Digitizing Nineteenth-Century Women: All or Nothing?

Olive Schreiner, National Portrait Gallery (NPG x128457)

Olive Schreiner, National Portrait Gallery (NPG x128457)

Over the past couple of years, my attention has been caught by new projects that digitize the letters of Victorian women writers.   I’d like to share two of them here, The Olive Schreiner Letters Project and the Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge.  To me, these projects fulfill the best promises of the digital humanities, to make texts by marginalized writers freely and widely available.

The Olive Schreiner Letters project makes almost 5000 letters of the feminist and socialist writer, best known for the novel, The Story of an African Farm, freely available online.  The letters, held in 16 archives across three continents, have been transcribed, double-checked, and marked up in TEI.  The editors describe their impressive workflow here. (For more on the technical aspects of editing a digital edition of letters, see Miriam Posner’s helpful blog post, How Did they Make That?). Similarly, Charlotte Mitchell, Ellen Jordan, and Helen Schinske have collaborated to offer for the first time the unpublished letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge, carefully transcribed and double-checked, as an antidote to the partial information we have had about this popular mid-Victorian woman writer.  I wish this archive had been available a few years ago while I was writing a chapter on Yonge, and can only say that it has already proven helpful to me in contextualizing women’s writing in the mid-nineteenth century marketplace.

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Literary Tourism

In her obituary for Dinah Mulock Craik, Margaret Oliphant wrote how pleased the author had been to learn that American tourists were flocking to Tewkesbury, a medieval market town in Gloucestershire, “not so much to see the town and abbey, as to identify the scenery of John Halifax”.*  As postcards commemorating the sites of the novel attest, this literary tourism continued well into the twentieth century.  As late as 1977, Dorothy Eagle pointed tourists to the haunts and homes of the Author of John Halifax in The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles.

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CFP: Special Issue of Women’s Writing on Dinah Mulock Craik

NPG 2544,Dinah Maria Craik (nÈe Mulock),by Amelia Robertson Hill (nÈe Paton)

Sketch of Dinah Mulock, 1845, by Amelia Robertson Hill, National Portrait Gallery

Guest Editor: Karen Bourrier, Consulting Editor: Sally Mitchell

Throughout her lifetime and since her death, Dinah Mulock Craik (1826-1887) has been considered either ahead of her time or a touchstone for all things Victorian. Henry James, for example, assessed her work as “kindly, somewhat dull, pious, and very sentimental.” At the other end of the spectrum, Elaine Showalter found that she excelled at a “peculiar combination of didacticism and subversive feminism.”1 Continue reading