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  • Romantic Women and their Books
  • Michelle Levy (bio) and Andrew Stauffer (bio)

This special issue of studies in romanticism, “romantic women and their Books,” takes its origin from a shared conviction that the intersecting circles of gender studies, book history, and Romanticism should be pushed closer together, creating more overlapping spaces in that Venn diagram. Nearly thirty years ago, Anne Mellor asked, “What difference does gender make to our understanding of literary Romanticism?”1 The field rose to answer in an out-pouring of recovery work and theoretical reframing that profoundly changed the ways we teach and publish on the Romantic era. Around the same time, Jerome McGann was challenging Romanticists with versions of the question, “What difference do the circumstances of publication make to the interpretation of a literary work?”2 In the decades that followed, book history and critical bibliography have assumed new prominence in Romantic studies as methods for investigating literary media cultures. In gathering essays for this issue, we asked authors to consider a hybrid of the Mellor-McGann provocations: what difference does a doubled lens of gender and book history make to our understanding of Romantic writing? Or, as we asked in the call for papers, “What do we gain, and what might we lose, by resituating Romantic women’s writing and their literary labor within new frameworks of material and bibliographic histories?”

In 1993, Mellor began to document the different preoccupations of women writers, many of whom did not share the investments of male poets in transcendence and the imagination, but rather advocated for rationality, equality, and an “ethic of care.”3 Mellor asserted that because scholarly conceptions of the field were based on a small selection of male poets, our “descriptions of that historical phenomenon we call Romanticism are unwittingly gender-biased.”4 In his 1998 study, The Work of Writing, Clifford Siskin developed a theory [End Page 371] for the absence of women from scholarly attention. Dubbing it the “Great Forgetting,” he presented a phenomenon with both a longer and a more sinister history.5 He explained that “during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries many women wrote in many different genres with a considerable degree of popular and often critical success,” but, at the same time women gained in cultural prominence, there was a

narrowing of the notion of literature in Britain, showing how a term that had once embraced all kinds of writing came during the same period of time, to refer more narrowly to only certain texts within certain genres. This means that these acts of narrowing were also acts of gendering.6

The articles in this collection address the “all kinds of writing” that Siskin alludes to, extending beyond the published, the popular, the critically acclaimed, or what has become the canonical. Alexis Wolf, Devjani Roy, Mai-Lin Cheng, and Jerome McGann primarily address manuscripts not meant for publication, travel narratives addressed to coteries, writing found in commonplace books, letters sent to publishers, and the complex modes of address that figure in Emily Dickinson’s poetic manuscripts. Later reprintings of works first published in the Romantic era figure in essays by Nicole Reynolds on Mary Robinson, and Sarah Storti on Letitia Elizabeth Landon; Lindsey Eckert’s contribution examines the innovative rebranding of Lady Caroline’s authorial identity, and Michael Gamer and Katrina O’Loughlin consider the print packaging of the American missionary, Harriet Newell, who died at the age of eighteen leaving behind journals and letters. Barbara Heritage turns our attention to the tools and instruments of Charlotte Brontë’s desk to understand how the work of writing itself happens. All of the articles included in this issue are attentive to writing as an intertwined set of physical, technological, economic, and social processes.

In this way, this issue builds upon but also departs from the feminist recovery projects that have been centered on acts of interpretation, what Jerome McGann has called “the linguistic code,” “which we tend to privilege when we study language-based arts like novels and poetry.” McGann asks scholars of the period to also account for “the bibliographical code (which interpreters, until recently, have largely ignored).”7 The refusal to value textual editing...

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