As promised, this post analyzes the manicules that gesture from the margins of a Folger copy of William D’Avenant’s Gondibert (and grace the header of this blog). This post is adapted from a paper I gave at the SHARP conference in Philadelphia last summer and it focuses on a single opening in the book.
D’Avenant’s Gondibert is a rollicking heroic poem set in medieval Lombardy. The narrative itself features stag hunting in the Italian countryside, power struggles in Bergamo and Verona, numerous yearning lovers, elaborate funerals for beloved warriors, and a detailed description of a gentleman’s library and scientific endeavors, among other things. But the work is perhaps best known for its lengthy preface in which D’Avenant proposes a model for heroic poetry. Despite the extended analysis of heroic poetry in D’Avenant’s preface, Gondibert has been variously discussed as an epic, a romance, and a drama. This generic…
I’ve called this ‘Manicule’ because it reminds me of the materiality of our connections with texts. Handling books, turning down the corner of a page, marking up passages, inserting sticky notes are all ways of reading, ordering and even sharing our interactions with texts. The pointing finger was a frequently used symbol of a reader’s annotation in Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts appearing in the margins to mark important passages or words. It would also start appearing in print: for you eighteenth-centuryists, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa offers a wonderful fictional example, in which Lovelace uses the manicule to aggressively mark up a letter of Clarissa’s.
The blog’s title is also a pun on the other sense of the ‘digital’: the way information is processed in digital, as opposed to analogue, technology. So it points to the other interest of mine, digital humanities, which for me also involves a variety of different ways of marking-up texts. Of course, our relation to information in this way is not directly material, although it is significant that early graphic interfaces sought to replicate this material interaction with information by using the manicule (a pointing finger manipulated by the mouse). However, we tend to forget that our interaction with a computer is still physically mediated by our fingers
William Sherman’s Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), in his chapter on the manicule, quotes the 12thC Franciscan scholar Bartholomeus Anglicus as an epigraph:
The seconde [finger[ hyght Index and Salutaris …
For with him we grete, and shewe, and teche all thynges.
‘Greet, show and teach’: I rather like that as a description of what this blog attempts.
When I’m not working or blogging on Defoe, I’m working on Bishop Richard Hurd, the clergyman and literary scholar (1720-1808). Currently I’ve being paying attention to his library. Built in the 1780s, Hurd’s library – both the book collection and the physical library itself – still exists at the old Bishopric palace of Hartlebury Castle. I’m not going to go into detail here, but suffice to say, it’s a wonder (check their website for more details).
Now I knew from previous visits that the collection contained ms correspondence, Hurd’s commonplace books, printed books he has annotated himself, works annotated by previous owners, as well as various material and written interventions by Richard Hurd Jr. (Hurd’s nephew, secretary, and erstwhile librarian). What I wanted to do is to try to get a sense of how such books and their annotations might relate to each other and how they relate to Hurd’s published output. Now the library has over 3,000 titles, of which quite a number are annotated, so I wanted to track such interactions with a case study of the relations between Hurd’s publication, Moral and Political Dialogues (1759), and the various works by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon held in various editions in his library. But tracking – mapping – the complex relations between these books, their owners, and the annotations became almost impossible in traditional prose description; particularly as the annotations and the interactions were also time-sensitive. What I needed was a visual aid.
At about the same I came across the project Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (an inspired title for a project!) The striking way in which the project visually presented data to track a network of literary relationships was an inspiration. I didn’t have such resources at hand, so I opted for a quick and dirty option and tried out some free mind-mapping software. What I produced – for a paper for the Writers and their libraries conference – rendered rather nicely a set of relations between objects and annotations.
It’s quite striking. But I found that the mind-mapping tools I tried all depended upon a single (or a very limited number) of starting points from which sub-topics were then hierarchically related. As you can see, I ended up by having to put the rather vague and abstract phrase ‘Hurd and Clarendon’ as the epicentre of this series of interactions. Now I had a number of objects in my case study, none of which could be said to the origin of a subsequent series of relations. In fact that was the very problem I was trying to articulate: how can one envisage a variety of interactions between objects, the contexts of which are separated by time, but which came to occupy the same physical and chronological space?
Subsequently, I’ve started experimenting with a piece of software not out of beta yet but which looks fantastic and, more to the point, very easy to use. This is Scapple, designed by the producers of Scrivenor. Details at the literatureandlatte forum.
What striking is that because Scapple is designed to mimic the rather looser way people actually doodle ideas, it doesn’t require a single starting-point. For a project like mine where I needed to map interactions between objects that have more complex and non-hierarchical relationships, this was ideal. Although I haven’t yet played around with the aesthetic appearance, the tentative reconstruction I’ve begun already looks very different without a centre. At the moment I don’t know if this will ever get beyond a personal tool, but even if that’s all it does, it should enable me to better conceive and represent the idea I began with: a kind of dialogue or virtual conversation between authors and their annotations within a library.