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« Librazork: An Interactive Text Adventure | Main | Whoops, back again »

June 28, 2010



[Hand raised, waving feverishly to and fro] Ooh, ooh, pick me. I'm a lawyer. Pick me.

You are correct. Requiring someone to consider something is about as effecting as outlawing belief in God. That's on the surface of it, of course. Now, as you know, legislatures only make law. It will be up to the executive branch to enforce it. So you may see the Dept. of Education or some other such body write a regulation requiring faculty to list lower-cost alternatives that have been "considered" along with a reason for choosing a more expensive text.

I see that looking something like this:

Chosen text: Norton Anthology of English Literature

Lower-cost alternatives: [List of individual works along with links to Project Gutenberg]

Reason for choosing more expensive text: The Norton Anthology provides valuable background material for works and their authors and organizes the material in chronological or some other substantive order.

Sounds like as good a justification as any for choosing a $150 anthology of works in the public domain over the free version.


I don't teach, so I am perhaps underestimating the ignorance of the student body ... but are students THAT uninformed that they need footnotes to tell them (to manufacture an example) that a brougham was a kind of carriage? If they don't know that, couldn't they just google for info?

I've never understood the need for introductions and footnotes. I like my Victorian novels neat, thank you.

Rohan Maitzen

Zora, even assuming footnotes are limited to that kind of straight factual explanation, it's easy to underestimate both what students don't know and how long it takes to look up all that information yourself. But footnotes also often address literary and biblical allusions, textual variants, and broader contextual information, to mention just a few other kinds. The average undergraduate who takes a 19thC novel "neat" will miss out (or misunderstand) quite a lot and hardly has time to do the kind of careful research that lies behind good scholarly editions. And they aren't the only ones who benefit--I learn new things from footnotes all the time!

Vance Maverick

Rohan's right -- especially when apparently innocuous phrases ("no more sea") are in context clear allusions. But there are plenty of ridiculous footnotes too, along the lines Zora complains of. In the Penguin Selected Christina Rossetti, for example, for the word "swart" in "Goblin Market", line 10, the endnotes read, "Swart: see note for l. 144 of 'The Lowest Room'". The title index gives the page number for that poem, and (kindly!) also for the corresponding endnotes. The entry for line 144 reads "Swart: dark."


Just came back to this. I must be an outlier; I don't #$%#@$% NEED the footnotes. If I stop reading the text to read the footnote, I find something that I already knew. My immersion in the text is gone, and my reading pleasure impaired.

If I run across something I don't understand, and it niggles at me, I can google it. Or ask STUMPERS or VICTORIA-L :) If it doesn't niggle, it's not important. Or I will figure it out for myself eventually, by dint of repetition.

Example: an interview in _Notable Women Authors of the Day_ (1906) in which notable author Matilda Betham Edwards (!!!) expresses her dislike of the "school" of Ibsen, Zola, and Tolstoy. Huh what? How do those authors form a school? An illuminating discussion followed.

That happens perhaps two or three times a year. Certainly not enough to justify an elaborate textual apparatus for the books I read. Such an apparatus will probably NEVER make sense for a book as obscure as _Notable Women Authors_. (Available on Google, as PDF, and soon to be available as a free ebook from PG.)


It struck me, after I wrote the above, that the pleasure of many books lies in the gradual unfolding of matters that are mysterious at first -- whether it's a science fiction novel, a mystery, a thriller, a realistic novel in which the backstory of the characters (backstory that explains their behavior) is gradually revealed. Reading texts from another time or culture demands just that sort of suspension, willingness to bracket mysterious items and actions in the expectation that they will become clear later.

If you teach students that they can expect every question to be answered, immediately, you're destroying some of the charm of reading.

Vance Maverick

Coming back to this even later -- Zora, I'm basically with you, but (1) I'm not an academic, and (2) even I can see that you don't allow for the possibility that some crux won't attract your attention -- that you'll skip past a difficulty unawares.

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