Tag Archives: books

Getting to the Good Parts: Chapbooks and Blue Books

One of my favorite things about Broadview Press’s 2006 edition of Zofloya (1806), by Charlotte Dacre, is the inclusion of a chapbook version of the original text in the appendix.[i] Dacre’s novel, which occupies 216 pages in this edition, has been condensed into a 19-page document that speeds through the tale, sidestepping scenes of excessive emotion, dialogue, and prolonged action and cutting right to the barebones plot. A scene early on in the novel, in which the main character’s father is mortally wounded by his wife’s lover, the count, reads:

“Draw, monster, devil, and incendiary!” exclaimed the frantic husband, at the same time snatching his stiletto from his bosom.

“I have no sword,” cooly returned the count; “but I have, like yourself, a stiletto, that shall be at your service.”

The Marchese heard no more: he struck and struck again with desperate fury at the body of his antagonist; but his aim was rendered unsure by his thirst for vengeance, by the raging and uncontrouled passions of his soul. The count, calm, and self-collected, parried with hellish dexterity his indiscriminate attempts; but receiving, at length, the point of his adversary’s stiletto in his shoulder, he suffered an impulse of rage to nerve his hand; and, retreating for an instant, then furiously advanced, and plunged his dagger to the hilt in the breast of the unfortunate Loredani. (50)

In the chapbook, this same scene simply reads:

“Draw monster and defend yourself!” exclaimed the husband, snatching his stiletto from his bosom.

“I have no sword,” said the Count; “but I have a stiletto.” The Marchese struck at him with great fury. The indignant Count plunged his dagger into the breast of the unfortunate Leonardo. (280)

It sounds almost like an outline or as if recorded from memory. The chapbook, called The Demon of Venice: An Original Romance, By a Lady (1810), like most chapbooks, has been blatantly plagiarized from Dacre’s original, though Adriana Craciun speculates in her footnote to the Broadview introduction that there is a slim chance that Dacre could actually be the author (31). Regardless, the “borrowing” of plot details as the norm does not seem to bother either reader or author, and Alison Milbank claims that changing the names avoids any direct legal ramification for the often-anonymous authors.[ii] Milbank explains the difference between chapbooks and blue books (named, of course, for their blue covers): chapbooks are prominent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and had begun to die out in the early nineteenth century, whereas blue books—Gothic in nature and featuring a more sophisticated illustration style—were prevalent in the early nineteenth century and dealt closely with booksellers (perhaps even those carrying the original novels upon which they were based). Though I have only seen reference to The Demon of Venice as a chapbook, I suspect that it qualifies more as a blue book for these reasons. While books and even library membership were expensive, blue books “provided racy, entertaining and cheap reading for the literate poor,” and like many other more accessible forms of entertainment, such as theater, helped to perpetuate and continue the Gothic legacy among both the well-educated upper classes and the lower classes hoping occupy their minds for relatively cheap (Milbank). Milbank describes two lengths of these small books or pamphlets: “sixpence for 36 pages, and a shilling for 72 pages,” though some were even shorter.

I am just beginning to enter the world of chapbooks and blue books, hoping that this may offer insight into many Gothic novels that have not survived through to modern publishing and digitalization. Even Ann Radcliffe’s monstrous tome The Mysteries of Udolpho has been squeezed into under a hundred pages and re-titled as The Veiled Picture. I’m also interested in these types of abbreviations and how they change the stories themselves as well as the reading experience. I like to think of them as similar to today’s comic books or the series of Great Illustrated Classics with which many of us grew up (the ones with a picture on every other page. You know the ones!). They provide a different type of access to great stories. As Milbank points out, even our most revered literary figures, such as Percy Shelley, had a fondness for blue books, particularly in his youth.

Finding these texts today, however, is not easy. One of my goals for this post is to share with you a recent discovery that’s trying to make such texts as they were intended: accessible again. Literary Mushrooms, a spinoff project of Zittaw Press, is in the process of reprinting and re-illustrating fifteen Gothic chapbooks. They have just set up a great project page here, in order to gather funding for this project, which supports the 50’s-style comic illustrations, printing, and hand-stitching costs. Both Zittaw and Literary Mushrooms are dedicated in revitalizing an interest in these forgotten texts and to combine both nineteenth and twentieth-century elements to create a new (truly Gothic?) reading experience. I’ve just ordered a slew of copies of The Bloody Hand for the Gothic Reading Group that I run, distributing cheap thrills to the (poor) grad student masses, and we are anxious, amidst our regular studies of lengthy volumes, to discuss the difference in shifting from plot-driven novels to plot-only chapbooks, full (I might add) of exclamation points!


[i] Dacre, Charlotte. Zofloya. Ed. Adriana Craciun. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2006.

[ii] Milbank, Alison. “Gothic Satires, Histories, and Chap-Books.” Gothic Fiction: Rare Printed Works from the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction at the Alderman Library, University of Virginia. Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK: Adam Mathew Publications, 2003. http://www.ampltd.co.uk/digital_guides/gothic_fiction/AlisonMilbank3.aspx.

Spring Planning (before November!): Selecting Works for Teaching Intro. to Women’s Lit.

Isabella Bird in Tibet

I just received my spring teaching assignment in my mailbox, and am delighted to find that I’m teaching “Intro. to Women’s Lit.” for the first time. I am a little kid in a candy store (or a rock climber in a gear shop) when it’s time to select possible works to teach for the next semester’s course. I’ve also noticed a trend in romanticists’ online communities, in that we enjoy suggesting works to teach on a certain theme. For example, on Romantic Circles’ Teaching Romanticism blog, Katherine Harris requested suggestions for her Gustatory Romanticism graduate course, and Roger Whitson did the same for his Visualizing Nineteenth Century Poetry course. In addition, the NASSR-L recently saw a flurry of responses to Diane Hoeveler’s call for suggestions for her Romanticism and Religion graduate seminar, and she very generously collected all of the responses in this Word doc. I’m going to use our forum for a similar kind of request–please help me decide what to teach. And following Katherine Harris’ example, I plan to post my final reading list and course description to our blog as a follow-up discussion.

I’m especially interested in your suggestions for American authors and works to teach from earlier periods, within the romantic-era, and post-romantic periods. To date, I have been transatlantically challenged, so to speak, as far as including American texts in my teaching and scholarship. (Well, I’ve been specifically assigned to teach Shakespeare and surveys of British literature for the past 3 years.) Though I have chosen to specialize mostly in British romantic works for my dissertation, I see this course as a great opportunity to begin to fill in a gap or two in my reading.

Course theme: “Adventure.” I envision the theme of “adventure,” broadly, as one that will include the genres of travel literature, the gothic, experiments with form like those found in Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent, as well as experiments with media, like Shelley Jackson’s electronic literary work Patchwork Girl. Namely, I’m interested in drawing attention to women writers over time who have ventured beyond society’s prescribed boundaries and who have taken risks that they convey one way or another in their authorship.

The CU catalog description requires that this course “[introduce] literature by women in England and America. Covers both poetry and fiction and varying historical periods. Acquaints students with the contribution of women writers to the English literary tradition and investigates the nature of this contribution.”

Initial brainstorming: I’m thinking of including the following authors/works (listed early to late): Sappho’s fragments (ed. Ann Carson), Julian of Norwich (med.), Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative (17th c.), Eliza Haywood (18th c.), Mary Shelley (rom.), Joanna Baillie (rom.), Ann Radcliffe (rom), Mary Wollstonecraft (rom), Isabella Bird (Vict.), Dickinson (Vict.), Woolf (mod.), Angela Carter (contemp.), Annie Dillard (contemp.), Jeannette Winterson (contemp.)

All reading and assignment suggestions are welcome, and I’m especially interested in your ideas for:

  • 18th and 19th c. American authors and works–drama, fiction, poetry, essays
  • I work on the gothic quite a bit — any American women gothic writers or works to recommend?
  • 17th c works
  • If you’ve taught this course, have you used a particular anthology that you would recommend?
  • Assignment recommendations: I have been experimenting with my British Literature survey course with putting together student-made collections or exhibits that relate to works we’re studying in class. Any ideas how we could put together an adventure-themed exhibit for this course? (I’m thinking digital exhibit.)

Thanks in advance!

Adult Swim & "The Future of the Book"

Last night I attended Johanna Drucker’s talk entitled “The Future of the Book.” Looking for the new Visual Arts Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, I followed a line of people through a set of doors and thought I was there. As I held the door for an older gentleman who seemed to be following his grandson, I asked him if he was going to hear The Future of the Book lecture. He giggled and replied, “We’re going to young scholars’ night. You’re in the chemistry building, dear.” Whoops. Some zig-zagging later and I found the VAC, my academic-looking crowd, and my seat.

I had never heard Drucker talk before, and knew only generally about her work and her most recent book, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing, but that was enough information to charm me to the presentation. Her presentation attracted a somewhat-diverse humanities crowd: I saw several of my peeps from the English department (among them a Chaucerian who also studies comics; a Renaissance scholar; a new media scholar; a postmodernist; and a poet), and detected groups also from the visual arts, history, education, media studies, and librarians and archivists. Individuals ranged from professors to grad students to elderly members of the public to sub-ten-year-old children accompanying their parent. One little girl came with a mini suitcase of organized markers and paper, and colored quietly and diligently for the entire talk.

The little girl coloring seemed to have her marker-smudged fingers on the pulse of Drucker’s talk, as did the Young Scholars’ Night crowd I accidentally joined. Though the speaker’s material presented a very serious look at the history of the book and used that information to make a prediction about its future (or rather how we humanists can shape its future), her style was playful and, in fact, provided a serious message of the importance of “play” to the evolution of authorship, readers, and texts.

Drucker folded examples of play, humor, entertainment, and recreation into her talk with a subtlety that seemed not to phase the scholarly vibe of the majority of the audience.

The first slide showed Keanu Reeves in The Matrix–in order to illustrate the fantasy of a disembodied virtual utopia. Juxtaposing the intelligent virtual and Keanu drew chuckles round the house, and Drucker was just getting started. She also showed slides of e-readers in different shapes, including the form of newspaper pages large enough to shield the privates of a guy on the john. She then addressed the history of print and dove backward in time to Gutenberg’s press and figures like Tyndale, where she made the requisite “he had a lot at stake” joke. We then saw slides of early playing cards and learned how printers were asked by the church to stop producing them, as the populace took too easily to gambling. After other examples, she ended with a vision of the way a “novel” of the future might work: Drucker describes a narrative that seems folded into news in realtime that reaches you through mobile devices and that changes as you make decisions about how to interact with the narrative. It is multimedia, multi-player, and multi-platform. It sounded a bit like the Michael Douglas movie The Game, and also a little bit like Stranger Than Fiction. Serious play, in which our concepts of fiction and real life blend and disrupt each other in new ways.

Maybe I’ve just been studying for comps for too long and neglecting proper recreation, but I couldn’t help but find the message of seriously play–or “adult swim”–in Drucker’s talk about the future of the book. Her presentation suggested to me that the meaning of play, play-ers, play media, and conversely the definition of “work” (noun and verb), have a giant impact on the way we treat reading technologies now and will treat new reading and authoring technologies in the future.

The Technology of Sticky Flags

My name is Kirstyn, I’m the NGSC webmaster and a digital humanities (newbie) scholar and a sticky-flag addict. This post and confession was inspired by a ProfHacker article I read this morning.

Every scholar has his or her own particular way of marking the parts of a text that interest them most and responding to those passages with ideas, connections, hypotheses, comments, and the occasional cranky quip in the margin. For me, the e-reader development craze is not just about saving paper and being “green,”  e-ink reading comfort, battery life, page “turning” time, and feel of the device, but perhaps more important:

(1) the ability to access the 18th- and 19th-century texts I’m working with, and

(2) how to mark that text with “flags” (digital equivalent of the Post-it flag) and comments.

I want to spend my introductory blog thinking about the way in which we scholars typically mark physical books (not e-books … that’s my next post!). The book has a technology of its own, and casual readers and scholars manipulate and mine that technology in different ways. For example, I’m studying for my comprehensive exams right now and am note-taking in too many ways, if you ask me: in/on the actual texts, in notebooks, and on my computer. It’s a distillation of the transformative (and sometimes confusing) technological moment we’re reading, writing, and teaching in. Continue reading The Technology of Sticky Flags