Charles Reade archive visit: framing your research questions

Library Visit: Charles Reade Papers at Princeton’s Firestone Library

Note: this description will make most sense if you have already read the week’s email about our readings and started to read Charles Reade’s Hard Cash. This week, we focus in on the idea of research, to thinking about the ways Victorian novelists (Reade in particular) did research in relation to the questions of realism, representation, and reference we have been pursuing.

This assignment is long, but what you have to do to prepare for the visit is fairly minimal:

1. Register at the Firestone Library website:

2. Get a sense of how others have described and theorized Reade’s research methods. Do this by reading the assigned materials. The Haines article will start to give you a sense of Reade’s research methods; also available as optional readings in the “Reade archive” folder are a copy of Emerson Sutcliffe’s overview of Reade’s research and his description of the Reade notebooks at the London Library, and my own drafty first stab at an argument about Reade’s indexing practices. The beginning of the Bankson transcript of the Hard Cash notebooks will also be helpful.

Reading about Reade’s research methods will give you a general sense of his procedures. It seems that he kept scores of large, folio-sized scrapbooks or commonplace books, elaborately indexed and cross-referenced, in which he and his research assistants built up over time an enormous archive of periodical articles, citations to reference works, interview transcriptions, addresses of experts, and assorted notes on topics in which Reade was interested. (See the end of the Sutcliffe article for a transcription of Reade’s “Index ad Indices,” the index to his indexes, which should give you a sense of how very idiosyncratic his subject indexing terms (something like our own keywords?) were.) When he finally settled down to write a novel, Reade would pull together relevant (VERY loosely considered) material from the large books onto large notecards. He would then use the notecards as he wrote the novel, though it is a complicated question how much notecard material made it into the novels and how much of the novels can be traced directly to the notecards. (See the excerpt from Reade’s novel A Terrible Temptation for Reade’s fictionalization of his working methods in the person of the novelist Rolfe.)

Reade also described the way he went about writing Hard Cash in one of his notebooks:

Hard Cash

A few of my notes for

I took notes for this book in various ways.  {1} I covered 8 or 10 large folio cards some of these [still] survive.

2 I pasted extracts from Journals and Dickson’s [the model for Sampson] works on a screen, where I could see them in one view.

3 I de[voted] a double sheet each to some of the characters.

4 I [took] notes on the ordinary system in books.

5 I [relied] on materials provided by my brother William. Hereof Mattingleiana. The [cares] of Mattingley and his voyage from China survive. I believe.

6 Altogether I believe the labor and research that go to [books as these] doesn’t [go to waste].

The pleadings are from Fletcher v Fletcher which case I had [known] from first to last.

I have been accused of inaccuracy [exaggeration]. But I threw open my  proofs and my detractors one and all shirked from the test.

My materials are now somewhat scattered, but I shall endeavor to find out where several of my notecards can be found.

See P 3.  [?]

3. Once you have a sense of Reade’s working methods, pause to ask yourself a few more large-scale, theoretical questions. Reade, as you will have seen from our readings, has traditionally been considered a naïve realist, a writer who thought that in creating “fictions based on facts” he could somehow shoehorn the world into his novels in a direct way. But in line with our own ongoing questioning of the theories and practices of what we call Victorian novelistic realism, I would like us to question this assumption, to try to open up some new ways of thinking about Reade’s research and its relation to his novelistic project in Hard Cash (even if some of us might ultimately agree with these earlier critics). So, please ask yourself some questions about how we might rethinking the purpose or interest of Reade’s research. How do we want to imagine or reimagine the relation between his research and his novels? What is at stake in the way we describe the connection between the research process and the finished novel in a case like this?

And a separate question: what it would mean to develop an argument about Reade’s research as an autonomous practice, perhaps with an aesthetics or purpose if its own?  The Barthes and Ngai may help with theorizing Reade’s research as an important practice of its own separate from his novels.

4. Ordering your materials. The main Hard Cash materials Princeton holds and which I will order for us to look at are:

The Hard Cash notecards

The Hard Cash notebook (a commonplace book specific to HC)

I will also order a few of Reade’s general notebooks which Firestone has (though most of them are at the London Library) and some first editions of Hard Cash for our reference.

However, you should each to use the Princeton library website: to see if there is anything else relating to Charles Reade and Hard Cash you would like to look at during our visit. Spend some time looking around; try both the Princeton library general catalog and catalogs and finding aids on the Princeton library website. Email me any requests by this Wednesday.

5. Using the Bankson transcript of the Hard Cash notecards (in the “Reade archive” folder in Dropbox), choose a notecard or (better) several notecards that seem interesting to you and which you will examine during our visit.  Do this by  reading the Bankson introduction and then skimming through to find some sections which related to your interests in Hard Cash.  (You should try both skimming through visually yourself and also using the search function in the PDF – note that the search is VERY imperfect and won’t catch everything you search because I did the OCR myself on the rather uneven document).

Familiarize yourself with the sections that interest you, and make a note of which specific notecards (and other materials) you plan to look at. Note that by the time we get to the actual notecards, you’ll have a good sense of their content, and will be able to spend your time getting a feel for their material form and its possible significances for developing an argument about the aesthetics or feeling of Reade’s research practices.

6. You may also want to think through other questions you had when reading Hard Cash and how looking at Reade’s working papers for that novel might – or might not – help answer them.

7. Write a short blog post in which you describe the questions you are beginning to have, talk about the materials you will look at during the visit (the specific notecards you plan to look at and anything else) and speculate on what you might learn (if you like). Post this the night before your visit.