2014 was busy: teaching at URI, moving to Houston, writing like mad, and teaching at Rice — Romanticism and Shakespeare, so thanks both to the Romanticists back at Brown and to the Shakespeareans James Kuzner and Jean Feerick, without whom I wouldn’t be able to teach a spider to weave a web.
The point being that I only blog about my students these days, and my Romanticism students this past semester did some very interesting work that lends itself to the blog format. Conveniently, they both worked with the same subject material, namely the working relationship of Dorothy and William Wordsworth. That relationship has become something of a pedagogical touchstone for me (displacing even Blake!), after two years of on-and-off dissertation engagement with the subject.
And so in my Fall 2014 Rice seminar, I gave students a crash course in Wordsworthianism, walking them through Homans, Levin, Mellor, Woof (and Woof), Fay, and Newlyn – though I should say I only teach the journals. I’ve adopted, as a means of fixing the canonicity problem, the resolution never to teach William without Dorothy. I’m more in Fay’s camp than anywhere else, and try to do justice to the complexity of their working relationship, but as one student (I can’t remember who) assessed my terrible poker face rather fairly during office hours, “You weren’t going to let William get away with it.”
And I love what they did. Dorothy, in their renderings, isn’t an appendix, or a pretext, or an index. Their representations make us think of the writer’s relationship in terms of intertextuality, with interesting and productive differences between their readings.
1. Jessica, Chas, and Daniel made a video reflecting on William and Dorothy’s biographical and literary relationship. In a reading (Daniel) of an excerpted “Tintern Abbey”, they allow William only to go so far in his approach to the poem’s closing address to his sister (see Fay’s “address-to-maiden”). At a certain point, Dorothy insinuates herself into this poem as though she were refusing to merely be imagined by her brother, and retroactively changes the video we’ve just watched.
2. Alitha (Computer Science major) and Sharon (English major) combined their skills to create a hypertext version of the “Daffodils”. In one column, we have William’s poem (the 1815 version); in the second, Dorothy’s journal entry; and in the third, a changing block of commentary. When you mouseover portions of either column that have been categorized in a particular way, corresponding blocks of text in both columns are highlighted. When you click on such a highlighted text, commentary pops up in the third column. It’s a lot like RapGenius, but I like this interface much better: there is no original text here with an index, but two interrelated texts and a changing third that attempts to mediate. As you’ll see, the page takes a determined interpretive stance on the nature of the relation between the texts; and while such authoritativeness is often a subject of criticism against hypertextual presentations, I think the site’s interactivity and critical approach present a real challenge by Digital Humanities to the traditional anthology form.
Concept sketch. Click to view interactive site.
(best viewed in full-screen mode)
Kudos to both groups for doing great critical work in nontraditional formats, and for giving me some incredible teaching aids for this semester’s Romanticism class!