Monday afternoon verbiage

The third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English debuted last week, granting something approaching critical legitimacy to some 2,000 newly-added words and phrases. Focusing as it does on current English usage (unlike the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, which traces wordiness along a historical axis), this Oxford embraces and explains words of recent provenance like freemium, sheeple, and, a personal favourite, chillax.

I love words. I get a giddy thrill out of discovering freshly-minted and newly-disseminated coinages, and I happily await those competing “word of the year” announcements from organizations like the American Dialect Society, The Global Language Monitor, and the New Oxford American Dictionary. At the very same time, however, I find myself growing ever more appreciative of words that I come across while reading Victorian literature, words that feel a bit mossy or stodgy upon first encounter, words that never made it out of the nineteenth century. Continue reading “Monday afternoon verbiage”


It’s not a Kindle

I recently made the plunge and bought an e-reader last month, and following Jen’s and Daniel’s excellent posts about the digitization of books, I wanted to add in my two cents.

I bought the e-reader before taking a trip to visit family and it was fabulous to travel with–the screen is almost easier to read than a book, and I was able to carry many “books” with me.  As a scholar who works on a lot of non-canonical novels, I’m grateful for easy to access to authors (like Dinah Mulock Craik and Charlotte Yonge) whose complete works aren’t so easy to find.  My copies of Craik’s or Yonge’s or even Charles Kingsley’s novels are often more than 100 years old, and needless to say they don’t travel well!

I wonder, in fact, how much of the reason for the canon is material rather than about “quality”–only so many Victorian novels are in print at any given time, which limits what we can read and think about to some extent.  I think that projects like Google books and devices like e-readers are doing a great thing in making these books more democratically available.  It can only add to the richness and diversity of scholarship in Victorian studies to have this kind of access.  I wonder if we will see a renaissance in work on lesser-known novels as this access increases.  Or, if more ordinary people will start reading more Victorian novels simply because they’re out of copyright and free on the web.

I’ve read a lot of (usually print) articles worried about the demise of the book with the advent of the Kindle.  I don’t see these two things as being in conflict.  I have both a shelf full of beautiful old books which certainly have an aesthetic and cultural value that the e-reader doesn’t, and an e-reader to take with me when I don’t want to damage those beautiful books.

Another benefit to the e-reader is environmental–I have yet to start reading articles on my e-reader, but it is pdf-compatible and I could see this really cutting down on my printing.  There’s even a disability studies angle to this book technology–the option of increasing the font-size makes the technology accessible to the visually impaired, and it’s easier for people with difficulty with fine motor skills to press a button than to turn a page.

The biggest detraction I’ve found so far in reading Google books on my e-reader is that the software they use to decode the fonts and convert it to e-pub format produces some junk characters.  This would be a problem if I was doing a close-reading of one of the novels or quoting from it, and for that I would switch to my print editions.  But for an initial reading of a novel it’s really not a problem.

Do any of you have a Kindle or other reading device?  What has your experience been?

p.s. I personally decided on a Sony because it has a touch screen that allows me to scribble notes on the text and is compatible with Google books, and it didn’t hurt that it was on sale for $150 and red!–but really this could all apply to any device on the market.

Re-reading Tom Brown

I recently re-read Tom Brown’s Schooldays to revise my book chapter on muscular Christianity and disability.  Now, I know as a good historicist reader I’m supposed to get totally into the mindset of the mid-Victorians and never judge, but there was one thing that really had me going.

Has anyone else noticed how often the boys taunt working-class men and then bribe them not to tell?  And how this receives no comment whatsoever from the narrator, who is prone to moralize on everything from how fighting is healthy for boys to the proper use of the fagging system?

Two examples:

1)  East recounts to Tom the adventures of “Stumps,” the tuck shop proprietress Sally Harowell’s ne’er do well  husband.  “Amongst his other small avocations, he was the hind carrier of a sedan-chair, the last of its race, in which the Rugby ladies still went out to tea, and in which, when he was fairly harnessed and carrying a load, it was the delight of small and mischievous boys to follow him and whip his calves. This was too much for the temper even of Stumps, and he would pursue his tormentors in a vindictive and apoplectic manner when released, but was easily pacified by twopence to buy beer with.”

2)  After “Velveteens” catches Tom fishing off school property one day, Tom presents him with a half crown and they become “sworn friends”  The narrator continues, “I regret to say that Tom had many more fish from under the willow that May-fly season, and was never caught again by Velveteens.”  (Note the regret is for Tom breaking school rules and fishing, not for the bribe–and that the narrator also calls the groundskeeper “Velveteens”)

I know boys will be boys, but really?