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Romantic Anthologies - A Special Issue of Romanticism On the Net[Notice]

  • Laura Mandell

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  • Laura Mandell
    Miami University of Ohio

This special issue is a spin-off of an MLA panel hosted by Susan Wolfson in December, 1996. This panel gathered most of the editors of the new anthologies of Romantic literature and of the sections on Romantic literature in the major anthologies of British literature. Wolfson is coeditor with Peter Manning of the section entitled "The Romantics and Their Contemporaries" in Longman's Anthology of British Literature. She introduced the panel with remarks reproduced here which offer a historical overview of anthologies and Romantic literature from the 1950s on. Then Duncan Wu discussed some of the more important, overarching questions that editors of new anthologies must confront. That essay is also included here. Richard Matlak and Anne Mellor discussed practical pedagogical problems and editorial principles in their presentation, which is reproduced in this issue. Peter Manning and Jack Stillinger also spoke at the panel about their work on Longman's and the sixth edition of the Norton, respectively. Some of their comments in informal correspondence with me, along with comments by editors who were not able to participate at the panel, appear here in this issue as well. The issue thus contains an email message from Vivien Jones, editor of Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity, about how an anthology presenting archival materials to undergraduates can encourage them to see the cultural dependence of their own thought processes; an email message from Jerome McGann about Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse, an anthology that was not, he tells us, designed for use in the classroom; and a letter from David Perkins describing what prompted the changes he made when transforming the first edition of English Romantic Writers into the second. We have included in this issue not only comments by editors but also responses to the new anthologies in a series of discussions by participants on the NASSR Listserv. As one can see from this wide-ranging discussion, what is happening in the publication of Romantic literature is not of purely pedantic interest. Rather, publication of these new anthologies is stimulating and reacting to dramatic changes in the structure of our discipline as well as the university itself. Thus, in discussing the new anthologies, NASSR participants ask and answer questions such as: how do we date Romanticism, and what difference do various kinds of dating make? How does anthology production affect the value of specific writers? Given the explosion of new texts, how do we decide what to teach? What is the difference between using an anthology that presents a huge number of writers from among which a teacher selects and one that presents a fixed canon? Does the commodification of literature reflect a commodification of knowledge by the university, or does learning in the university engage in other kinds of "corporate practice" that the model of commodification obscures? In addition to the commentary by editors in both formal papers and informal letters, as well as the discussion on the NASSR list, I have appended my own essay which reviews the new anthologies by situating the production of anthologies in the history of canon formation. It responds to a question raised by a statistical analysis that Alan Richardson sent out on the NASSR list which is: what constitutes radical change of the canon—the inclusion of many women writer, or many poems by "select" women writers? My essay also discusses the relation between the canon and correctness by deducing from various anthologies the readerly desires that they attempt to gratify: do we only care about each word of …