History and Literature

Melodrama in Disguise: The Case of the Victorian Novel

By guest contributor Jacob Romanow

When people call a book “melodramatic,” they usually mean it as an insult. Melodrama is histrionic, implausible, and (therefore) artistically subpar—a reviewer might use the term to suggest that serious readers look elsewhere. Victorian novels, on the other hand, have come to be seen as an irreproachably “high” form of art, part of a “great tradition” of realistic fiction beloved by stodgy traditionalists: books that people praise but don’t read. But in fact, the nineteenth-century British novel and the stage melodrama that provided the century’s most popular form of entertainment were inextricably intertwined. The historical reality is that the two forms have been linked from the beginning: in fact, many of the greatest Victorian novels are prose melodramas themselves. But from the Victorian period on down, critics, readers, and novelists have waged a campaign of distinctions and distractions aimed at disguising and denying the melodramatic presence in novelistic forms. The same process that canonized what were once massively popular novels as sanctified examples of high art scoured those novels of their melodramatic contexts, leaving our understanding of their lineage and formation incomplete. It’s commonly claimed that the Victorian novel was the last time “popular” and “high” art were unified in a single body of work. But the case of the Victorian novel reveals the limitations of constructed, motivated narratives of cultural development. Victorian fiction was massively popular, absolutely—popularity rested in significant part on the presence of “low” melodrama around and within those classic works.


A poster of the dramatization of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist

Even today, thinking about Victorian fiction as a melodramatic tradition cuts against many accepted narratives of genre and periodization; although most scholars will readily concede that melodrama significantly influences the novelistic tradition (sometimes to the latter’s detriment), it is typically treated as an external tradition whose features are being borrowed (or else as an alien encroaching upon the rightful preserve of a naturalistic “real”). Melodrama first arose in France around the French Revolution and quickly spread throughout Europe; A Tale of Mystery, an uncredited translation from French considered the first English melodrama, appeared in 1802 (by Thomas Holcroft, himself a novelist). By the accession of Victoria in 1837, it had long been the dominant form on the English stage. Yet major critics have uncovered melodramatic method to be fundamental to the work of almost every major nineteenth-century novelist, from George Eliot to Henry James to Elizabeth Gaskell to (especially) Charles Dickens, often treating these discoveries as particular to the author in question. Moreover, the practical relationship between the novel and melodrama in Victorian Britain helped define both genres. Novelists like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Thomas Hardy, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, among others, were themselves playwrights of stage melodramas. But the most common connection, like film adaptations today, was the widespread “melodramatization” of popular novels for the stage. Blockbuster melodramatic productions were adapted from not only popular crime novels of the Newgate and sensation schools like Jack Sheppard, The Woman in White, Lady Audley’s Secret, and East Lynne, but also from canonical works including David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian, Mary Barton, A Christmas Carol, Frankenstein, Vanity Fair, and countless others, often in multiple productions for each. In addition to so many major novels being adapted into melodramas, many major melodramas were themselves adaptations of more or less prominent novels, for example Planché’s The Vampire (1820), Moncrieff’s The Lear of Private Life (1820), and Webster’s Paul Clifford (1832). As in any process of adaptation, the stage and print versions of each of these narratives differ in significant ways. But the interplay between the two forms was both widespread and fully baked into the generic expectations of the novel; the profusion of adaptation, with or without an author’s consent, makes clear that melodramatic elements in the novel were not merely incidental borrowings. In fact, melodramatic adaptation played a key role in the success of some of the period’s most celebrated novels. Dickens’s Oliver Twist, for instance, was dramatized even before its serialized publication was complete! And the significant rate of illiteracy among melodrama’s audiences meant that for novelists like Dickens or Walter Scott, the melodramatic stage could often serve as the only point of contact with a large swath of the public. As critic Emily Allen aptly writes: “melodrama was not only the backbone of Victorian theatre by midcentury, but also of the novel.”


This question of audience helps explain why melodrama has been separated out of our understanding of the novelistic tradition. Melodrama proper was always “low” culture, associated with its economically lower-class and often illiterate audiences in a society that tended to associate the theatre with lax morality. Nationalistic sneers at the French origins of melodrama played a role as well, as did the Victorian sense that true art should be permanent and eternal, in contrast to the spectacular but transient visual effects of the melodramatic stage. And like so many “low” forms throughout history, melodrama’s transformation of “higher” forms was actively denied even while it took place. Victorian critics, particularly those of a conservative bent, would often actively deny melodramatic tendencies in novelists whom they chose to praise. In the London Quarterly Review’s 1864 eulogy “Thackeray and Modern Fiction,” for example, the anonymous reviewer writes that “If we compare the works of Thackeray or Dickens with those which at present win the favour of novel-readers, we cannot fail to be struck by the very marked degeneracy.” The latter, the reviewer argues, tend towards the sensational and immoral, and should be approached with a “sentiment of horror”; the former, on the other hand, are marked by their “good morals and correct taste.” This is revisionary literary history, and one of its revisions (I think we can even say the point of its revisions) is to eradicate melodrama from the historical narrative of great Victorian novels. The reviewer praises Thackeray’s “efforts to counteract the morbid tendencies of such books as Bulwer’s Eugene Aram and Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard,” ignoring Thackeray’s classification of Oliver Twist alongside those prominent Newgate melodramas. The melodramatic quality of Thackeray’s own fiction (not to mention the highly questionable “morality” of novels like Vanity Fair and Barry Lyndon), let alone the proactively melodramatic Dickens, is downplayed or denied outright. And although the review offers qualified praise of Henry Fielding as a literary ancestor of Thackeray, it ignores their melodramatic relative Walter Scott. The review, then, is not just a document of midcentury mainstream anti-theatricality, but also a document that provides real insight into how critics worked to solidify an antitheatrical novelistic canon.


Photographic print of Act 3, Scene 6 from The Whip, Drury Lane Theatre, 1909
Gabrielle Enthoven Collection, Museum number: S.211-2016
© Victoria and Albert Museum

Yet even after these very Victorian reasons have fallen aside, the wall of separation between novels and melodrama has been maintained. Why? In closing, I’ll speculate about a few possible reasons. One is that Victorian critics’ division became a self-fulfilling prophecy in the history of the novel, bifurcating the form into melodramatic “low” and self-consciously anti-melodramatic “high” genres. Another is that applying historical revisionism to the novel in this way only mirrored and reinforced a consistent fact of melodrama’s theatrical criticism, which too has consistently used “melodrama” derogatorily, persistently differentiating the melodramas of which it approved from “the old melodrama”—a dynamic that took root even before any melodrama was legitimately “old.” A third factor is surely the rise of so-called dramatic realism, and the ensuing denialism of melodrama’s role in the theatrical tradition. And a final reason, I think, is that we may still wish to relegate melodrama to the stage (or the television serial) because we are not really comfortable with the roles that it plays in our own world: in our culture, in our politics, and even in our visions for our own lives. When we recognize the presence of melodrama in the “great tradition” of novels, we will better be able to understand those texts. And letting ourselves find melodrama there may also help us find it in the many other parts of plain sight where it’s hiding.

Jacob Romanow is a Ph.D. student in English at Rutgers University. His research focuses on the novel and narratology in Victorian literature, with a particular interest in questions of influence, genre, and privacy.

Haunting History

by contributing editor Brooke Palmieri

Even Thucydides, the celebrated father of historical realism, found it impossible to avoid revising the past in the telling of it. “With reference to the speeches in this history,” he writes in the opening to The History of the Peloponnesian War, “it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in one’s memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions.” Dead men cannot verify the truth of the words put into their mouths. Which makes the past into something of a puppet show. Or at least makes history at its core a discipline shaped by desire, the desires we have to make sense of what has happened.

Some place greater demands upon and have wilder desires for their sources than others. Consider Voices from the Spirit World, composed by Isaac and Amy Post and published in Rochester, New York in 1852, a work which can only be described either as spectral historical revisionism, or social justice fan fiction.

Title page © British Library

Title page © British Library

In it, the ghosts of famous dead people contact the authors, who then translate the “spirit rappings” they receive into a series of letters from the spirit world with advice for the living. “Benjamin Franklin” is the editor, who writes in the preface in typical Ben Franklin fashion that “Spirit life would be tiresome, without employment.” Franklin is also credited with contacting the other luminaries of public life, although Thomas Jefferson complains: “I find more difficulty in arranging my communication than when embodied.” The purpose of these spectral communications is, again, in typical Ben Franklin fashion, improvement. “Let no man claim that he has made great improvements in the arts and sciences, unassisted by spirit friends …. It is our object to spread light in the pathway of those who have been blinded by their education, traditions, and sectarian trammels. We come not to blame any; we present these truths, that man…may realize what he is, and what he is to be; to tell him by what he is surrounded.”

It is an incredibly literal way to enact the basic truth that history does offer precedents that can be built off of in the name of progress. But the aims of Voices from the Spirit World go deeper still: Franklin claims his purpose is that “death will have no terrors” for the living who are aware of the spiritual world. That is the best that the Spiritualist Movement had to offer: it was about facing death without fear, it was about ensuring that those who had died had not done so in vain, that their lives could offer wisdom and guidance in times of difficulty. The table of contents is a mixture of founding fathers, famous thinkers, Quaker leaders (the Posts were Quakers), close personal friends, and anonymous ghosts moved to speak.

Table of Contents © British Library

Table of Contents © British Library

The “sentiments” each spirit leaves behind offer advice on a range of topics; Jefferson discusses political economy, Emmanuel Swedenbourg offers a lecture on magnetism, Voltaire oozes witticisms, Napoleon gives an account of “justice” in the afterlife that reads like a warning out of A Christmas Carol (1843):

From Napoleon Bonaparte © British Library

From Napoleon Bonaparte © British Library

But overwhelmingly the spirits speak with one voice: they denounce war, the slave trade and women’s inequality from cover to cover. In a “Communication from G[eorge] Washington. July 29, 1851” the first president condemns slavery: “I regret the government was formed with such an element in it…I cannot find words to express my abhorrence of this accursed system of slavery.” A communication, surprisingly, from John C. Calhoun admits: “It is very unexpected to me to be called upon by Benjamin Franklin, informing that you desired to hear from me…It seems to me unaccountable that my mind should have been so darkened, so blinded, by selfishness, as to live to spread wrong, while I endeavored to persuade myself I was doing right.” Andrew Jackson publishes an apology for his entire life: “I was wrong in almost everything.”

Andrew Jackson's apology © British Library

Andrew Jackson’s apology © British Library

Coincidentally, Isaac and Amy Post were passionate advocates for abolitionism, pacifism, and feminism throughout their lives. So it comes as no surprise that their dabbling in the spiritualist put spectral communication to work within the social justice movements they held dear, and this is what sets Voices from the Spirit World apart from other forays into spiritualism, which deal more expressly with grief and bereavement. The political nature of the work, the view of the other side offered by the Posts is nothing less than a utopia of ghosts.

There are no controversies, no “Sectarian Trammels” in the spirit world, there is no single religion that is better than others, no class, race, or gender-based inequalities. “It seems to me when spirit laws are understood,” Ben Franklin writes “every one will rejoice to be governed by them; hence the earnest desire that fills my heart to spread light before the earthly traveler.” So in place of a theory of progress that culminates, for Marx writing a few years earlier, in communism, the ghost of Ben Franklin would see the pinnacle of the living as submitting to the authority of the dead.

Yet for all its quirks,Voices from the Spirit World fits firmly within a tradition of Quaker publications dating two hundred years earlier to the 1650s, during the Commonwealth period in England. The origins of the movement were drawn from the revolutionary chaos of the English Civil War, and in common with other sects, the Levellers, Ranters, Diggers, Seekers, Baptists, turned their religious enthusiasm to the task of social reform: Quakers over the years advocated prison reform, education reform, gender equality, and racial equality. Particularly, Quakers in the colony of Pennsylvania committed to the abolition of slavery, with petitions against slaveowners (including other Quakers) being written in 1696, and throughout the 18th century until the movement came to a consensus on abolition around 1753, a story well told by Jeann Soderlund in Quakers and Slavery (1985).

The Posts were both Hicksite Quakers, a schismatic spin-off of the Society of Friends who followed the lead of Elias Hicks (1748 – 1830) in arguing that the ‘Inner Light’ (the presence of divinity in each human being) was a higher authority than Scripture. But this too is a more common fate for Quakers than simplistic histories suggest: controversy and schism was constant from the very beginning of the movement, and the ‘Inner Light’ was always a source of conflict, between Quakers and the government, and later between Quaker leaders and members. As a critic John Brown framed the problem in Quakerism the Pathway to Paganisme (1678): “we have much more advantage in dealing with Papists, than in dealing with these Quakers; for the Papists have but one Pope…But here every Quaker hath a Pope within his brest.” In Voices from the Spirit World, the Posts address this history of confrontation particular to the movement through various of its leaders: George Fox, William Penn, Elias Hicks, making them repent their fixation with schism: “O! What I  lost to myself by my Sectarian trammels!” Hicks exclaims.

Voices from the Spirit World is less about the way in which we are haunted by history than about how relentlessly we might haunt the annals of the past, hunt the dead beyond their graves, draw words from their mouths to make meanings of our own circumstances and support our own causes. As Isaac Post writes in the introduction: “To me the subject of man’s present and future condition is of vast importance.” While the form of the book rests as a real limit case to historical revisionism, in spite of the absurdity there is an earnestness to the Post’s project that makes more rigorous and less utopian historical initiatives fall flat.

A special thanks to bookseller Fuchsia Voremberg of Maggs Bros. Ltd for bringing Voices from the Spirit World to the author’s attention.

Philology Among the Disciplines (I): The problem of definitions

by John Raimo

What is philology? The question may be almost perfectly academic, yet more people have begun to ask it. Scholars such as James Turner and Rens Bod argue that philology as a loosely-associated body of practices proved the seedbed of the modern humanities. Jerome McGann and others advocate for a return to “philology in a new key” for literary studies, and the comparative scope of latter day philologists continue to grow. All this activity marks something new in a very old history dating back to the classical world, to say nothing of classical studies: what was once a pejorative roughly on par (and perhaps rightly so) with pedantry now readily finds a larger hearing—and not just in an Anglophone context. Yet what philology meant, means, and holds for all the disciplines remains very much in question.

James Turner's

James Turner’s “Philology” (Princeton University Press, 2014)

For this reason a number of senior scholars and graduate students have gathered at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study in Rome for two weeks under the banner “Philology Among the Disciplines.” The seminar organizers deliberately choose the widest ambit for discussion: lectures and seminars have revolved around epistemology, philosophy, exegesis, hermeneutics, traditions, practices, and above all disciplinary histories. In the first week, those entailed archaeology, art history, classics, history, and philosophy. Perhaps it’s to the credit of the discussion that any clear answers may be receding, however. What follows consists then more of my own thoughts and observations as we head into the second week (and a follow-up post later on).

If one thing is clear, it would be that philology can be extended past the textual practices of emendation, collation, and historical semantics often associated with the term. The breaking point is less clear. As per the archaeologist Alain Schnapp, philology becomes almost an ahistorical means of historical reflection. Material remains of one sort or another evoke memories in two directions: a present long past which planned for the future via monuments, coins, and so forth, and the possibility (or at least rhetoric) of a direct connection to the past from our current present. The problem of reconstruction versus memory rears its head, however, to say nothing of dropping what we might call philological rigor in imagining that we can skip over the intervening historical distance. The sheer materiality of stone or of syntax affords this illusion of direct access.

Put another way, there’s no such thing as an isolated ruin, vestige, or trace of the past. Here one might well consider numismatics or the study of currency like ancient coins. Yet this hardly remains a signature delusion of archaeologists. The same goes for texts no matter how thoroughly or obsessively contextualized and reconstructed, the self-aware knowledge of accumulated scholarship (often centuries’ worth) in the best cases non-withstanding.

According to Elisabeth Décultot, the case of Johann Joachim Winckelmann sheds some light on this dynamic. How could philology buttress interpretations of art? Or might it serve to construct universal histories, especially those adjudicating between civilizations and ages? In the case of Winckelmann as well as of the Comte de Caylus and Herder, historians of scholarship can find philology in its capacity as a Hilfswissenschaft or subsidiary discipline of sorts. This might entail claims of societal progress and artistic achievement held on par with a respective language—especially when broaching rather mistier sorts of Ur-origins. Hence for Winckelmann, philology ran parallel to and partly tempered aesthetic experience.

But philology could also simply mean employing philological prowess as a sort of polemical sidearm. Errors of reading could disqualify an opponent; those with little Latin and less Greek still know about this. Philology otherwise evidently proved crucial as means of professional distinction. Winckelmann was not simply a connoisseur practicing on an exponentially broader canvas but rather positioning himself as something like a modern art historian.

The Ara Pacis in Rome

The Ara Pacis in Rome

A trip to the Ara Pacis in Rome bodied out some underlying issues here. Perhaps especially in looking to classical remains, philology can find itself in the double-traffic between image and text. That is, it serves as a check (rather like the ‘semantic check’ theorized in Begriffsgeschichte) on the range of possible interpretations afforded by historical objects, texts or otherwise. Here philology can run counter to the sort of contextualization amounting to the process of association—often carried to the extent of an object taken to represent the whole of a civilization—and embedding historical traces into external narratives of a certain sort.

Put another way, according to Martin Bloomer, philology presupposes limits as it carries its own. It almost unconsciously entertains hermeneutic presuppositions: that a whole exists to be reconstructed from a fragment, that correct emendations and interpretations exist, that historical unities of style can be discovered, that synecdoche might recover a worldview, that the one best reader (e.g. the most talented linguist) gets to write the commentary and paratext, that monumentality and preservation best serve interpretation. At its best, however, philology can also prove “self-policing” in such a way as to ideally form a toolbox of sorts, namely one comprising practices (emendation, error-detection, &c.) within ‘negative’ or falsifiable and hence professional constraints.

Dedication page for the Historiae by the Greek historian Herodotus, translated into Latin by Lorenzo Valla (1494)

Historiae by the Greek historian Herodotus, translated into Latin by Lorenzo Valla (1494)

For Suzanne Marchand, the later receptions of Herodotus among historians demonstrated how hard this proves in practice. His unusually complicated text poses more problems (and possibilities) than I can address here. In brief though, what a broader history of the champions and detractors of the same “father of history” and the fantastical “father of lies” demonstrates is that regimes of philological truth exist: that is, Herodotus has been variously held to be accurate or false in different ways at different times, and all of them broadly convincing for period readers.

Where does that leave us? For philosopher Christiane Schildknecht and classicist Glenn W. Most, philology amounts to a renewed focus upon epistemology. For the former, this renews the distinction of propositional from non-propositional knowledge in the act of interpretation. Hermeneutics, aesthetics, and historical scholarship hold equal weight and distinguish different values of truth. For the latter, philology implies a return to the history of science. A ‘top-down’ account of material practices of philology might stand in for the best history. Here one might look to Carl Friedrich Gauss and Karl Lachmann alike: how they came to distinguish between random and systematic errors is one story, but how both came to see that even random errors could be consistent proves another. Such implicit epistemological challenges have never left scientists or scholars in the humanities.


The Coliseum at Rome (courtesy of the author)

In both Schildknecht and Most’s telling then, philology becomes more a matter of methodological orientation or even self-consciousness. Beyond a body of certain textual practices, philology serves as a willingness to revise theory in light of pragmatic and experimental difficulties rather than vice-versa. Here philology’s polemical value today also comes to light in the age of ‘distant reading,’ the long ascendancy of theoretical schools in various humanistic disciplines, and pedagogical trends and desires. To return to philology’s position today, however, this requires more historical scrutiny than ever. Back-formations of what philology never in truth was easily enough serve for a counter-politics of sorts. Nothing would be further from the historical truth of philology across and between the ages.

Breadcrumbs in the Library

by guest contributor Erin Schreiner

In the spring of 1989, Mai-mai Sze (1909-1992) and her partner Irene Sharaff (1910-1993) were looking for a home for their library. The collection is strong in East Asian religion, philosophy, and scientific history and well-stocked with classics in translation, English literature, books on art, and western philosophy from ancient to modern. After rejections from Wellesley College, Sze’s alma mater, and Yale, where the School of Drama Library had taken a portion of Irene’s drawings and designs, the couple looked elsewhere. Through a connection at the Cosmopolitan Club, the books came to the New York Society Library, a subscription library founded in 1754 and the oldest library of any kind in New York City. All biases aside (I’m the Special Collections Librarian there), it’s a good fit. Founded as a secular alternative to the Anglican King’s College Library, the Society Library has always operated outside of the academy or perhaps as an autodidact’s alternative toit. As the scholarly character of their heavily annotated library suggests, the Sharaff/Sze Collection is a living record of two creative, educated women who maintained an intense and active engagement in scholarly culture throughout their lives. Today, their books show how these two artist-intellectuals engaged with literary and scholastic culture in New York City in the twentieth century, and carried on a long established tradition of engaged reading that extends far beyond the library.

Irene Sharaff is not nearly so present in the collection as Mai-mai Sze. Best remembered for her translation of the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (Bollingen Foundation, 1956), Sze never established a career as a scholar or translator, but she read like one. Her annotations in books like Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China (the subject of my follow-up post) are full of cross-references and translations, and she often wrote her own indexes. In addition to her notes, Sze’s books preserve a biblio-geographical breadcrumb trail connected to a global community of intellectual readers.

Mai-mai Sze’s copy of John Donne: Complete Poetry and Selected Prose.  London: The Nonesuch Press, 1932.  Clipping laid in at rear cover.  Smith, A. J. "A John Donne Poem in Holograph." Times Literary Supplement [London, England] 7 Jan. 1972: 19. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

Mai-mai Sze’s copy of John Donne: Complete Poetry and Selected Prose. London: The Nonesuch Press, 1932.

Clippings from the Times Literary Supplement also turn up inside the front and rear covers of more than 50 books in the collection, as do reviews from the Manchester Weekly Guardian, The New Statesman, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Saturday Review. Sze relied on the TLS in particular as an intellectually rigorous literary weekly covering a wide range of disciplines to connect her with a global community of informed readers with dedicated interests as far-reaching as her own. The collection itself is extremely broad in scope and may appear haphazard, but the clippings show that the books were carefully chosen. Mai-mai snipped and dated TLS reviews for books on Chinese medicine, for an annotated edition of George Malcolm Young’s Portrait of an Age, novels by Iris Murdoch and religious philosophy by Frithjof Schuon. She also clipped and saved reviews on topics of interest, like the poetry of John Donne, that were printed long after she had bought a book. The book itself is thus an index of sorts for her exploration of a given topic, showing that she kept up with scholarship in these areas throughout her lifetime.

Clipping laid in at rear cover. Smith, A. J. "A John Donne Poem in Holograph." Times Literary Supplement [London, England] 7 Jan. 1972: 19. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

Clipping laid in at rear cover. Smith, A. J. “A John Donne Poem in Holograph.” Times Literary Supplement [London, England] 7 Jan. 1972: 19. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.

And what’s more, Sze’s annotations show how the TLS guided her active and intense reading. In a 1964 review of W.A.C.H. Dobson’s Mencius: A New Translation Arranged and Annotated for the General Reader, I.A. Richards wrote, To enjoy Mr. Dobson’s version fully we need to have Legge’s (or Courvreur’s) open on the table too to help us in recognizing its felicities and theirs. And also the Chinese characters, if only to hold constantly before us the contrast between a succinct and resonant utterance and the relatively relaxed ramble of vocables that readable English sentences employ. Sze read and annotated Dobson’s Mencius not only with Legge’s translation in hand, but also with his translations of the Confucius’s Great Learning (referenced as T.H. “Ta Hsueh”) and The Doctrine of the Mean (referenced as C.Y. for “Chung yung”). Following Richards’s advice to the letter, she also transcribed the original Chinese.

Mencius.  Mencius: a new translation arranged and annotated for the general reader.  London: Oxford University Press, 1963, with annotations by Mai-mai Sze.  Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Mencius. Mencius: a new translation arranged and annotated for the general reader. London: Oxford University Press, 1963, with annotations by Mai-mai Sze. Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library


Mencius. Mencius: a new translation arranged and annotated for the general reader. London: Oxford University Press, 1963, with annotations by Mai-mai Sze. Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Booksellers’s labels also connected Sze with an international community of scholarly-minded readers in more direct and personal ways. In New York, she visited the Holliday Bookshop, Gotham Book Mart, The Paragon Book Gallery, Books & Co., Orientalia, and Museum Books. In Europe, we find her at Heffer’s in Cambridge, Blackwell’s and Parker’s in Oxford, W. & G. Foyle and the Times Book Club in London, and Galignani’s in Paris. Shops like these catered to educated readers, many of whom were also active members of academic, literary, dramatic, and artistic circles. The Gotham Book Mart and Books & Co. are particularly well known for the social, literary-artistic scenes they fostered, and the others pop up (like Sze herself) in the memoirs of New York writers and artists who worked, shopped, and socialized there.

Booklabels in the Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Booklabels in the Sharaff/Sze Collection, New York Society Library

Few of Sze’s letters survive, and the best are in bookshop archives. In the 1950s, she corresponded with bookseller and sometime literary critic Terence Holliday. The muted-gray label of the Holliday Bookshop appears more often than any other in the Sharaff/Sze Collection. The 49th Street bookstore was founded in 1920 by Terence and Elsa Holliday, and specialized in English imports. The Hollidays drafted a memoir of the life at the shop (printed in The Book Collector, volume 61, issues 3-4), and they wrote that they decided to “stick strictly to the selling of books. There were to be no side lines, no gifts, no tea serving, no authors’ parties. And we would never have a shop on the street level.” This was a shop for readers who wanted their booksellers to know how to find out of print and specialized publications. It was for people who read a lot, who read reviews, who called the shop and placed orders for themselves and for their friends. This letter from Theodore Bernstein to Mai-mai (c. 1944) shows that he called the bookshop to have three titles on Shakespeare by John Dover Wilson sent to her as a Christmas gift.

Theodore Bernstein to Mai-mai Sze, 15 Dec. 1944?  Sharaff/Sze Collection File, Institutional Archives, New York Society Library (click for larger view)

Theodore Bernstein to Mai-mai Sze, 15 Dec. 1944? Sharaff/Sze Collection File, Institutional Archives, New York Society Library (click for larger view)

Sze wrote Mr. Holliday in 1943, when she lived just 12 blocks from the shop on 37th street to thank him for yet another gift. Eleven years later she wrote again to set a date for an informal “seminar,” saying that she would bring her copy of “Karlgren’s book on the Chinese language,” which is annotated and part of the Sharaff/Sze Collection today.

Mai-mai Sze to Terrence Holliday, 2 June 1952.  Holliday Bookshop Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College (click for larger view)

Mai-mai Sze to Terrence Holliday, 2 June 1952. Holliday Bookshop Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College (click for larger view)

Mai-mai Sze to Terrence Holliday, 2 June 1952.  Holliday Bookshop Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College.

Mai-mai Sze to Terrence Holliday, 2 June 1952. Holliday Bookshop Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College (click for larger view)

Collections like Mai-mai Sze’s vividly show us just how actively cosmopolitan intellectuals developed their minds, in both public and private spheres. In many ways, her reading extends the kind of knowledge-gathering we see in early moderns like the Winthrops, a familial network of readers who relentlessly cultivated their minds across continents and generations. In Mai-mai Sze’s library we see how the tireless reader thoughtfully picking her own path through the vast territory of human knowledge—on a global scale, from the distant past to the present—traversed the twentieth century.

Erin Schreiner is the Special Collections Librarian at the New York Society Library. You can see Mai-mai Sze’s annotated books there at Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books (through to August 15, 2015).

Inverting the Pyramid: Notes on the Renaissance Society of America Meeting (26-28 March, Berlin)

by guest contributor Brooke S. Palmieri

To begin with, of the 903 total events held at the Renaissance Society of America meeting in Berlin, I was able to attend 10. But the historian has ways of interpreting such a huge pyramid of information that seems to miraculously balance on a single, tiny point: let’s call it microhistory.

There has already been excellent consideration about whether such a large, daunting conference is useful: “To my mind, the basic question with RSA 2015 is whether it has become so large that is has lost its identity as a conference” (David Rundle; @DrDavidRundle, 5 April 2015).

Yet the sheer size of the RSA generates a unique gravitational pull attracting senior academics and graduate students alike. Even browsing the hefty conference programme becomes an exercise of intellect. As much a map of the wider field of scholarship as the bibliomancer’s companion, one traces past and augurs future directions and deviations in Renaissance scholarship. Negotiating the RSA itself requires more decision-making, broad thinking, and unclogging the pores otherwise connecting various disciplines concerned with the same people, places, and things. If the History of Ideas has always been fit to run among diverse disciplines (anthropology, art history, literary theory) and sub-disciplines  (political, economic, religious history, history of the book), the RSA unites an ideal variety of scholarship and methodologies to move through in real time. It also allows us to turn some of our methodologies for looking at the past back upon themselves.

Many freedoms can be exercised here. Sometimes it’s worth attending panels outside of your direct line of research (“Queer Protestantism”) and eavesdropping on the Portuguese paleography expert sitting next to you. Sometimes social media is a useful tool to record and expand upon the format of the conference (via @onslies). Sometimes it is appropriate to speak up at the conference itself, as a group of early career researchers did to address the lack of gender diversity in the plenary line up (RSA’s response). More frequently, it’s just a matter of going to panels and watching scholarly lines bend and extend exponentially into patterns and shapes. And sometimes, you just have to return to the programme over a cup of coffee. What remains best about all of these strategies at the RSA is necessarily adopting the same identity at least once: that of a student.

That said, here are three lessons from a small corner of the RSA conference:

  1. Birthday parties are important

There were at least two important birthdays celebrated at the conference this year: Natalie Zemon Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre turned 30, and Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine’s “Studied for Action: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy” turned 25.

In its birthday panel, Davis’s exemplar of failed self-fashioning complemented the analysis of literary texts. This suited Davis’s reflection on her own work, as she elaborated: “If I have a theme, it’s double vision.” That is, Martin Guerre recreates a world in which “body-switching is totally reasonable, a fantasy people enjoy imagining” while still insisting that the touch and body of a man can be totally “unmistakable” to his loved ones and, by virtue of their recognition, unique. The court relied upon both while prosecuting Arnaud du Tilh for his impersonation of Guerre. The uses of fantasy and reality within the testimonies leading to du Tilh’s execution grant Davis’s work importance for literary studies (as regards the body-switching tales of the Heptameron, for instance) and literary genre (blending comedy and tragedy in its publication).

But literary studies also enrich the world of Martin Guerre: one in which literature and popular fictions contribute in real terms to the overall spectrum of belief first yielding such a double vision.. Not only is Davis’s work a model that invites collaboration between the disciplines of history and literary studies, but it also proves that anything less than a combined effort does not do justice to the stories buried in juridical archives. Identity, however constructed, remains as elusive as ever. Only collaborative or combinatory approaches can begin to pin it down.

The call to action, and collaboration, also marked Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton’s return to Gabriel Harvey’s heavily annotated copy of Livy.

Livy, Romanae historiae principis, decades tres, cum dimidia [. . .] Basel: Johannes Herwagen, 1555 Princeton University, Rare Books (EX) PA6452.A2

Livy, Romanae historiae principis, decades tres, cum dimidia [. . .] (Basel: Johannes Herwagen, 1555); Princeton University, Rare Books (EX) PA6452.A2

Yet here they discouraged the audience from maintaining Harvey as a model, or simply writing essays of “How X read Y.” Can one science or system ever really be derived from reading or from marginalia? Probably not. Yet it doesn’t matter as “you cannot recover history from the margins of books” to start: as per Jardine, “you need much more than that.” To take “Gabriel Harvey” forward requires instead a further step back, a basic rethinking about the way scholars approach sources.

How would Grafton and Jardine write that essay today? Twenty-five years ago, it required months of travelling to libraries to get a sense of Harvey’s surviving library. Grafton noted that a scholar in California who had only seen a small portion of Harvey’s books accused him of forgery, so different was his use of Livy from other volumes in his library. Today, the digital reassembly of libraries solves this exact problem. The concept of the fragmentary—which has much more theoretical weight on the shape of our scholarship than we tend to notice—is not quite as fragmented as it once was. And so twenty-five years later, Gabriel Harvey forms the bedrock of the Archaeology of Reading, a joint endeavour of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at UCL, Johns Hopkins University, and Princeton University. The overall aim of the project is to allow historians to interact with materials on a larger scale than before across participating special collections libraries, as well as to encourage us to think rigorously about the standards and descriptive practices by which we catalogue, digitize, and preserve printed books with manuscript additions.

  1. Processes shape content in all kinds of ways

The work of early career researchers complemented Grafton and Jardine’s roundtable discussion: not so much by writing treatments of “How X read Y”, but by generally working to link the process by which their contemporaries compiled our sources with the ways in which they are used over time. As Jennifer Bishop said in the standing-room only panel on Recordkeeping, “There is no strictly documentary source,” something also true for the feats of compilation described by her co-panelists. My own presentation and co-presenters worked in this vein to emphasize the passionate agendas behind documentary sources, as well as the high degree of knowledge and knowledge-sharing implicit in converting a book from leather, paper and wood to a published work. Before writing document-driven history from documents, it is worth considering their own history, which in turn requires respecting the complexity of those that worked to compile and preserve them. We must question everything that survives.

  1. Boundaries are as necessary as they are necessary to question

Such interrogations should finally extend to our own ways of categorizing history. For example: the RSA itself is changing in terms of the category of ‘Renaissance’. The RSA website identifies itself as a learned society concerned with the period of 1300-1600. The conference programme extends the end time to 1650. My own presentation did not stray before 1653, and there was not a single presentation I saw that did not include at least some 17th century content, especially Restoration, while some strayed in hushed tones into the 18th. Where does Renaissance end? Is permanent rebirthing the new permanent revolution? What does it mean that our boundaries of silently expanding? Perhaps the best way of thinking about the elasticity of time came from a literary scholar commenting on 17th century eschatology. In Margreta de Grazia’s presentation, revisiting Frank Kermode’s gorgeous Sense of an Ending reveals an impulse in Shakespeare’s dramas (as in John Foxe’s apocalyptic comedy Christus Triumphans) to constantly postpone and push the ending further and further into the future—even offstage into the future. De Grazia drew from a broadsheet that might be familiar to readers of Grafton and Rosenberg’s Cartographies of Time: the colossus of Universal History informed by the Book of Daniel:

Lorenz Faust, Anatomia Statuæ Danielis. Kurtze und eigentliche erklerung der grossen Bildnis des Propheten Danielis, darin ein historischer ausszug der vier Monarchien (Lepizig: Johann Steinman, 1586

Lorenz Faust, Anatomia Statuæ Danielis. Kurtze und eigentliche erklerung der grossen Bildnis des Propheten Danielis, darin ein historischer ausszug der vier Monarchien (Leipzig: Johann Steinman, 1586)

De Grazia observed that when the work was printed in 1585, contemporary Europe inscribed itself on the toes of the giant, leaving only a toenail’s width from the end of time. Understanding early modern attitudes toward past, present, and future offer a challenge to the way we circumscribe the boundaries of our own research: they are the ultimate actor’s categories for the historian. But they also throw into question the ways in which our own perception of time is subject to change. It’s clearly begun to shift at the RSA, in my limited experience. So since the RSA already excels at bringing together such a diverse range of scholars, the next big leap may be seriously discussing its own sense of an ending.

Brooke S. Palmieri is a PhD student in history at the Centre for Lives and Letters (CELL), where her research and teaching is dedicated to unearthing the radical potential of  print and manuscript cultures. Her dissertation focuses on the reading, writing, archiving and publishing habits of Quaker communities in London, and their expansion across the Atlantic in the second half of the 17th century. You can find her on Twitter at @bspalmieri.

Science, Mysticism, and Dreams in Alice᾽s Adventures in Wonderland

by guest contributor Stephanie L. Schatz

There can be something naïvely reductive and crassly materialistic about empirical analysis—especially if it relates to phenomena also commonly described as mystical, supernatural, transcendental, or sublime. Like the experimenters in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who identify the secret of life as “protein,” materialist investigations sometimes seem to miss the point. This is why it may seem surprising that Lewis Carroll, the famous author of the mind-bending children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), was an avid reader of the cutting-edge scientific literature of his day—including scientific investigations of dreams—and that these studies influenced his formulation of Wonderland. Dreams in general and Wonderland in particular seem to invoke the mystical or marvelous more than the materialistic. But in fact, many Victorians (including Carroll) were keenly interested in exploring the boundaries between these categories, including ways in which they might overlap. As Shane McCorristine notes in his recent, excellent study on ghost-seeing, there were “thousands of ordinary, sane and unimaginative people who saw ghosts and hallucinations in nineteenth-century Britain”—reflecting a prominent Victorian interest in the mystical and supernatural “in an age dominated by skepticism and a loss of faith” (2-3). Indeed, Lewis Carroll himself was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, an organization devoted to investigating psychic or paranormal phenomena. So while nineteenth-century Britain is often marked by an increased medical interest in sleep and dreams, as scholars like Andrew McCann have demonstrated, it witnessed a surge in popular interest in mystical or paranormal accounts of dreams as well.

I want to highlight one particular book that Carroll owned in order to demonstrate the ease with which “mystical” and scientific accounts of dreams criss-crossed in popular literature. Carroll had a fondness for the American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes’s The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1859), an eclectic medley of essays and stories woven into a dialogue of sorts that one might have at a breakfast table (Lovett 154).  Although Holmes is popular today for his poem “Old Ironsides” (1830), he was also a well-known physician and anatomy teacher and a distant relative of Anne Bradstreet, the famous poet. In one particularly thought-provoking excerpt from The Breakfast Table, the reader is asked to consider the following “curiously recurring” remark: “All at once a conviction flashed through us that we have been in the same precise circumstances as at the present instant, once or many times before” (81). As the breakfast companions proceed to discuss this strange episode of déjà vu, we are presented with a range of perspectives. The schoolmistress finds such feelings disconcerting, explaining that they “made her think she was a ghost,” possibly the result of memories from a past life (81). The main protagonist notes that such feelings recur “in my dreams,” and he is inclined to think that they are indicative of the “partial resemblance” of sensible objects, or the mistaken perception that what we see now is identical to something we have seen in the past (83). Still others refer to Dr. Wigan’s “doctrine of the brain being a double organ” (wherein each hemisphere might function as a distinct organ) and argue that if one hemisphere is more “nimble” than the other, then the second half might perceive sensory input more slowly than the first, causing it to conceive a second, later, identical cognition, resulting in déjà vu. These diverse perspectives are all representative of Victorian theories of déjà vu, which Anne Harrington notes was often literally referred to as “the dreamy state” (232). Double brains, ghosts, reincarnation, dreams, and unreliable perceptions: how many impossible things is that before breakfast? (Six, if it’s a double brain!) Victorian ideas about dream-states were complex and diverse, and scientific explanations were often accompanied by or interwoven with “mystical” ones in popular literature. A brief survey of Carroll’s library offers good evidence that Carroll held equally expansive, multifaceted views about dreams and the dreaming mind.

It is a testament to the enduring fascination of Wonderland that there is still so much to be said about the man and his works. In particular, Carroll’s interest in mystical phenomena, especially relating to representations of different kinds of dream-states, has not been thoroughly examined. In my recent article on Victorian child psychology and Alice, I outline some of the ways that Alice is both influenced by and responds to prominent Victorian scientific theories of dreams. But a single essay can hardly exhaust the complex and diverse formulations of dream-related phenomena that permeated Victorian Britain and influenced Carroll (and other prominent writers). As Charlie Lovett points out in Lewis Carroll Among His Books—an invaluable catalog of Charles Dodgson’s library—books related to “homœopathic medicine, spiritualism, magic, and astrology all find a place on [Carroll’s] shelves” (10). Indeed, Lovett emphasizes that Carroll’s “collection of works on spiritualism and supernatural phenomena was significant, and his interest in this area is certainly ripe for future investigation” (11). Despite the substantial scholarship on Carroll and his Alice stories over the past century and a half, there remains a great deal left to be explored in Wonderland—and that is a very encouraging thought.

Stephanie L. Schatz is a Ph.D. candidate and fellow at Purdue University, studying sleep and dream-states in nineteenth-century British literature, science, and medicine. Her article “Lewis Carroll’s Dream-child and Victorian Child Psychopathology” appears in the January 2015 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas.

“Jules Verne would roll over in his grave,” or Döblin on the Future

by guest contributor Carolyn Taratko

Migrants streaming into Europe’s cities, postcolonial conflicts brought home, Greenland’s melting ice sheet, scientists emancipated from nature’s constraints through the use of genetic engineering; these sound like today’s headlines, but in fact they come from the pages of Alfred Döblin’s novel Berge Meere und Giganten (1924). It narrates the story of humans between the twenty-third and twenty-eighth centuries. Along general lines, it is a story of bipolar world of great, urbanized powers, East and West, a catastrophic war (the Uralische Krieg), and the quest for new areas of settlement in Greenland to relieve growing population pressure. Its epic form allows for many digressions: descriptions of landscapes modified by technology, war and hubris, accounts of battles and love triangles burdened by cultural baggage in a world of empowered, even ferocious women. It is, in one word, staggering. The force of the imagination behind this work is a wonder in itself.

Alfred Döblin (c. 1930s)

Alfred Döblin (c. 1930s)

This earlier novel by the author of the famed Berlin, Alexanderplatz runs over 600 pages and resists any neat summary. Günter Grass once described it as “written as if under visionary influence.” Döblin clarified his goal: to write so that “Jules Verne would roll over in his grave” (Döblin, AW, Brief an Efraim Frisch, 2. Nov. 1920, 120). Yet it has largely been forgotten, partly due to the fact that scholars are unsure of how to handle such works. Among historians utopian/dystopian works are a relatively underexplored source, liable to be written off as curiosities. It is as if the act of marveling at their visionary power, at the uncanny “accuracy” of the predictions held within such fictions somehow precludes taking them seriously.

Döblin began work on Berge Meere und Giganten in the fall of 1921, a year after the publication of his historical novel Wallenstein, set during the Thirty Years War. He oriented the project around the question, “What will become of man, should he continue to live in this way?” The time he spent researching, he reported to friends, was marked by extreme physical exertion and a neurotic state that bordered on mania. Döblin’s time at a military hospital Alsace-Lorraine during the First World War had brought him into direct contact with the horrors of the war that serve as the origin of this fictional universe. The recurring images of flesh mangled by machines that appear in the novel are hardly writerly abstractions.

Wider political forces also gave life to this novel. Contemporary observers and generations of historians have commented on the crisis-ridden years of the Weimar Republic. There is no doubt that, in Detlev Peukert’s words, the “birth trauma” of the Weimar Republic in the November Revolution and the Treaty of Versailles left the German government vulnerable to a prolonged crisis of legitimacy. Saddled with reparations, bound with demands for disarmament and dealing with maimed territory, the young republic faced challenges both at home and abroad. But for Döblin it was the failure of the 1918/19 Revolution (which he would later make the subject of a four-volume historical novel) that proved to be the most colossal disappointment. How to move forward? What had once seemed to be the best hope for the future – Social Democracy– had been largely discredited and hollowed out. Döblin experienced outrage, supplanted by recognition.

His outrage was best articulated in his journalism from these years. But even for as sharp an eye as Döblin, reportage and satire had its limits. Within the framework of a historical novel, Döblin was able to pursue a different “truth.” The novel, he wrote, is privilege to its own truth—not the “facts” of journalists or of white-bearded historians (Döblin seems quite unimpressed with the latter group), but personal and social truth (Echtsheitscharakter). It could address gender relations, love, marriage, friendship—in short, things that no newspaper and serious history book could illuminate. Such were the arguments Döblin marshaled in favor of the historical novel, whose setting in the past granted it a certain degree of plausibility. A novel set in the distant future failed to offer such security.

If Döblin was convinced of the power of the historical novel to represent and critique, why did he spend years drafting a novel set in a distant future, a space that would unsettle the reader and court the bounds of plausibility? We can see from his years of embittered reportage that Döblin was ready to take his critique not only of Weimar Germany and of the increasingly apparent tendencies of urbanization, mass culture, rationalization in the “the West” one step further.

Döblin did not make the jump to utopian fiction in 1921 in isolation. Utopian works gained wider currency as a genre and intellectual project in the early twentieth century. Novelists turned towards future-oriented, experimental forms, academics began to take utopia seriously as objects of analysis, and across the political spectrum in Germany such projects were embraced as a means of representing a world worth striving for. As the sociologist Hans Freyer wrote in 1920, utopia constituted a “creative form of practical rationality.” Rüdiger Graf has identified the transformation that the term “utopia” underwent in the early twentieth century, shedding its earlier fantastical and pejorative sense to become recognized as a form of critical debate at the very heart of the emerging social-scientific project. The intensified interest in utopia followed from a general acceptance that these constructions (no longer just fictions) acted as a determining force in political behavior. Graf has charted the development of utopian studies alongside sociology; the two represented twin approaches to understanding the crisis of the 1920s. In the wake of the World War, the Russian Revolution and revolutionary events that swept across Europe, a dawning awareness of the contingency and malleability of circumstances was accompanied by an acceptance of utopian discourse. Graf refers to this process as a radicalization of Reinhart Koselleck’s concept of the Sattelzeit: an intensified encounter in which the horizon of expectation overtakes that of experience.

And here we must return to Döblin. Seen in this light, Berge Meere und Giganten is no mere flight of fancy; it is a rigorous exercise in historical imagination and continuity. Within Döblin’s novel we can see the horizon of expectation playing out in front of our eyes in lurid detail, defying any neat summary.

Carolyn Taratko is a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University. For the 2014-2015 academic year, she is based at the Freie Universität in Berlin. Her current research focuses on resource management and perceptions of crisis in late nineteenth- and early twentieth century Germany.

The Women of Négritude

by guest contributor Sarah Dunstan

With the publication of his famous Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (English trans.) in 1937, Aimé Césaire introduced the word Négritude into the French lexicon. In so doing, he named the black literary and cultural movement that he, along with the Senegalese politician and poet Léopold Senghor and Guinian poet Léon Damas would employ to critique colonial practice and construct a powerful new black identity. As T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting argues, the origins of the neologism Négritude may be easily traced to Césaire but its role in the history of black intellectual thought remains controversial, not least because it straddles the boundaries of a linguistic divide and rests upon a decidedly masculine etymology.

Study of the so-called trois pères of Négritude—Senghor, Césaire and Damas—has long framed histories of the movement, with their personal relationships and political trajectories offering insight into the content of their thinking. Particular emphasis has been placed upon their use of the French language and their French education. More recently, scholars have pushed back the temporal and linguistic boundaries of the movement’s periodization, rooting its origins in the early 1920s and recognising the Anglophone influence of the work of African American writers. This is due partly to acknowledgements by Césaire and Senghor of their engagement with the work of the Harlem Renaissance. Writers such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen were introduced to francophone audiences as early as 1924 in the short-lived journal Les Continents. Post-World War 1 dialogue between African American and Francophone black thinkers, however, went back to the 1919 Pan-African Congress organised by Du Bois wherein men such as the Senegalese politician Blaise Diagne and Guadeloupian politician Gratien Candace conceptualised black political and cultural identity upon firmly national lines.

The issue of Négritude’s intellectual debts and legacy is not purely linguistic and national, however, but entangled with questions of gender. As scholars such as Sharpley-Whiting, Brent Hayes Edwards and Jennifer Anne Boittin have noted (and gone far to rectify), the role played by black women in crafting and catalysing the movement has long been under-studied. Antillean sisters Paulette and Jane Nardal, for example, exercised a strong influence both in intellectual and practical terms, holding salon-style meetings in Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These meetings brought together luminaries from both the Anglophone and Francophone black diaspora to discuss the questions of identity that underpinned many of the works associated with Négritude. The Nardal’s salons are famed for producing La Revue du monde noir, a bilingual journal that ran for six editions and had a distinctly internationalist bent. Most scholars of the black francophonie would now acknowledge the Nardals and the Revue as crucial influences upon the intellectual development of les trois pères. The initial elision of the women from narratives about the movement is one, however, that also bears true of intellectual histories of African diasporan exchange during this period.

The availability of sources is part of the problem as scant archival material exists outside their published work. Correspondence like that so crucial to tracing the exchange between African American thinkers such as Alain Locke and René Maran is largely missing from the historical archive where these black women are concerned. A 1956 fire destroyed Paulette Nardal’s papers, for example, making her role in the origins of the Négritude movement and as a generator of diasporan intellectual exchange even more difficult to map. What is left are the articles she published in La Dépêche africaine and La Revue du Monde Noir and a patchwork of police surveillance records in the ‘Service de liaison avec les originaires des territoires français ďoutre-mer’ series held in the overseas archives in Aix-en-Provence.

Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882–1961)

Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882–1961)

On the American side, women such as Jessie Fauset and Ida Gibbs Hunt have no archives to their name. Nevertheless, their correspondence shows up in the papers of their friends and acquaintances – men such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Gratien Candace and Rayford Logan. This affords tantalising glimpses of the crucial, if mostly unacknowledged, parts they played in facilitating intellectual exchange across the language divide. Ida Gibbs Hunt, for example, was part of the first Pan-African Association executive committee formed in 1919 at the Pan-African Congress in Paris. Du Bois never mentioned her in his write-up of the Congress in the Crisis, nor does she appear in any media reports. Yet a personal letter that Du Bois sent to Hunt and her husband (the American consul to Saint-Étienne at the time) suggests that she was, in fact, heavily involved in its organisation. In addition, correspondence appearing in the Du Bois Papers held at the University of Massachussets-Amherst suggests that Hunt, alongside Rayford W. Logan, played a mediating role in maintaining fragile diasporan relations when Du Bois consistently infuriated and circumvented the francophone portion of the organising committee.

Historian Glenda Sluga, in a roundtable at the History Workshop, noted similar archival silences in regard to the presence of female actors in internationalist movements. It prompted her to ask if their inclusion should be “a matter of choice, or a matter of fact?” I think the answer lies in innovation, in being open to intellectual genealogies that go beyond the traditional or, in the case of les trois pères, the acknowledged narrative. In a brilliant article, on the Nardal sisters in interwar Paris, Jennifer Anne Boittin illustrated one way in which such miscellaneous sources can be patched together to form a broader picture. Amongst other findings, Boittin’s work illustrated the ways that women like the Nardals often formed intellectual coalitions upon gendered lines, sharing space in journals such as La Dépêche africaine with white feminist thinkers such as Marguerite Martin. Choosing to interrogate the gaps and silences often left in intellectual genealogies by female actors can allow us to see these connections and thus view cultural and political movements like Négritude and Du Bois’ Pan-Africanism in a new light, fleshing out their spheres of influence beyond the expected.

Sarah Dunstan is a PhD Candidate on an Australian Postgraduate Award at the University of Sydney. For the 2014-2015 academic year, she is based at Columbia University, New York, on a Fulbright Postgraduate Fellowship. Her research focuses on francophone and African American intellectual collaborations over ideas of rights and citizenship.