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Articles

Anthologising the New Romanticism[Notice]

  • Anne Mellor et
  • Richard Matlak

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  • Anne Mellor
    University of California, Los Angeles

  • Richard Matlak
    College of the Holy Cross

I want first to address some of the marketing issues that Susan Wolfson raised in her introduction, and then to offer some suggestions on how the Mellor/Matlak anthology might be used in the classroom. When Richard and I first proposed our anthology to Harcourt Brace in 1991, our editor, Stephen Jordan, commissioned the project enthusiastically. He believed that the time was coming when David Perkins's English Romantic Writers—which had been a consistent seller for Harcourt Brace for twenty years—was about to be displaced by a less "canonical" anthology, and he wanted to have a viable competitor in place. He put no restrictions whatsoever on our method of organization, selections, annotations—the only constraints were total page-length (not to exceed 1200 pages) and responsiveness to peer-review during the process. Since scholars in the profession who were asked to evaluate this project during its development were consistently supportive and enthusiastic, Stephen Jordan basically gave us a free hand. At the last minute, when we came in with a book of 1400 pages, our new editor at Harcourt Brace, John Meyer, generously allowed us the extra 200 pages. And I think Stephen Jordan's instincts were right—the Mellor/Matlak anthology was published this January and has already sold out its first printing of 5000 volumes; 1400 copies are now being reprinted with the typographical and factual errors which have so far been drawn to our attention corrected; and when this printing is sold, we will be able to construct a second edition which will make a few substantive changes. For this new edition, we seek your help in correcting errors (both factual and typographical) and, more important, we welcome your suggestions as to what texts you really miss not having, and which ones you think we could eliminate to make room for them. When Professor Mellor and I undertook British Literature: 1780-1830, so many decisions had to be made about organization; authors and works to include and exclude in shaping an equitable anthology of men and women writers; sometimes the surname to use, in the case of women authors; the choice of versions of works; the kind and extent of annotation; even deciding to correct or to let stand spelling and grammatical errors. As I say, so many decisions had to be made on a regular basis that we were reduced to formulating principles and, worse, abiding by them! Here are some of the most important. Besides deciding that half of our 1400 pages would be devoted to women writers, which is the most prominent distinction one will note upon perusing the Table of Contents, we would like to call attention to our principles of ORGANIZATION: All of this may sound straightforward and perhaps now obligatory at this historically-minded time, but it was troublesome to carry out. Most standard editions of the writers who have been re-edited in the past 25 years organize works by year of composition, rather than publication. Almost all Romantic period anthologies and single-author anthologies do the same. And then, to move to the related principle of selection of versions of texts, it is generally the received text—or perhaps some recent editorial construction—that one finds in compositional sequence rather than the text as it appeared when first published. Thus, to take the organization of Coleridge's works as a familiar example, many (but not all) teachers might be aware that the version of Ancient Mariner offered as being composed in 1797-98 is usually the version with the famous gloss of 1817. Fewer would know that the version of "Eolian Harp" listed as appearing in 1796 is not the poem …