Research Exercise 6: epigraph, paratext, republishing

English 111: Victorian Novel Research Seminar

Research Exercise 7: Letters, Authors, Pseudonyms, Publishers, Paratexts

This research exercise draws on your skills in working with Victorian periodicals, and introduces you to finding specific materials within the published edition of an author’s letters. You will also develop your skills in comparing two editions of a text, and in drawing conclusions about the significance of the changes and discrepancies you find. It especially asks you to think about how a work’s paratext – critic Gerard Genette’s word for all of the parts of a book or printed artifact besides the main text, such as introductions, prefaces, title pages, indexes, etc – might influence our interpretation of the text.


First, take a look at the first publication of ‘The Lifted Veil’ in Blackwood’s Magazine. To do this, locate the free online facsimile of Blackwoods’s (don’t trust the pdf version I’ve given you as your reading text, just in case I’ve omitted something). See how the story looks, and pay particular attention to its paratext, or lack of paratext. Think about both its authorial situation and its narrative voice, and consider how the reader of the magazine would have interpreted them. (You might also take a quick look through the other contents of that issue of Blackwood’s Magazine, just for background, though this isn’t necessary.)


Second, take a look at the reprinting of this story much later on in George Eliot’s collected works. (Because we don’t have a copy of the famous Blackwood Cabinet Edition of George Eliot’s collected works, which appeared during her lifetime between 1877-1880, I will ask you to use GoogleBooks to find a 19th c facsimile copy – you’ll often find ‘The Lifted Veil’ reprinted alongside ‘Brother Jacob’ in a single volume or in various versions of Eliot’s collected works.) Examine the story’s paratext in the context of the volume edition; is there anything new? And might any new features of the paratext bear any relation to the content of the story? Think about the story’s new authorial situation, and about what it means for such a story to appear in an author’s collected works (as compared to in a magazine like Blackwood’s).


Third, look up the authoritative multi-volume edition of George Eliot’s letters, edited by Gordon Haight (McCabe PR4681.A3 H3  1954). Find the index to the letters (in the back of the last volume, if I remember correctly), and look up ‘The Lifted Veil.’ Read what correspondence you can find (most of it between George Eliot, her publisher John Blackwood, and her husband George Henry Lewes) relating to both the initial publication of ‘The Lifted Veil’ and to its reprintings. What does this correspondence tell us about authorial names and pseudonyms, about author-publisher relations, and about attitudes towards this (relatively anomalous) George Eliot short story?


Finally, write up a  brief page that outlines your findings about the changes in the authorial situation and paratext of ‘The Lifted Veil’ between the two publications we’ve examined, and add any thoughts or speculations you might have about the intentions, effects, and nature of that change in terms of the work’s authorial and narrative situation. Also report briefly on what you’ve learned from the letters about the story, its publication history, and George Eliot’s name or author-status.