Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde focuses its narrative tension through paper: the material itself is essential to the plot of the poem. Troilus both confesses his admiration for Criseyde and later expresses his anxiety about her fidelity through his correspondence. Pandarus’s entire identity is encapsulated by his role as the mediator of these paper communications. Criseyde’s eventual betrayal of Troilus is heralded by her neglect of paper in answering Troilus’s missives. Most striking about paper in this poem, however, is the fact that it is an anachronistic technology at the center of a ‘Troy’ where Martha Rust intriguingly notes that clay tablets would have been in use. Where Orietta Da Rold highlights Chaucer’s deliberate attention to paper itself as a material that underscores both plot and character development while making visible—and tangible—that plot’s most visceral themes, paper is clearly too pivotal for its anachronistic presence to be incidental. This invites the following question: in centering this anachronistic technology, does Troilus and Criseydeinvite further anachronistic engagement?Continue reading
When asked about the role of note-taking in his compositional practice in 1839 edition of The Knickerbocker Magazine, a young Charles Dickens asserted:
I never commit thoughts to paper until I am obliged to write, being better able to keep them in regular order on different shelves of my brain, ready ticketed and labelled to be brought out when I want them.
In this case, the mythology doesn’t seem to stack up to the material. Examining the handwritten culture at the heart of Charles Dickens’s compositional practice pulls the researcher in many directions. In what material evidence we have remaining, we do not find ‘regular order’, the ‘ready ticketed and labelled’ shelving system of the brain, artfully and systematically laid bare on paper. Oftentimes, rather than fullness, one finds fragments, rather than surety, one finds scribbles. Continue reading
Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum holds both the original manuscript and first edition proofs for Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure (Object Numbers MS 1-1911 and PB 9-2008). The novel was published in 1895 and follows the tragic tale of Jude Fawley, whose impassioned ambition to become a scholar is repeatedly thwarted by a troublesome blend of social impediments and regrettable personal decision-making. The novel transpired to be Hardy’s swansong in literary fiction, and is an astonishingly rich vision of the troubled philosophical and political conditions in the fin de siècle.