Responses to the Conference Presentations

The conferences this week were certainly very interesting. On a personal level, having to condense my paper into a 20 minute presentation was rather difficult but a fruitful experience. It was definitely a learning experience to have to organize my thoughts and alter them in a way that would make the audience more interested and engaged with my topic, and hopefully I did so successfully.

Being a bit general, it was great to see how everyone’s topic developed from day one of our research until this point. It was great to be able to see that development over the weeks and the almost final products during the conferences. It was also interesting to see how much each person’s topic differed from one another. While there were the broad similarities, each one was distinct on multiple levels. It would be way to difficult to respond to just one presentation, so I’ll just respond to all of them!

John’s presentation was interesting to me because I don’t know too much about Moby-Dick. I never knew how unsuccessful the work and Melville were and how much events (like his death) and reviewers influenced the classification of the work as the “Great American Novel”. It’s strange how something can be classified as such even though it had very little success in the beginning. This presentation was really enlightening and makes me curious about the success of other books, and how many other books and authors experienced the same development as Moby Dick.

I enjoyed Brie’s presentation a lot because it really connected to my own topic. While overall there were different perspectives broadly speaking, we both were focused on the effects a group of books/author/book had on women and society overall. I liked how she was able to use the content of the Three Guineas letters as a way to gain a sense of who was reading and responding to the work, and conclude that this work was able to influence the individuals who read it.

I never really considered how an author’s success and book length related, and Ira’s presentation really helped me realize that there is indeed a relationship. It was interesting to see the development of the data from a very long list of bestsellers, to a more specific set of data that reveals how an author’s success and the length of a book are related. I’ll definitely be thinking about that the next time I pick up a book.

Jeff’s topic was something I know nothing about, or even heard of, but was interesting nonetheless. It was nice to see how he was able to make a connection between Seeley’s The Expansion of England and the mentality of expansion (and even a connection to our reading in the beginning of the semester, phenomenology). I never really realized how much of an influence something like this could have on the reading process and it was nice to be able to see a specific example of this in Jeff’s presentation.

It was really cool how Tim was able to analyze his sister’s data in order to gain a greater understanding of her reading processes and the influence she was able to make on other readers that may, like her, not be “normal”, or a “typical” teenage reader. I said this before during our workshop in class, but the data used in the presentation and paper are a really good depiction of her reading habits and an interesting way of giving us an idea of how she grew as a critic.

I feel like there is so much more I can say about each presentation since they were all so different and enlightening. It was great to be able to participate in a conference like this and be able to share my own work as well as learn more about the research and findings of my other classmates.

 

 

Writing 410 Book History Conference

On Tuesday, April 15, and Thursday, April 17, members of our class will present their research projects in a class conference. The projects are varied and interesting, and represent not only a great deal of thinking and research on the part of the writers, but also some really interesting and innovative uses of primary materials: online databases, individual records of reading, bestseller lists, etc. Each writer’s abstract is provided below.

April 15, 10:00-11:30 a.m.,USB 2230

Abby Schultz, Using the What Middletown Read Database to Explore Women’s Dictionary Reading

Dictionaries are mediums, which contain a variety of information, from proper pronunciations to popular cultural and scientific information, but in the nineteenth century dictionaries did more than simply educate those who used them. In order to discover their significance in this century, I analyzed the results of the search for “dictionary” from the What Middletown Read database. More specifically, I paid special attention to the occupational ranks of all individuals, the gender distribution of the readership, as well as the occupations and occupational ranks of females specifically. In doing so, it became evident that dictionaries played a role in improving one’s occupational rank during the nineteenth century. This went beyond occupational rank, however, as the overwhelming number of female readers suggests that there was a greater significance of reading dictionaries for female readers. As the “Cult of Domesticity” was a popular ideal of the time, females were able to read these dictionaries in order to educate themselves and move away from being occupationally defined by their husbands and fathers. Since higher education was seen as a negative for females during this period, dictionaries were one of the ways females could educate themselves and ultimately open doors for improvements in higher education for women.

 

Brie Winnega, Virginia Woolf and Suffrage: A Dialogue between Writer and Readers

Although some scholars have questioned Virginia Woolf’s participation in the suffrage movement by citing her as “ambivalent” (Park 120), her influence on the matter was at times indirect, but nonetheless impactful. Her essay Three Guineas is wrought with suffrage ideas and calls to action, the consequences of which can be seen in the collection of letters to Woolf from readers as well as the reviews from periodicals and scholarly journals. Evidence of the polarizing effects of Three Guineas suggests that Woolf managed to ignite an important conversation about women’s rights, bringing to light important issues and creating a sense of community amongst readers to implement Woolf’s ideas in the world.

 

John Donnell, The Fall and Rise of Moby Dick

Through my research I am hoping to better understand the rise and fall of Herman Melville and Moby-Dick’s fame. I am looking at sales figures and reviews of MD in Melville’s life, but my focus is primarily to clarify the period between his death and his sudden boom into literary success. This will include famous academic articles and writers who supported Melville and his work. My research has revealed that the following all contributed to the resurgence of Melville and Moby Dick: Melville’s death, the reprint of his work after his death, the admiration of his work by famous writers such as JM Barrie, and ultimately influential 20th century praises of his genius. Ideally, I would like to be able to conclude which of the four was most important to the success of Moby-Dick after Melville’s death.

 

Thursday, April 17 10:00-11:30 a.m., USB2230

Tim Rhein, Reading the Evidence of a Teenage Girl’s Reading on Library Thing

Access to a reader’s experience is often limited to historical characters in the past, who have left substantial records of their reading. Finding a contemporary source for such analysis is difficult, therefore limiting its implications and uses in understanding current cultural trends. Thus the reading collection of Dominica Rhein, a 15-17 year old girl in Clarkston, Michigan, is a useful source for study, as it allows us access contemporary culture through the lens of a teenager. Book reviews, ratings, and lists make it possible to examine how books are used and experienced by a given person, and what implications this might have for the wider context. I have used this data to show how the activity of recording reading changed over time for Dominica, how she can be characterized as a book-critic, and what assumptions we might draw from her proclivity for Christian Romantic Fiction. Having recorded ratings of 799 different titles, Dominica is by no means a “normal” reader. However, while this study focuses on an individual reader, its methods could be carried over to conducting analyses of popular cultural feedback such as Amazon.com user ratings, which give a unique lens into the everyday cultural engagement of people around the world.

 

Ira Brandon, Bestselling Horror Novels and Book Length: What We Can Learn from Correlations

Throughout many authors’ careers, there are many ups and downs, triumphs and failures. While there are Pulitzer, Nobel and other awards for texts, being a member of an annual bestseller list is no easy feat. Analyzing the best seller list of Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com, there are a number of books that surface on the list. There are common names like Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Charlaine Harris, for example, which any horror reader would expect to see on the list. But there are other names that the average reader might be confused by also. The purpose of this research project is to look deeper at the sciences behind the best seller list. Is there a magic number that reflects an author’s probability of success in the book market? Is an authors’ success directly related to an increase in book length? Looking at the number of appearances in a correlation with average page length, the results show a very low correlation between the two. Although this is the case, there are a number of patterns that arose from the data that shouldn’t be looked over. In summation the patterns show a direct relationship between the authors that appear the most and longer books and lesser appearing authors and shorter books.

 

Jeffrey Stehlin, John Seeley’s Expansion of Empire and Victorian Travel to India

In 1883, English historian John Robert Seeley published The Expansion of England, a series of lectures compiled at the University of Cambridge that detailed the growth of the British Empire. At the same time as the English mentality of expansion was cultivating, so too was the movement from England to India increasing. Historically, Seeley maintains a legacy as a particularly motivational speaker; however, in this paper I looked to test more concretely the influence of his writing on the movement of people between England and India. In order to make such a correlation possible, I analyzed a series of texts, including The Expansion of England, reading records of The Expansion of England, charters of enrollment at Cambridge between 1883-1885, and travel logs of movement between England and India. In cross-referencing these four sources, I was able to generate a list of individuals who both attended The University of Cambridge between 1883-1885, and traveled to India in the late 1880s. Such a connection suggests the influence of Seeley’s lectures and writing on British action, affirms the phenomenological nature of the human reading process.

John Robert Seeley

Although a bit basic, I’d like to use this blog post as an opportunity to more deeply delve into one of the most important parts of The Expansion of England, it’s author John Robert Seeley. It is clear that Seeley, and the works that he produced, had a lasting effect on the English Empire. In its moments of vast imperialism, Seeley’s lectures on national identity, expansion, and travel propagated a unique sense of ownership across a growing imperial globe.

First, I would like to compare the entries found on Seeley for Wikipedia and within an encyclopedia. Wikipedia focuses exclusively on the ‘Life’ and ‘Works’ of Seeley, noting his interest for history, religion, tutoring, and presence at Cambridge. It also documents his most famous works-

Ecce Homo: An evaluation of Christ and religion.
Natural Religion: A promotion of science in religion.
The Expansion of England: A defensive series of essays in favor of the British Empire (specific to England)
The Growth of British Policy: Documents the expansion of Britain.

These four titles are cited by Wikipedia as Seeley’s most crucial. I think it important to note that two conclusions can be drawn from this series. First, all four texts have an impressional effect on their readers. Whether covering religion or empire, each is plagued with a strong opinion and persuasive approach. And second, there is a general shift from religious to secular topics. Although this is probably just reflective of the environment that Seeley was writing in, I am curious to explore further how such a shift might have affected his later writing. Are there any significant influences of religion on imperialism?

In comparison to Wikipedia, the encyclopedia entry was much harder to find. I started my search with Encyclopedia Britannica, which has no account of Seeley. I found much of the same while skimming through other popular encyclopedias. It was only when I went to The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature that I encountered an entry. Although this is probably where I should have started in the first place, the struggle to find this entry in a more academic setting has provided me with guidance for the rest of my research. It seems that Seeley has a place in history, however, that place is exclusive to British history. As I continue my research it seems that I need to stick to British sources (although that might not be a fair generalization with the limited research I have already done).

Anyway, The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature details Seeley across a five page entry. Like Wikipedia, this encyclopedia stresses Seeley’s strong feelings about religion and the empire, noting the same texts. However, it also extends past this evolution of ‘work’ and explores the impressions that Seeley had as an academic and author. Importantly, the entry stresses the range and impact of his teaching, which seem to align with Seeley’s own personal views on widespread education regardless of gender. According to the encyclopedia, it feels like Seeley was an academic far ahead of his time.

So what have these two sources taught me? Arguably very little. However, I think this process has been insightful as I move forward. I now feel I know better where to find informative sources, at least when I am looking for academic ones. This process of elimination is valuable. I also think that learning more about the scope of Seeley’s influence is helpful. It is clear that his works were influential, and I am excited by the prospect of correlation therein. Happy researching!

 

Works Cited

“John Robert Seeley.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.

Kastan, David Scott. “John Robert Seeley.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.

More on Language: Dictionaries and Spelling Reform

As a followup to the critique from my previous blog post, as well as a way to move forward with my research for the paper, I’m going to respond more to Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells’s America. After reading the relevant sections of the book over the weekend, I’ve been able to move forward with my research topic and establish a very good sense of the direction I’m going in, which I’ll get to later.

While the focus is ultimately on Howells, I became more interested in the topic of spelling reform and dictionaries. English spelling was chaotic in his opinion, and he hated the spelling in dictionaries (Nettels 3,4). The most striking sentence about the use of dictionaries was, “Because Americans were not bound by birth to a particular social class and its usages, they enjoyed the prospect of climbing the social ladder by acquiring certain tastes and manners, above all those habits of speech widely regarded as ‘the surest test of a gentleman’” (11). Dictionaries, among other things, were one of the mediums used to learn the “proper language”. This seemed interesting to me, so I wrote it down and continued reading. Throughout much of what I read, there was this same general idea repeated, that language indicated one’s social class. The words that were accepted in society, as well as the “correct” pronunciations, would be present in those dictionaries, so those that were considered established members of society would be the individuals who used those words (18). The rest of the book continues on to focus more on dialects, which I originally wanted to focus on. But this detail about language, dictionaries, and social class really stuck with me.

Now for my paper I’m thinking on focusing more on dictionaries. Who was reading them? More specifically, what were individual’s occupational rank? It’d be interesting to delve deeper into what the book says to see if people attempted to better themselves in society through dictionaries. Although I’ve only just begun, the data I’ve collected so far from What Middletown Read is very promising. After searching “dictionary”, there were approximately 122 patron results. Most transactions were classified as “low white collar” and “skilled”. Using dictionaries as a way for social betterment seems like a proper conclusion, but still something I want to look into more closely. There were many details, such as women being classified occupationally by what their husbands or fathers were classified as that I want to research more.

In addition to looking further into the specific dictionaries, I’d probably also look up spelling reform at the time. Maybe there was a larger movement around the time of What Middletown Read’s collection, or maybe one just before. Either way, I need to look further into the historical aspect of the time period so as to look for more context. And, as I discussed during my individual conference today, there might be particular wording in the dictionary prefaces that explain the author’s purpose for compiling the dictionary. Perhaps spelling reform will be a reason, or maybe I will discover something else.

This book was really interesting and SUPER helpful, as I now have a clearer, less hazy topic and I know the direction I’m moving in!

Comment on Republican Literature

I think that this was well conducted research without a particularly interesting conclusion. This hurt the article, but I still found a lot of the work done to be engaging. There were a few things I took away from this writing to apply within my own research project which I will list. There was a lot about this journal that will be helpful to keep in mind while researching and writing my paper.

1. Context matters: Perhaps the most interesting thing about this paper was the background given to the magazine– actually everything that had little to do with the findings was what I found most enjoyable to read. I think that explaining the idea of what the American republic was at the time was very important to the paper. Explaining the history of the magazine was not crucial to the conclusion, but I enjoyed learning about it regardless. Because I found nothing particularly gripping about the findings from the research, I think it only highlighted the importance of the previous information. I really got a good sense of what the magazine was like and how it came about. It’s an interesting thing to go into detail about, but the data didn’t necessarily wow me to any degree. Making the reader interested in what you are writing about and giving them a solid background on it will make them more likely to respond positively to your own findings. I think the numbers would have meant very little to me if not for the work done to introduce it.

2. Find something interesting to investigate: This is more a matter of preference, but I think that the most telling thing about the American people via information on the magazine would be why it failed. Hypothetically, let’s say The New Yorker ended up going out of print or going out of business, whatever the appropriate term is. I think that the most important thing to look at would be why such a popular magazine of multiple decades suddenly went under. Perhaps it’s easier to say simply because of that being a current thing, but if it were due to the increasing popularity of tablets and the decreasing demand for magazines, I think that would suggest a lot more about society and ideals of the people at the time rather than what was being published in it or who was reading it. But content does matter, although I don’t think a hugely popular magazine suddenly fails to sell, it’s very gradual. The fact that the New York magazine failed to established itself is something that could have been explored more, but maybe the information wasn’t available or not as crucial to the writer as it is to me.

3. Data is less important than other things: I’m having trouble finding data that pertains to my research. Because Moby Dick was a failure, the sales weren’t recorded very diligently. Similarly, it’s hard to find data that states when the book became very popular. While this is frustrating, I think things other than tangible data are more important to understanding the history of Moby Dick and how it became prominent and what effects this had on society and American literature. 

I think that if you approach a journal entry with the intent to entertain as much as inform, the study becomes much better. It’s hard to make someone interested in a magazine published right after the American Revolution, but I think Nord did a good job of this. It was when I was reminded it was a research paper that my attention began to fade.

 

Response to “A Republican Literature…”

Weekly readings seem to be getting more daunting knowing that I will soon be writing my own similar style of essay. More and more I am beginning to feel that, while all of these examples are GREAT examples, they’re so far out of my range of capabilities that it’s almost overwhelming. David Nord’s impressive essay A Republican Literature: A Study of Magazine Reading and Readers in Late Eighteenth-Century New York is no exception. Nonetheless, I was able to appreciate the great amount of thought that Nord put into his work and learn a few things that I could muster through my own writing.

One of the great things about this piece is that Nord draws all of his data from one year – 1790. While the amount of information that comes out of just one year is plentiful, I admire that he stuck to a small time frame; I’m sure it contributed to the ease of his research and I’m quite confident that it contributed to the ease with which I was able to read and understand the data. I’m also a huge fan of his tables – Nord really knows how to organize, and he sure does give us a lot of tables to look at: there’s a table about occupations of subscribers (Nord 48), one for the top ten occupations of artisan subscribers (50), one for the geographical locations of artisan subscribers (51), and two for the subject matters of the magazines (53). Personally, I’d say Nord covered his bases well. Hopefully by the time I finish the final draft of my own essay, I can be confident that I, like Nord, left no stones unturned.

The other major thing I appreciated about Nord’s writing that I will take as an example in my own work is his extensive explanation of the setting which defined the word “Republican.” One of the first questions a reader might ask is: just what constitutes a “Republican Literature?” Luckily, Nord takes the first few pages to explain that “Historians still disagree, rather warmly, over what Americans in the late eighteenth century meant when they talked about republicanism” (43) and goes on to further address a few of the ways that the word “republican” has been interpreted. One would be mistaken to assume that the word had the same meaning then as it does now, and one would also be mistaken in ignoring the ambiguity of the word even in modern terms; Nord helps us become intelligent readers by keeping us from committing either of those mistakes. This to me is a great lesson on context, without which the essay would be confusing and less meaningful.

In all, I think Nord’s study has a lot of qualities that even a beginning-level writer like myself can try to imitate. His writing was disciplined in its focus on the magazine while it could so easily stray from the data and attempt to analyze the relationship between the magazine and the culture more critically. Let it be a lesson for all of us that we don’t necessarily need to make overly-broad cultural assertions in order to create a meaningful argument. 

 

 

Nord, David. “A Republican Literature: A Study of Magazine Reading and Readers in Late Eighteen-Century New York.” John Hopkins University Press. American Quarterly 40.1 (1988): 42-64.

The Difficulty of My Research…

Finding scholarly work to reference for my research project has been extremely difficult. Unfortunately, due to other assignments in other classes I haven’t had the time to extensively look for data and file through the countless links of useless articles. Although I have been somewhat setback by this difficulty, I may have stumbled across some textual gold. Looking at an article on Marketing Charts, it talks about all of the best sellers in general in 2010. Skimming through the first half of the article, I thought that this was another lost cause but then as I continued to scroll down, I noticed some very intriguing information; Horror and Thriller authors had been very well paid in 2010 according to Forbes. This was a very surprising coincidence and I wondered if this would affect my data, since horror books were so popular in 2010. The post reads as follows:

Thriller, Horror, Romance Authors Well Paid

The highest-paid authors of works sold in the US primarily write in the thriller, horror and romance genres, according to a recent ranking from Forbes. Thriller author James Patterson was the highest-paid author between June 2009 and June 2010, earning $70 million. Two other authors primarily associated with thrillers also made the top 10 pay list: British author Ken Follett came in at number five and John Grisham, a former attorney specializing in legal thrillers, was ranked eighth.

While more authors in the top 10 pay list are primarily associated with the thriller genre than any other genre, three other genres were represented by two authors each. Horror was represented by Stephen King (number three) and Dean Koontz (number six); romance was represented by Danielle Steel (number four) and Janet Evanovich (number seven), and young adult was represented by Stephanie Meyer (number two) and J.K. Rowling (number 10).

Hopefully I can find more substantial information in the future, but as of right now, I feel that I am on a wild goose chase due to my information being so specific, and I feel as if I have hit a dead end. My intentions are to gather enough information to prove the correlation between book length and popularity, but now I am just trying to have enough data to even support a paper.

Choosing Cambridge

Research has never been my strong suit. If anything, it’s often the part of being an English major that I have shied away from. I love reading; I love writing. And I especially enjoy thinking about what others have already written. It is the act of finding this writing though that I’ve always found frustrating. I am having much of this same problem as I begin researching Cambridge and the books that inspired social change in England.

So, I stated with a recommended text–A History of Cambridge University Press. Although daunting, the book outlines an extensive overview the history of book publishing in England between 1873-1972. I also thought this a good place to start because as ‘Volume Three’, I hoped that the book would be modern and relevant. In skimming this entry I was hoping to look for three things: 1–a specific book to focus on; 2–a narrowed time range in English history; 3–an individual social trend within the selected time range. The third objective has been the hardest to articulate because I am not entirely sure yet what I am looking for. I think that the connections I make between book and social movement will only be clarified through more and more research.

The book opens with a powerful notion–”books, the products of Cambridge University Press and the justification for its existence” (MiKitterick pg.1). This idea struck me because it seemed to represent the ‘idea’ I’m looking for, ie. the influence of books on people, and the influence of people on books. Neither can exist without the other. Well certainly people can exist without books, but our lives would be much harder, and less interesting. The introductory pages also note many practical changes to the Cambridge University Press (paper, printing, sulphite, consumers, etc.), however, it was this initial idea of justification and existence that I was really looking to explore more.

When reading this book one text that was covered struck me most–The Expansion of England (Macmillan July 1883) (pg.38). The Expansion of England documents the rising history of colonial movement (with new focus on India), and drew large audiences as well as a wide readership. The book writes, “seldom can a course of undergraduate lectures in the humanities have had such a long-term effect on public opinion” (pg.38). This book influenced travel, commerce, and opinions on foreign politics and affairs. It seems like it was monumental in shaping the opinions of a public that did not have access to learning and fact like we do now. I also thought this book was particularly relevant because it is a compilation of undergraduate lectures. As I leave college it is going to be strange to also leave behind lecture, one of the most dominant parts of my four years spend at Michigan. At least in terms of academics. Many of these lectures have helped to shape my opinions, so I am curious to see how the same phenomenon was happening in 1880 England.

So I’ve four the answers to my first two questions: 1–the book I’m focusing on is The Expansion of England; 2–I’ve narrowed my time period to around 1880. However, I am still a bit unsure about the conjectures and correlations that I will be able to make from this data. Even from just reading the introduction to A History of Cambridge University Press I’ve come across some trends that I wouldn’t have originally thought of. Maybe I can track movement to and from India, and see how the increasing publication of information influenced travel. Or perhaps I could explore the influence of this text on education trends and enrollment in the University. I’m not sure if either of these ideas are going to be feasible, but as I explore The Expansion of England more, I hope that I will find an answer to my third question that is both interesting and manageable.

While browsing online I was only able to read to about pg.70, but I am in the process of trying to locate the book in the library for further reading, and the hope of more resources in reference.

Works Cited

McKitterick, David. A History of Cambridge University Press. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 2004. Print.

To Research Book History, Start with the History

My research in the following weeks will be directed toward finding out more about the connection between women’s rights in Victorian England and the literature of the time period. Although I have yet to narrow my focus, a little poking around online made me interested in the idea of zeroing in on one women’s suffrage leader and examining what they read.

 

During my time online, I stumbled across this website:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/women.htm

 

I found it helpful because it presents a list of outspoken women’s suffragists in British history, as well as suffrage groups, journals, and more information about historical female lifestyles. Probing through the list of women, I recognized Virginia Woolf and decided to investigate a little further. The site provides a lengthy biography with tons of information (along with a huge and possibly helpful list of primary resources). From this one website, I was able to read about Woolf’s childhood, her growing interest in feminism and her work with concerning the push for suffrage. What interests me most about this figure is the fact that she was a political activist, a reader, and a (now) famous writer – all in one.

 

The positive aspects of this resource – its wealth of information on a variety of people, its bibliographies and connections to other sources, its general overview of the time period – are positive more so in the sense that it provided a gateway to get me thinking more about what narrow topic I wanted to dive into. I can’t yet say if that topic will be someone like Virginia Woolf, and if so, if I will be researching the publishing and readership of Woolf’s writings or what Woolf herself engaged with reading that may have influenced her political and literary activities. There is also the option of looking into who was publishing the suffrage journals to learn more about what they read as well, or maybe the reading habits of whoever was organizing one of the major suffrage groups – all of these names are accounted for on this website. This resource has exposed for me a range of possibilities, the difficult part lies in picking one…

 

In that regard, this website is little more than a starting point to gain a foothold and general overview of information; it puts the “history” in “book history.” I’m likely to use a resource like the Reading Experience Database to gather more direct information – for instance, who was reading Virginia Woolf, and what was Woolf herself reading? (I actually looked it up, and there are a good number of entries that are evidence of her reading habits.)

 

In a perfect world, research projects would be made easy with online material that answer all of our questions in one place (hah – I wish!) For now, I’m pretty satisfied that I found a site that could answer just a few of my questions and lead me to ask even more. 

Howells: A Promising Starting Point for Research

This project has definitely been challenging. I’ve struggled with finding research for my topic and trying to narrow my topic down to what I actually want to be studying. I think my biggest problem was that my topic was way too narrow. I wanted to focus specifically on how dialect in Uncle Remus influenced/affected/etc. society as a whole. While that’s interesting and all, I wasn’t getting anywhere. So, a bit discouraged, I went into office hours for help. When explaining what it was that I wanted to research, what came out of my mouth was something completely different than what I had been working on. I want to study dialects in literature to see how society reacted/how society was influenced by the representation of dialects. Still related, of course, but a bit broader, allowing me the opportunity to find more research for my new topic.  While it still needs a bit more narrowing down, I’m at least getting somewhere with my research.

While in office hours, William Dean Howells was brought to my attention and I’ve found a book that will be very helpful in guiding me to a more specific topic. The book, Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells’s America by Elsa Nettels, focuses on Howells as a “writer about language,” including his opinions on the English language as well as his use of dialect for his characters.

Since I’ve only recently checked out the book from the library, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll discover about my topic. What I can tell so far is that it will be helpful in narrowing down my topic and will most likely lead me to other resources that I can use for research.

In the book’s introduction, Nettels says that, “In novel after novel Howells showed how characters reveal themselves and their social conditions by their speech” (3). Later on in a chapter entitled “The Problem of ‘Negro Dialect’ in Literature”, it is said that, “Howell’s belief in the power of dialect to unite readers in the recognition of their common humanity thus receives its severest test in the writing, including his own, which purports to render the speech of blacks” (73). It seems this book will provide me with some very valuable information of both the benefits of dialect in writing, and what that meant for society, as well as the problems that arise for certain groups when their dialect is portrayed in a work. Of course, it’s too early for me to tell since I haven’t actually read the book yet, but the table of contents seem very promising!

The beginning chapters of this book will be very helpful as they provide a background of Howells’ views about language. And because one of the chapters focuses specifically on American and British English, it made me wonder if people in Britain were reading Howells. I immediately went to the Reading Experience Database and found that people were reading his reviews and books (I haven’t looked too far into this, though, since I’m still establishing my ideas). What Middletown Read also had entries too. So I’m confident that reading Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells’s America will help immensely, both in finding more research materials and in formulating a more precise topic.

That being said, there were a few others books I found that were related to the keywords of Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells’s America, which I’m adding to my temporary bibliography, below.

Jordan, Cynthia S. Second Stories: The Politics of Language, Form, and Gender in Early American Fictions. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1989. Print.

Nettels, Elsa. Language, Race, and Social Class in Howells’s America. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1988. Print.

Sewell, David R. Mark Twain’s Languages: Discourse, Dialogue, and Linguistic Variety. Berkeley: University of California, 1987. Print.

I may also use the websites below, to see who was reading Howells’ works.

Reading Experience Database http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/

What Middletown Read http://www.bsu.edu/libraries/wmr/