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Letters from the Editors of the New Romantic Anthologies[Notice]

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

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

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