter selections from several more authors (male and female). The pressure, such as as it was, was to keep the most often taught texts of the male canon—this meant, alas, letting go of Lamia, of Child Harolde's Pilgrimage Cantos 1 and 2, etc.

Peter Manning, coeditor with Susan Wolfson of "The Romantics and Their Contemporaries" section of the Longman's Anthology of British Literature:

A quick reply, not yet about how I imagine our own anthology being used, but a report on the experience of using Mellor-Matlak for two weeks, after years in which I used full texts. It's wonderful to have the materials of the anthology available—it's frustrating to have familiar texts cut. Several passages in Burke's Reflections, for example, that I have always made much of in my teaching, are simply gone, and the small compass of the Paine / Burke selections seems not to have been enough for my undergraduates to feel the difference in their prose styles. Any anthology presents this problem, or some version of it.

Duncan Wu, editor of Romanticism: An Anthology:

The truth is, it's impossible to please everyone. The primary aim of the Blackwell anthology, Romanticism, which I edited in 1994, was to provide a more up-to-date working textbook than those currently available. It sought to take into account the changes that had occurred in the editing of the works of the "big six" (for instance, the use of manuscripts, the addition of early versions of canonised works, and so forth), as well as the addition to the canon of a number of hitherto neglected writers, particularly women.  [1]

The list of contents was drawn up only after widespread consultation with University professors who taught our subject. It was they who suggested, for instance, that the anthology include complete, uncut texts rather than extracts—a decision that has stood the anthology in good stead. The other important factor was of course the economics of publishing. What so few academics understand is that the number of pages in a volume is crucial to its future success. More than a certain number, and there can be no chance of its making a profit for the publisher, however good the sales; nor can there be any chance of its being reprinted.

Nonetheless, in some sense I do think that Romanticism: An Anthology did manage to square the circle. No other single volume contains complete texts of the thirteen-book Prelude, Lyrical Ballads, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Prometheus Unbound, both Hyperions, Manfred, and Don Juan Canto I and Dedication—alongside works by most of the less well-known female (and male) writers of the time. And it is unusual, I think, for anthologies of this kind to draw directly on manuscript as well as printed sources.

As for its use in the classroom, I can only offer readers my own experience of using it. I run seminars by theme: childhood, the city, responses to nature, and so forth. This enables me to present students with—in a class on responses to nature—Warton's sonnet to the Lodon (p. 2), Cowper's "Winter Evening" from The Task (p. 9), Anna Laetitia Barbauld's "A Summer Evening's Meditation" (p. 17), Charlotte Smith's "To the South Downs" (p. 32), and Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight" (p. 516), among other texts. Or, in a class on the city, we read Blake's "London" (p. 73), passages from the thirteen-book Prelude, Lamb's famous letter about his love of London (p. 615), and Charles Lloyd's "London" (p. 632).

I cannot claim that Romanticism: An Anthology contains all the works I would have liked to include—all anthologists would probably have to say the same. The practicalities of book-publishing make it impossible. However, I'm fortunate insofar as Blackwell has agreed to enlarge it by 100 pages, and I'm currently in the process of adding some of the works I was compelled to omit.  [2]

Anne Mellor, coeditor with Richard Matlak of British Literature, 1780-1830:

The only restriction Harcourt Brace put on us was length—a maximum of 1400 pages, which at the last moment they upped to 1500. They couldn't have been more lenient—basically, they trusted us, got good responses from their reviewers to the concept of the project, and let us select what we wanted. (Of course, I originally had 1400 pages I wanted to use for my HALF of the book, so the omissions are all my own.)

Vivien Jones, editor of Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity:

When I first conceived of Women in the Eighteenth-Century: Constructions of Femininity, it was part of a series called World and Word, general editor Isobel Armstrong and at that time published by Croom Helm, who were subsequently taken over by Routledge. The aim of the series was to provide easy access for students to the kind of quite specialized contextual material which is usually only available in good libraries, and is anyway often offputting for undergraduates. My own hopes / expectations about how the anthology might be used fit that general aim: I hope that it is useful in courses on Literature, History, Women's Studies, etc. dealing with gender in the eighteenth century, in order to give students first-hand access to printed texts which both represent and are instrumental in the construction of ideologies of gender. What I would like students to be able to do is to read these texts as they would expect to read literary texts—i.e., not to take them as truth, but to be alert to the rhetorical devices through which gender is being constructed, often under the guise of a description of "nature."

My constraints were a strict word limit (I think it was 90,000 words) which was inevitably frustrating. One of my aims was to provide fairly substantial pieces of text, so that students were in a position to do the kind of reading described above. In this sense, I saw my anthology as complementing Bridget Hill's Women in the Eighteenth Century, which offers much shorter passages on the whole. My other main editorial decision was not to include texts that are / were easily available elsewhere—so that, for example, the Wollstonecraft inclusions are from Thoughts on the Education of Daughters rather than from the more easily available Vindications. Other than word limit, I was left very free by the publishers and the general editor.

[Update:] I am actually negotiating with Routledge at the moment to produce a second edition. If users want to let me know what kinds of texts they would like included in a new edition, I'd be really pleased.

Jerome McGann, editor of The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse:

I didn't undertake The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse with "classroom adoption" in mind. I suppose the anthology might be used in a class, in various kinds of classes in fact; but it wasn't conceived for the classroom.

I tried to do two (perhaps contradictory) things with the book. First, I wanted to put together a collection of poetry from the romantic period that represented what people were interested in at the time, and that (in my judgment) people today would still find interesting, perhaps even unusual. In this I did not think only of the "romanticism classroom," least of all just the college classroom.

Second, I tried to make the book theoretically aware, as it were, and in particular I tried to break away from centering everything on the author—to set the poetry in a more randomized and less personal frame of reference. In this I was interested in trying to push into forward awareness the poetry-as-such (via arbitrary collisions of similarities and differences in styles).

The minimal notes and absence of "student aids" is deliberate. It is a deliberate effort to remove as many professional filters as possible. In every case, however, I give interested readers the information they need to recover the original work.

One last thing. I was very happy to return to an older style of anthologizing in the case of certain works; i.e., I was happy to give excerpts rather than entire works. The fixation on "entire works" reflects a desire for a thematic approach to poetry rather than a stylistic or aesthetic/physical approach. I believe (with Blake, let me say) that the appreciation of poetry, what it is and how it functions, is threatened by thematics (Blake called it "the wastes of moral law"), which should be used only with the greatest care and circumspection.

As for the more commercial aspects of the venture: I've paid no attention to those things. I've never been able to get very intersted in the "marketing" of books I've been involved with. I've always left that to the publisher (s, e.g., when in certain cases I wanted total control of the output—in several collaborative projects—I/we published privately and simply gave the books away). The press's commercial interests did, however, impinge on my work in a few (to me uncomfortable) ways: e.g., in the press's insistence on certain changes (removal of full-colour images, particularly in the Blake texts; cutting back on the texts in various ways, etc.).

David Perkins, editor of English Romantic Writers,First and editions:

When the first edition of my anthology, English Romantic Writers, was prepared in 1967, it reflected its time. Survey courses were then generally going over to a "major author" approach. The older generation of English professors had been trained in ideas of literary history that foregrounded the importance to the development of literature of "minor" writers also, and hence, in their teaching, they had presented as many writers as possible, with a lesser emphasis on "major" ones. (Hardly anybody in 1967 doubted that the distinction between "major" and "minor" was meaningful and makeable.) Persons of my generation had suffered, we thought, from being forced to study every insect of the nineteenth century, and felt that more was to be gained from knowing fewer authors in depth. Accordingly, English Romantic Writers greatly increased the representation of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, as compared with previous anthologies, and was the first Romantic anthology ever to give a substantial representation of Blake, including one of the prophetic books, Milton, in toto. Also, I thought that writers should be presented in their historical worlds and as persons (real) rather than the new-critical persona. For these reasons the anthology included a very unusual representation of letters, diaries, and memoirs.

In reviewing the anthology two years ago, I felt that during the time of my career the most important single development in the academic study of literature had been the focus on women's experience and literature as a special interest. Having developed myself, in this respect, I presented Dorothy Wordsworth as an author in her own right, rather than as a ancillary to her brother, and added sections representing women poets who had not appeared in the first edition. I also included letters on her experiences in France during the Revolution by Helen Maria Williams, a short story by Mary Shelley, and a long selection from Wollstonecraft's Vindication. In other respects the second edition was not greatly changed, except that the bibliography was of course brought up to date—no small task, since more has been written on English Romantic Writers since 1967 than in all the years before. Though novels may be important in courses on Romanticism, I've always felt that to include them in anthologies is a space-wasting mistake, since novels are readily available to students in inexpensive editions.

The anthology is designed for college courses in English Romantic literature. It is unusually comprehensive. No one assigns it in toto, but assigns selectively from it according to their interests and student needs. Most additional readings that a teacher might want to recommend to a particular student for a particular project can also be found in it, and the bibliography guides students to secondary studies on particular topics. In editing it I of course encountered unsatisfactoriness of some texts, and had to make my own texts in many cases. I had no problems from market requirements or pressures. I'd have liked to include more pictures than the publishers would allow.

Parties annexes