Mahindra Humanities: Book History: The Novel and its Working Methods—a workshop


Thursday, November 16, 2017, 6:00pm


Robinson Hall Lower Library, 35 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA


Rachel Buurma, Swarthmore College

Petra McGillen, Dartmouth College

Simon Reader, City University of New York

The Novel and its Working Methods: A Workshop


Rachel Buurma (English, Swarthmore College)
"The Preparation of the Victorian Novel"

What might we gain from thinking about the composition of novels and the criticism of them as more similar than different? Following Roland Barthes’s “The Preparation of the Novel,” I ask how understanding novelists’ research practices can help us rethink both qualitative and quantitative ways of knowing the Victorian novel. Taking Victorian novelist Charles Reade as a case study, I examine his research and note-taking practice to ask how an attention to the ways novelists compose out of varied sources, texts, and pre-existing imagined worlds might help us think at scales between the individual novel and the large corpus.

Petra McGillen (German, Dartmouth College)
"The Compiler’s Moment: Fontane and the Manufacture of Nineteenth-Century Realism"

The compiler is typically not included among the official dramatis personae of nineteenth-century literary history. Behind the scenes, however, the compilation of gleaned materials flourished in several contexts, from journalism—newspapers were essentially compilations—to hack-writing (e.g. in the form of the Kolportage novel). Even the canonical German realist Theodor Fontane compiled his novels. Analysis of his unpublished notebooks and other “paper tools” reveals that his creative process followed a “copy and mix” strategy that not only responded to the challenges posed by the industrialization of print, but also anticipated aesthetic features of contemporary remix culture.

Simon Reader (City University of New York - Staten Island)
"Blankness: Unrecovering Vernon Lee"

Vernon Lee continues to be a subject of recovery for scholars of Victorian literature and aesthetics. Yet she valued her marginality, a fact attested by thirteen hundred pages of handmade notebooks that she kept between 1885 and 1900. Flickering on the edges of an already minor corpus, these books do not represent Lee's attempts to gain literary prestige but instead serve as technologies for the mode of aesthetic contemplation privileged in her own studies of beauty. This style of attention involves focussing on the “uninteresting blankness” of phenomena that fall afoul of significant structures in nature, art, and narrative.

Cosponsored by the History of the Book seminar.