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Romanticism on the Net

Numéro 10, mai 1998

On Romanticism, the Canon, and the Web

Sous la direction de Laura Mandell et Michael Gamer

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/005806ar

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A Hypertext History of the Transmission of Coleridge's "Christabel," 1800-1816

Chris Koenig-Woodyard

St Edmund Hall, Oxford


In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,

Which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel! [1]


An entire epoch of so-called literature... cannot survive a certain technological regime of telecommunications. Neither can philosophy, or psychoanalysis. Or love letters.

Jacques Derrida [2]


"What will the critic and theorist of literature do about hypertext?" asks George Landow in Hyper/Text/Theory. The answer that Landow offers to his own question--"Write in hypertext itself"--reads as both an abbreviated decree and entreaty. What the literary scholar will do about hypertext is to do hypertext, is to embrace and apply the medium of hypertext--in its simplest computer form, a system of electronic links and nodes (or units of text)--to their critical and interpretive activities. [3] (Or, as Derrida would have it, lovers will now find themselves writing on-line hypermedia letters, with a requisite rendezvous in a MUD--a Multi-User Dungeon.) Rising to the occasion of Landow's call to "write in hypertext itself," however, is a task of formidable theoretical and practical complexity. [4] The difficulties of achieving this task is a governing concern among the panellists of the 1996 MLA panel "The Canon and the Web: Reconfiguring Romanticism in the Information Age," and the 1996 NASSR Bruce Graver-led round-table discussion "Electronic Texts and Textuality.


A theme often identified by panellists of both sessions is that the application of hypertext to literary studies necessitates a re-conception of the editorial and critical activities of literary scholars. Their reports of working with hypermedia and hypertext literary projects reveal a new scholarship--an electronic scholarship with a bibliographic concern that centres on textual variation, on how multiple witnesses of a literary work can be presented in an electronic environment. [5] It is in the framework of several of these panellists' comments on treating a multi-versioned literary work that the groundwork can be laid for a discussion of how the application of hypertext technology (re)shapes scholarly activities--particularly the study of the transmission of a literary work. A hypertext history of the transmission of Samuel Coleridge's "Christabel" (1816) from 1800 to 1816 serves as a model with which to explore the theoretical and practical issues at stake in working with a multi-versioned literary work in hypertext form.

A Note on Navigation


Internal navigation of this article is governed by the following series of button links, a version of which is located in every node

The "Contents" link leads to a table of contents, listing all of the major nodes in this hypertext. The "Tree" and "Chronology" links lead, respectively, to a "Transmission Tree"--a spider-web overview of the nodes that comprise the transmission history of "Christabel," 1800-1816--and to a chronological list of the events referred in the transmission history. A rationale for the "Transmission Tree" is incorporated into a later discussion of the relationship between hypertext and the study of a literary work's transmission.




Illustration for lines 255-56 in 1816 edition of "Christabel" (267-68 in 1834 edition) by C.M. Watts in Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Ernest Rhys (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1905) 46. Reproduced from a privately-owned copy.


Jacques Derrida, The Post Card from Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) 197.


George P. Landow, "What's a Critic to Do? Critical Theory in the Age of Hypertext," Hyper/Text/Theory, ed. George P. Landow (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994) 35-6.


Landow, it should be pointed out, rises to this occasion: his Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1992) appears in print and hypertext form. Similarly, Jay David Bolter's Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext and the History of Writing (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991) is available in print and hypertext. Hypertext editions of Landow and Bolter are distributed by Eastgate Systems. Among the increasing number of print statements on the relationship between information technology and the study of literature, the more persuasive, and far-reaching discussions include the following: George P. Landow, ed. Hyper/Text/Theory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994); Paul Delany and George Landow, ed. Hypermedia and Literary Studies (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991); George P. Landow and Paul Delany, eds. The Digital Word: Text-based Computing in the Humanities (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992); Myron C. Tuman, Literacy Online: The Promise (and Peril) of Reading and Writing with Computers (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992); and Richard J. Finneran, ed. The Literary Text in the Digital Age (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996). A comprehensive on-line bibliography can be found at Hypertext and Hypermedia: A Select Bibliography, George Washington University.


Among the 1996 MLA and NASSR panelists, the tone of the discussion of "electronic scholarship" is positive. In his discussion of "Electronic Scholarship; or, Scholarly Publishing and the Public," John Unsworth examines a discussion of contrasting tone--Sven Birkerts's The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (Boston: Faber & Faber, 1994). Unsworth considers the "anxiety" (which in Birkerts's case sees "Fate" revealed as "fear") that electronic scholarship is causing in some academic circles. See Unsworth in The Literary Text in the Digital Age, ed. Richard J. Finneran (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996) 233-45.

Auteur : Chris Koenig-Woodyard
Titre : A Hypertext History of the Transmission of Coleridge's "Christabel," 1800-1816
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 10, mai 1998
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/005806ar
DOI : 10.7202/005806ar

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