Histories and Rationale

Please Note:
This version of the Rationale has been severely shortened to exclude archival research and scholarly discoveries.  The age of the digital brings with it many advantages, i.e., the viewing of heretofore "hidden" literary texts.  But, it also further fuels a paranoia already felt among academics about original scholarly thoughts, publishing and surreptitious "borrowing" by online users.  Because this material is part of my dissertation, I have excised it from this document.  Below, you will find a general history of the literary annuals and brief notes on their digitization.   

 Discovering Literary Annuals

I came to this dissertation project involving the literary annuals because of my privileged access as a student archivist in the Fales Library, New York University from Spring 1997 to Spring 1998.  Prior to this employment, I attended a brief presentation on the library’s holdings in Fall 1996 where I recognized one of the texts, Friendship’s Offering, as a literary annual. (I had read about the annuals in Angela Leighton’s introduction to Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology.)  Soon after, I became a student archivist in the collection and was given the task of cataloguing books in the wing of uncatalogued holdings. While walking through those stacks, I discovered British and American literary annual titles and promptly made a perfunctory list of the titles.  I returned to Fales as a patron in 1997 and transcribed prefaces and poems from only five British-published titles for a graduate research paper.  At that time, I did not have the chance to create a complete bibliography (including title, editor, publisher, authors, prose, poetry, engravers, engravings and bibliographic description).  My current research on literary annuals has revealed that the bibliographic and textual information is imperative to provide scholars with a sense of the genre’s importance.  (Contributors, prose, poetry, engravers and engravings are veiled behind a single entry in the catalogue. Generally, 80 to 100 entries of prose and poetry were compiled for an annual, with over 50 different authors included in any one volume.)  The Fales’ curators have since catalogued all of the literary annuals in their holdings but have yet to produce a finding aid or a list of contributors. Some of the volumes in that wing are rarely seen in other research libraries around the United States.

An invisibility dilemma is indicative of this physically small genre. Even if the the volumes are catalogued and cross-checked on WORLDCAT or other reference works, like a majority of primary materials in literature, the contents of each volume may remain buried indefinitely because literary annuals were published in an "anthology" format. The beautifully bound five inch by three inch compilation contains stories, accounts, histories, poetry and artwork from many (popular and unpopular) authors and artists of the early nineteenth-century. A majority of these authors were women who are now being re-inscribed into literary history through a feminist recovery movement. Authors such as Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Felicia Hemans and Mary Russell Mitford have already been welcomed back into the fold. (A few of their contributions to literary annuals have been indexed in these hypertextual versions of the Forget Me Not.)

Also published in the Forget Me Not volumes, are poems by Richard Polwhele and Thomas Hood and the first steel engravings by Charles Heath (who revolutionized printing techniques for artwork). Without access to the table of contents and list of plates, the contents of each literary annual would be invisible to scholars. A hypertextual archive of the Tables of Contents, Lists of Plates and Prefaces from volumes of literary annuals allows scholars access to this otherwise invisible information. This archive should act as a catalyst for further discovery of literary annuals’ contents as well as an opportunity to investigate the cultural value of the publication, production and textuality of this genre.

This project lives with the future intention of expanding. (See Updates for current progress and history of Archive.) It can be expanded to include more Forget Me Not volumes and their actual contents to become more of a storage/access space rather than a closed edition. I can also add more detail on the bibliographic descriptions by providing full scale scans of every aspect of the text itself, from binding to covers. The possibility for digital growth can be endless because it skirts what Jerome McGann calls the "bibliographical limitation":

When a book is produced it literally closes its covers on itself. If its work is continued, a new edition, or other related books, have to be (similarly) produced. A work like the Rossetti Hypermedia Archive has escaped that bibliographical limitation. It has been built so that its contents and its webwork of relations (both internal and external) can be indefinitely expanded and developed. ("The Rationale of Hypertext" 27)

McGann offers up the codex as a static embodiment of authoritative knowledge. However, as that knowledge alters, shifts or grows, an entirely new container has to be created to disseminate the information. A hypertextual archive, like the Rossetti Hypermedia Archive, is elastic according to the accumulation of knowledge with encyclopedic possibilities. Different forms of media are then incorporated to create a repository without any physical entrance -- an archive. The hyperlinks interweave information created by Andrew Boyle, Frederick Faxon, Ackermann and the editors of each Forget Me Not volume. McGann highlights the complexity of this type of "critical edition": "I submit further that every critical and scholarly edition will be–has been–forced into such abstractions when it aspires, within the physical constraints of a traditional book format, to a comprehensive treatment of its materials. The more complex the materials, the more abstract and/or cumbersome the edition becomes" (25). Footnoting and cross-referencing the sources for this hypertext project would become one of these cumbersome editions. In agreement with McGann, I have labeled this project an "archive" rather than a "critical edition."

This archive is filled with theoretical, authoritative and digital perplexities. And, as with any rare book, I have supplied a portion of this "edition’s" provenance in the above discussion. However, a brief literary history of the "small" genre is necessary before delving into the theoretical boundaries of archives. 



A "Small" Genre Succeeds

Literary annuals are early nineteenth-century British texts published yearly from 1822 to 1856 and primarily intended for a middle-class audience (due to its moderate retail cost). Initially published in octavo (3.5" x 5.5") the decoratively-bound volumes – filled with steel plate engravings of nationally-recognized artwork and sentimental poetry and prose – exuded a feminine delicacy which attracted a primarily female readership. They were published in November and sold for the following year (at a cost of between eight shillings and three pounds), which made the genre an ideal Christmas gift, lover’s present or token of friendship. On display in a woman’s drawing room, the annuals became an acceptable indication of propriety, education and wealth, a complement to the limited social definition of a "lady" at the time. The first and only annual published in November 1822, Forget Me Not, caught the eye of several editors and publishers, many of whom altered the format and helped in the creation of a publishing phenomenon. By 1828, 100,000 copies of fifteen separate annuals earned an aggregate retail value of over £70,000 (including the Keepsake, the annual given to Rosamund Vincy in Eliot’s Middlemarch) establishing the genre as a lucrative venture for publishers for years to come.

The annuals appeared on the literary cusp between the Romantic and Victorian periods, ushering in a publication location specifically for women writers to express themselves and a space for women readers to share in a community. These books were given to women (by women and men) as a token of some sort of emotion or appreciation. The annuals were largely dismissed as invalid intellectual publications, originally intended for the less skillful intellect of middle class leisure-reading women but decorative enough to display in a woman’s receiving room.

Despite the literary devaluation, the British reading-public devoured the works contained within and gave the poetry and prose of the annuals a validity through its continued consumer sponsorship. The demand increased the supply very shortly after the first and only literary annual (Forget Me Not) was produced in 1823: in 1829, 16 literary annuals were published; in 1831, 62 literary annuals had been published; and not until 1846 did the number fall below 16 again. The initial experiment in this commodification of cheaply produced and expensively sold literature proved to be an economic boon. The popularity of the annuals rose, the profit margin increased and women became the dominant literary contributors earning a substantial living from their work (like Felicia Hemans and L.E.L.). 

The literary annuals also supplied a venue for showcasing famous artists as well as inspiring a new printing technique: In 1825, Charles Heath introduced steel plate engravings of artwork instead of wood engravings. The resulting print was far more detailed and began a trend of privileging the artwork over the writing in literary annuals. The artwork was cut on a wood or metal engraving, printed on the proof sheets and passed on to a poet to create a verbal illustration of the print. 

The format and reception of literary annuals changed with the 1830 Comic Annual written and produced by Thomas Hood, a frequent contributor to early annuals.  Hood's annual parodied the contents and flowery familiarity of annuals like the Forget Me Not.  With this parodying (which was quite successful), the annuals' popularity turned to disdain with some of the literati during this time period.  This disdain, however, did not prevent the contribution of major poets and writers to future literary annuals.  The door was opened for ridicule despite the genre's popularity.  

For a full definition of literary annual, a discussion of its precursor formats and the genre's feminization, see the following articles:

Harris, Katherine D. "Feminizing the Textual Body: Women and their Literary Annuals in Nineteenth-Century Britain." Publications of the Bibliographical Society of America. 99:4 (Dec. 2005): 573-622.

Harris, Katherine D. "Borrowing, Altering and Perfecting the Literary Annual Form – or What It is Not: Emblems, Almanacs, Pocket-books, Albums, Scrapbooks and Gifts Books." General Ed. Laura Mandell. The Poetess Archive Journal 1.1 (July 2006).  

See also my dissertation, "The Nineteenth-Century British Literary Annual: A Genre's Journey from Nineteenth-Century Popularity to Twenty-First Century Recuperation" (May 2005).



Projecting Larger Intentions

In my larger dissertation project, I attempt to revise a portion of literary history during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century through work on the literary annuals – or at least attempt to recognize women’s roles in the authorial production, printing production, economic dissemination and lucrative continuation of the literary annuals. This hypertextual archive is a mere introduction to the authors, publishers and artists who participated in the popularization of this genre.



Why a Hypertext?

Kathryn Ledbetter and Terry Hoagwood reproduced a portion of the Keepsake for 1829 as well as their critical study of L.E.L.’s engagement with this particular literary annual. The visual reproduction of the annual on this website provided an important view of specific bibliographic information in an otherwise unknown genre in literary studies. These texts are difficult to find and are scattered throughout the collections at Yale University, University of Southern Colorado, University of South Carolina and the New York Public Library–CRL. These institutions recognize the rarity of the literary annuals and have catalogued and labeled them accordingly. Other libraries and institutions are unaware of their cultural and literary importance and have archived or shelved them uncatalogued – where it is highly unlikely anyone will find them.

As the content editor and the technical editor, I created a space which engages the textuality of a nineteenth-century text, the dilemma of access to information and the access and archive dilemmas inherent to bibliographic and contextual elements in a hypertextual medium. In this archive, information and resources are being disseminated and re-formatted in a digital world that supersedes the physicality of the codex. I have created a reference work primarily from early volumes of the Forget Me Not, Andrew Boyle’s listing of author contributions and Frederick Faxon’s bibliographic index.

My publicizing of literary annuals’ female authors is to capture the attention of other scholars.  I also attempt to lend credence to a lesser known genre and thereby to authorize/validate a recovered history which incorporates these women as authors. This hypertextual archive layers the textual production of early nineteenth-century literary annuals in a non-linear heap of past, present, future -- essentially, it becomes a conflated "archive."



Digitizing History:
The Archive

This section has been excised to revise and insert it into my dissertation project and a journal article.  Look for this section in the following forthcoming article:

Harris, Katherine D. "Fantasies of Containment: Archiving Moments in Cyber- and Real-Life." Metaphors of Cyberspace. Ed. Caroline Maun (forthcoming).



Updated: 06.28.06

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