Crossing Old Barriers: The WorldWideWeb, Academia, and the Romantic Novel[Notice]

  • Catherine Decker

…plus d’informations

  • Catherine Decker
    California State University at San Bernardino

Change in Romantic studies traditionally comes through scholarship: new claims to canonicity, new pedagogical approaches, new aesthetic judgements, and new arguments connecting literature to other arts, history, culture, philosophy, science, medicine, and the social sciences. In the classroom, particularly in courses designed for beginning college students, such as the classic survey of British literature, such change is slow to manifest itself: new texts in the new edition of our anthology, new topics and critics in student papers, or new ways to organize the syllabus and to shape the discussion of a particular text. The WorldWideWeb is a new factor in the traditional model of change outlined above, and one that is shaping not just what we study and teach but also how we do our studying and teaching and how we define these acts and ourselves. For the past fifteen years, I have been studying British women's novels of 1770 to 1830. While I am not a representative figure of the Romantic scholar, my role on the web is a fairly typical one and shows how a strong web presence can help cross some of the old barriers of the academic world. In particular, I want to focus on how the web blurs the divisions between canonical and noncanonical novels, teaching and research, and the disparate levels of power and prestige established by hierarchial academic rankings. The WorldWideWeb has contributed to blurring the edges of the Romantic novel canon in rather subtle ways. As I will discuss more extensively below, the web has done little to make noncanonical novels of the Romantic era electronically accessible, somewhat surprizing given the rapidly growing amount of scholarship on novels traditionally outside (or on the fringes) of the canon. However, as a result of the increasing number of Romantic scholars on the web, extensive research projects that are not stylistically appropriate for journals are now accessible. Freed from pressure to create "marketable" research, academic web designers can juxtapose discussions of canonical and noncanonical works; cross barriers between research, teaching, and creative writing; and fire salvos in the canon wars. The canon war, at least in the theatre of electronic texts, is being won by the traditionalists. The web, for instance, has not yet significantly changed the availability of noncanonical British women's Romantic novels, although a few electronic texts outside the Romantic canon (or pieces of such texts) have been made accessible. The gleanings on the web are few indeed: the preface to Clara Reeve's The Old English Baron (1777), the full text of Eliza Parson's Castle of Wolfenbach (1793), and excerpts from Anne Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797). Moreover, given that these Radcliffe novels are in print by Oxford University Press in the "World's Classics" series (and a new version of Udolpho is slated for June 1998 publication), it is—delightfully—rather questionable to label Radcliffe as "noncanonical." The reasons for the canonicity of the bulk of the electronic texts available on the web are hardly elusive: most of the large textbases are located at and funded by major universities (or grants to university scholars that include a cut for the university at which the project is situated). Consider for example the university affiliations of such archives as The English Server (at Carnegie Mellon University), The Emory Women Writers Resource Project (at Emory University), The Penn Electronic Archive and Library (at the University of Pennsylvania), The Electronic Text Center (at the University of Virginia), and The Eris Project (at Virginia Tech University). While these sites contain some works that are "noncanonical," none as yet has helped significantly in the study of …

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