Victorian Poetry 40.3 (2002) 274-279
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Guide to the Year's Work
Donald E. Hall
The relative success or failure of a book series as a coherent and compelling project can be attributed to any of several factors: the commitment and responsibility of the press involved, the availability of pertinent manuscripts and the solicitation of them through effective publicity, and the follow-through and professionalism of authors whose manuscripts are accepted for inclusion. But perhaps the most important determinant of a series' fate lies in the efforts of its editor or editors, whose work must of course support that just mentioned, but whose vision, energy, and imprint on the series should also give it a coherence that distinguishes it from a stack of books which happen to share a time period or broad theme. Indeed, the singular opportunity offered to series editors is that of providing to readers a consistent and reliable point of entrance into a well-focused, ongoing conversation. But certainly editors, authors, and press personnel must all share this goal and work diligently as a team for this opportunity to result in anything other than uneven and forgettable results. How many series can you think of that even have a perceptible identity or raison d'être beyond serving as a convenient marketing category?
As I have suggested over the course of the past few years, John Drakakis' "New Critical Idiom" series at Routledge is a success story in this regard. Certainly some volumes in the series are better written than others, but all share a common vision, format, and commendable degree of both readability and scholarly reliability. Similarly successful, and the focus of the present review, is the "Transitions" series from Palgrave (UK) and St. Martin's (US) edited by Julian Wolfreys, a prolific Victorianist teaching at the University of Florida. While not all volumes in the "Transitions" series will meet the needs of the present journal's readership, most are well written and very useful. Beginning in 1998 and now with nine volumes in print and another seventeen forthcoming, this is a series that includes several titles that Victorian Poetry's readers may find appropriate for classroom adoption and/or for their own research and general reading purposes.
The vision of the series is well expressed by Wolfreys in the general editor's preface that opens each volume:
The aim of Transitions is to explore passages, movements, and the development of significant voices in critical thought, as these voices determine and are mediated by acts of literary and cultural [End Page 274] interpretation. . . . The writers in this series unfold the movements and modulations of critical thinking over the last generation, from the first emergences of what is now recognized as literary theory. They examine as well how the transitional nature of theoretical and critical writing is still very much in operation, guaranteed by the hybridity and heterogeneity of the field of literary studies.
The series is developing along three separate lines: major critical movements, major periods, and major theorists. Since no period overview has been published yet that is within or adjacent to the specific interests of Victorian Poetry (only medieval and early modern volumes have appeared), I will examine here the seven volumes published in the first and third categories just mentioned.
Indeed, the first title appearing in print very effectively bridged the two. Editor Julian Wolfreys' own Deconstruction*Derrida from 1998 provides a compelling and reliable overview of both the theorist and the movement signaled in its title. Playfully written but still very readable, Wolfreys' inaugural volume sets the structure that all subsequent volumes will follow: a thorough investigation of the title topic, a long section of detailed readings of primary texts using the theorist or methodology being discussed, and an afterword that looks to future controversies or continuing critical needs. One of the most commendable aspects of the series is the annotated bibliography that follows every afterword, in which major publications in and on the field/theorist covered by the volume are described and evaluated (Wolfreys' bibliography critically engages 37 books by and about Derrida...