I just finished reading a new monograph on Charlotte Yonge, Susan Walton’s Imagining Soldiers and Fathers in the Victorian Era (Ashgate 2010). I’m in the middle of some pretty hefty book revisions, and I expected to make short shrift of this as I revised my Charlotte Yonge chapter. You know, dive in, find the chapter on the novel you’re working on, find a good quotation, get back to your own work.
Instead, I opened this up and read it cover to cover. One of the main reasons was that I couldn’t make head nor tail of the structure to start with–or at least not enough to get in and out quickly. Now, this wasn’t because the book was disorganized. Far from it. It’s because, as I quickly realized, I’ve been trained to expect monographs to follow a certain format–something like five chapters on five different works of literature, or maybe one historical or theoretical chapter and three chapters on different novels.
Walton’s book offered instead separate chapters on the soldiers, missionaries, and fathers that Yonge knew personally, pairing most of the chapters on these real-life figures with another chapter on fictional soldiers, fathers, and missionaries Yonge’s novels. I suspect that this different format is at least partially indebted to Walton’s training as a historian.
All of this made me wonder if we are being too narrow in our conceptions of how we put books together. What’s the most interesting structure or organizing principle you’ve seen in a Victorian studies book lately? How are you organizing your own work?