Syllabus: Reading the Literary Manuscripts of the Romantics

Printer-friendly version

English 427W
Topics in Romantic Literature
Reading the Literary Manuscripts of the Romantics

Michelle Levy
Simon Fraser University

The recent publication of many major Romantic-era literary manuscripts in digital form has greatly expanded the possibilities for engagement with archival materials (materials that are typically held in special collections, in the US and the UK, and accessible only to senior experts in the field). In this course, we will closely read and interpret a range of these digital manuscripts to ask a series of questions about them, including: What can we learn -- about literary history, authorship, and the texts themselves -- by studying original manuscripts? How does reading a text in its original manuscript form (via a digital copy) differ from reading a printed text? How successfully do digital editions represent the original manuscripts? Our readings will focus on the manuscripts of Jane Austen, Lord Byron, John Keats, Mary Shelley, and Dorothy Wordsworth. Some of the specific questions we will ask are: How (and why) did Jane Austen have to modify her style and subject matter to get her fiction into print? What strategies did Byron use to negotiate the problems of censorship, as his texts moved from manuscript to print? Did Percy Shelley improve or diminish Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, with his extensive edits? Why are there so few corrections to Keats’s poetic manuscripts? Why did Dorothy Wordsworth publish so little of her writing during her lifetime? In addition to focusing on these authors, we will also explore the manuscript writing of many other more obscure or unknown authors of the period. We will also study theories of textual editing and digital remediation. For their final project, students can choose between creating an annotated and contextualized digital or print “edition” of a manuscript text we read in class, or a research essay.

Note Regarding Office Hours: Due to renovations in HC, I don’t have a fixed office. As a result, my office hours on Wednesday, before class meets, will be by appointment. Please email me by Tuesday night at the latest if you want to meet with me on Wednesday. We will meet in the lobby or the library at HC.


Jane Austen, Manuscript Works (Broadview) 9781554810581

Lord Byron, Byron’s Poetry and Prose (Norton) 9780393925609

John Keats, Keats’s Poetry and Prose (Norton) 9780393924916

Mary Shelley, The Original Frankenstein (Vintage) 9780307474421

Dorothy Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth (Longman) 9780321277756

Many other course readings will be available online via the SFU library website and canvas; students must have web access to obtain these materials.


Diane Hacker, A Canadian Writer’s Reference (3rd)

M.H. Abrams, Glossary of Literary Terms


15% Participation

15% Presentation #1 (primary material by the author that we are reading that week)

15% Presentation #2 (secondary material)

15% Essay (5-7 pages; can be related to one of your presentations) [due June 11]

10% Final Project Proposal (3-5 pages) and Annotated Bibliography (of min. 10-12 sources) [due July 16]

30% Final Digital Editorial Project/Print Editorial Project/Research Paper [due July 31]

Reading Schedule

May 7: Dorothy Wordsworth, Alfoxden Notebook and Grasmere Journals (Knight, 1-18; 29-138); Selections from the Grasmere journals in our Longman edition, 25-88 (these will be excerpts from Knight, but may possibly include some differences, as Knight edited the original journal).

Lucy Newlyn, “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Experimental Style”

After reading Dorothy’s journals, as edited by Knight, and the selections from Dorothy’s journals in the Longman, everyone will be given one entry from the original manuscript of the Grasmere Journal (found here). Please compare the entries and come to our first class prepared to answer the following questions: (1) What are the differences between the manuscript and print versions? (2) What are the differences between Knight’s and Levin’s editing style? What is omitted, how are these omissions noted, and why do they occur? (3) What are the differences in reading the two versions? (4) If you were editing the manuscript, how would you go about it, and why?

May 14: Dorothy Wordsworth’s Poems (Longman 177-221); Narrative of the Life of George and Sarah Green (Longman, 124-144).

We will also compare Dorothy’s journals to William Wordsworth’s poems (see below).

Marta Werner, “‘Reportless Places’: Facing the Modern Manuscript’”

Anna Chen, In One's Own Hand: Seeing Manuscripts in a Digital Age

Please read Dorothy Wordworth’s poems and Narrative of the Life of George and Sarah Green. I want us to think about how Dorothy Wordsworth works within these different genres, and further explore the question of audience and privacy/sociability/publicity in these texts.

Some of the questions to consider when comparing Dorothy’s journal entry to William’s poem include: (1) How would you describe the textual relationship between these two texts? How are they different/similar? (2) What does/might the textual relationship between the two texts tell us about the personal/emotional relationship between brother and sister? (3) In what other ways, in terms of subject matter/style, are brother and sister aligned, or not? (4) Is one clearly the product of manuscript/manuscript culture, the other of print/print culture, and if so, why?

For our two scholarly secondary essays, please identify the main argument and evaluate its effectiveness by presenting one piece of evidence the author uses to support her claim. Please also, for one of the essays (you can do both if you like) identify one aspect of the essay that you liked, and would want to emulate in your own writing, and one aspect of the essay you did not like, and would not like to emulate in your writing.

Dorothy Wordworth’s Journal (all references to Knight) William Wordsworth’s poems (all references to Poems in Two Volumes (1815)
1 January 25, 1798 (I: 4) “A Night Piece” (1815)
2 April 20, 1798 (I: 17) “The Thorn”(1798)
3 June 4, 1800 (I: 37); May 28, 1802 (I: 124) “Green Linnet” (1803; 1807)

June 10, 1800 (I: 38-40)

“Beggars” (March 13, 1802); “Sequel to the Foregoing” composed in 1817; sixth stanza added in 1827); “To a Butterfly”

(March 1802)

5 October 3, 1800 (I: 50-51)

“Resolution and Independence”

(4 May 1802 – July 4, 1802, written; Dorothy Wordsworth copying May 8-9, 1802; 1807)

6 October 11, 1800 (I: 52-3) “Michael” [October-November, 1800; finished 9 December, 1800]
7 Feb. 16, 1802 (I: 93) “Alice Fell” (12-13 March 1802)
8 April 15, 16, 21, 1802 (I: 105-111) “To the Lesser Celandine” (April 30, 1802)
9 April 15, 1802 (I: 105-107) “I wandered lonely as a cloud”

May 21: Jane Austen, Juvenilia (Broadview), 45-204

Margaret Ann Doody, The Short Fiction; Jerome McGann, “Coda: Why digital textual scholarship matters; or philology in a new key”

Please read the juvenilia in the Broadview. As we have all read these texts, please focus your responses for discussion on the following questions: (1) These stories are funny – largely because they parody existing fictional conventions. Even if you are not steeped in the 18 c. fiction Austen was reading, find at least two comical elements from the stories to discuss; (2) What might have made these stories more suitable for circulation within a family, as opposed to public circulation via print? Specific examples are helpful. (3) What are some of the more serious elements in this fiction? How does Austen speak to the predicament of women in her society; or issues of class, or politics, in these works?

Everyone will be assigned one text from the following (Frederic and Elfrida Jack and Alice Henry and Eliza The beautifull Cassandra; The Visit Love and Friendship; Lesley Castle; The First Act of a Comedy; Evelyn) to read in manuscript form on Please prepare responses for the following questions in relation to your text: (1) what can we learn about the text and its social function by examining the manuscript version, over the print version? (2) How are the changes/cancellations dealt with in the print version? In the digital version? (3) How is the reading experience different in print and on screen? (4) Which version of the text do you prefer to read, and why? Please also consider the general questions, above, in relation to your experience of reading the manuscript.

Presentation #1: All other Juvenilia (not included in Broadview edition), including “A History of England”

Presentation #2: Peter Sabor, Juvenilia (Cambridge)

May 28: Jane Austen, Sanditon (205-268), Lady Susan (319-386) “Plan of a Novel”; “Opinions on Mansfield Park and Emma”; also please read the cancelled Persuasion chapters on and the substituted chapters (from Chapter 10 to the end), here:

Levy, “Austen’s Manuscripts and the Publicity of Print”

Paul Eggert, “Apparatus, text, interface: how to read a printed critical edition”

Everyone should read all of the Austen works above; you will have to read the cancelled Persuasion chapters at In this class we are dealing with the first drafts we have seen, Persuasion and Sanditon, with Persuasion being the only text of Austen’s that we have in both manuscript and print forms. I have assigned everyone a chapter. Please carefully study the revisions to the manuscript, and be prepared to discuss the nature and significance of the revisions. What do we learn about Austen’s writing process from examining these chapters? What effect does the revisions have on the meaning of the story?

We will also be experimenting with juxta, please click this link to see comparisons between the two Persuasion texts:

Chapter 1 Persuasion (1-17)

Chapter II Persuasion (18-34)

Sanditon (Chapter 1, b1-1-16)

Sanditon (Chapter 2, b1-16-25)

Sanditon (Chapter 3, b1-25-b2-1)

Sanditon (Chapter 4, b2-1 -9)

Sanditon (Chapter 5, b2-9 -17 )

Sanditon (Chapter 6, b2-17 - 26)

Sanditon (Chapter 7, b2-26 - 40)

Presentation #1: “The Watsons”

Presentation #2: B.C. Southam, Jane Austen's literary manuscripts: a study of the novelist's development through the surviving papers

June 4: class cancelled (please read ahead)

June 11: Lord Byron, “When We Two Parted”; “Fare Thee Well!” (166-169); “Epistle to Augusta” (241-245); “A Sketch from Private Life”; “To the Po” (373); Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III (196-229) [from Norton] and [in manuscript]

Jerome McGann, “The Socialization of Texts

Presentation #1: Cantos I and II of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Presentation #2: Jerome McGann, Fiery Dust or Byron’s Complete Poetical Works (Ed. McGann)

June 18: Lord Byron, “Dedication” to Don Juan; Canto I, Don Juan (375-426)

Paul Magnuson, “The Dedication of Don Juan” and William St. Clair, 'Preparatory schools for the brothel and the gallows'

Presentation #1: The Vision of Judgment or The Blues

Presentation #2: Peter Graham, Don Juan and Regency England

June 25: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818); Robinson, “The Original Frankenstein”

Charles Robinson, “Editing and Contextualizing the Frankenstein notebooks

Helpful details: Mary Shelley wrote a draft of Frankenstein which still survives today. This draft is the basis for Robinson’s text in The Original Frankenstein (and for some of the online manuscripts (mss) in the Shelley-Godwin Archive). Robinson, in The Original Frankenstein includes two versions of the draft: the first includes Percy’s revisions in italics. It also supplies missing sections of the draft with chapters from the printed 1818 edition; the second version removes Percy’s revisions – taking us back (as far as possible) to Mary’s draft before Percy intervened. Mary Shelley published a first edition of the novel (incorporating Percy’s revisions) in 1818 and a subsequent, heavily revised edition in 1831. For this class, we will be mostly exploring the draft version and the 1818 print version. However, since it is too much to read all three, please pick at least one to focus on closely (in addition to the specific assignment below).

Please read the Charles Robinson essay above first. Everyone has been assigned a chapter of Frankenstein from the site . (Alternatively, you can find the same chapter in the Original Frankenstein – both the sections with and without Percy). Please read the mss (and the transcriptions) and compare it to the printed version of the novel, in the following edition: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Everyone is comparing a draft to the print edition, so there may be significant discrepancies. Focus your analysis on the following questions: (1) What are the major omissions and additions in the chapter, and what is their significance? (2) Are Percy Shelley’s additions/corrections retained in the printed edition, and, if so, what is their effect on the meaning? (3) Does Mary Shelley make any significant changes between manuscript and print, and if so, why?

Presentation #1: Mary Shelley, Mathilda

Presentation #2: Charles Robinson, The Frankenstein Notebooks

July 2: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1831)

Peter Shillingsburg, “Manuscript, book, and text in the twenty-first century”

Presentation #1: The Annotated Frankenstein

Presentation #2: Julie Carlson, England's first family of writers: Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley

July 9: Class cancelled (please read ahead and work on your proposal/annotated bibliography)

July 16: John Keats, “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer” (54); "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles" (73); “Ode to a Nightingale” (456); "Ode on Melancholy" (473); "Ode to Psyche" (463); "On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again" (114); “Ode on Indolence: (333); “La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad" (338); "Ode on Indolence"; "To Autumn" (472); "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (460)

Jack Stillinger, “Fifty-nine ways to Read “Ode on a Grecian Urn”; “The Text of Keats's "Ode on Indolence

Here are the assignments for Keats poems: I want you to read in manuscript(s) (Please read all the poems listed in the syllabus in our class edition). The link to the manuscripts is here: You can find the poems simply by searching this page by title.

“On first looking into Chapman’s Homer” (54); "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles" (73); “Ode to a Nightingale” (456); "Ode on Melancholy" (473); "Ode to Psyche" (463); "On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again" (114); “Ode on Indolence: (333); “La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad" (338); "Ode on Indolence"; "To Autumn" (472); "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (460)

Please identify the single most important change between manuscripts and print versions in each of the poems you have been assigned. Those working on "Ode on a Grecian Urn" also please consider the differences between the two print versions, discussed in this essay:

Presentation #1: Keats’ love poems: [“To Fanny” (376); “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art” (337); “This living hand, now warm and capable (378); Letters to Fanny Brawne]

Presentation #2: Jack Stillinger, Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius

Final Paper/project proposal and Annotated bibliography and proposal due

July 23: John Keats (letters)

All letters in the Norton and “The Eve of St. Agnes”

We will finish our readings by returning to another “manuscript” genre of the letter (like the journal, where we began).

Presentation #1 “Isabella; or, the Pot of Basil”

Presentation #2: Stephen Hebron, John Keats: A Poet and his Manuscripts and Nicholas Roe, John Keats: A New Life

July 30: Class presentations

Final papers/projects due

Presentation Guidelines

Presentation #1: Here you are presenting new material on the author that we have read for the week. Your presentation should be around 10-15 minutes. It will provide a brief overview of the text that you have read. However, most of your time should be spent focusing on some aspect of the text that you find interesting. Perhaps you will choose to relate it to the readings for the week? Perhaps you will look at the composition, publication or reception history? Ideally, you will choose an author you are interested in working on for your first essay or project, and use this as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of the author’s work. All presentations should be summarized in a handout, or PowerPoint, as you like, to be posted to canvas no later than a day after you have given the presentation.

Presentation #2: For this presentation, you are responsible for a lengthy work of scholarship on our week’s readings. Your presentation should be 10-15 minutes in length. For monographs, you should provide a summary of the basic argument that the author is making. You will want to review the evidence he/she presents. Most importantly, however, you should offer your evaluation of the book. What readings or analysis do you agree or disagree with, and why? How is the book written – is it accessible or difficult to follow? For editions, you will be asked to provide a detailed assessment of the structure and contents of the volume(s). What kind of an edition is it? How are variants noted? How useable is the text? For either a monograph or critical edition, you are welcome to consult other reviews (just be sure to include citations in your presentation write-up). All presentations should be summarized in a handout, or PowerPoint, as you like, to be posted to canvas no later than two days after you have given the presentation.

For both presentations, I am open to substitutions of other texts. Just run your ideas by me.

Published @ RC

April 2015