Patron’s Choice: Readers Reading Hannah Foster’s The Coquette

This week, we are pleased to feature a guest post from Amanda Stuckey, who visited the collections earlier this year as a Lillian Gary Taylor Fellow in American Literature Mary and David Harrison Institute

In an undated (ca. early 20th-century) letter tucked into the first edition of Hannah Foster’s bestselling novel The Coquette (1797) in the Small Library, reader Robert Taylor questions the judgment of the novel’s heroine. Taylor writes that he perused the story of Eliza Wharton, found it “interesting reading,” and even shed a tear or two when he reached the novel’s final lines consisting of the unfortunate protagonist’s epitaph. Yet, Taylor notes, even as he mingled his tears “with those shed upon the tombstone of the ill-fated Eliza; and observe her age as inscribed therein, I am constrained to contend that she was old enough to know better.”

Even though “the book” seems to have all but disappeared in an age of digital reproduction and online catalogues, as contemporary readers we nonetheless exist in a world saturated with text. So much text to be scrolled, contemplated, “liked,” re-tweeted, or simply ignored, that the line between “seeing” text and “reading” it can become unclear. Yet the act of requesting and opening a book like The Coquette from a library that so values the material and physical presence of words, of texts, reminds us that we are here to read. Only seventeen first editions of The Coquette remain, and like many first editions, UVA’s copy has an aura surrounding it; carefully lifting it out of the box cut to fit its exact dimensions, an eager reader might wonder how many other people like Taylor have lifted the unassuming, dulled brown cover to turn tenderly through the weathered but still-sturdy pages. How many others have read on those very pages the story, over two centuries old, of Eliza Wharton, who struggles on the marriage market during the years after the nation-defining struggle of the American Revolution.

The custom box holding the library's copy of the first edition of The Coquette (Taylor 1797 . F68 C6). Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg

The custom box holding the library’s copy of the first edition of The Coquette (Taylor 1797 . F68 C6). Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg

Eliza, an unmarried woman from Connecticut, finds herself caught between two suitors: the rational, respectable Reverend Boyer and the dashing but reprehensible Major Sanford. Just as Eliza’s friends – and her readers – think she is going to make the “right” decision and accept Boyer’s hand in marriage, he catches her in compromising circumstances (by late eighteenth-century standards, at least) in a secluded garden with Sanford. Boyer rescinds his marriage proposal, and by the end of the novel Eliza finds herself pregnant, close to death, and all but abandoned by Sanford, the seducing rake who never planned to marry her in the first place. The catch to which reader Robert Taylor referred? Eliza was thirty-seven when she became pregnant and subsequently died, seemingly bereft of the innocence, virtue, and education that almost four decades of sound friendship and parental guidance sought to instill in her. Eliza’s fatal carelessness in her choice of suitors seemed, to Taylor at least, befitting of a younger woman, one less familiar with the treacherous wiles of men. Indeed, Eliza Wharton could have been mother of her fictional contemporary Charlotte Temple, whose similar fate of seduction, pregnancy, and death at the ripe age of fifteen was the subject of another bestselling novel of the late eighteenth century. “Old enough to know better,” perhaps, Eliza nonetheless is doomed from the novel’s start. Even Foster’s title, a reference to behavior that eighteenth-century audiences associated with flirtatiousness, promiscuity, and an inability to commit, seems to belie the years Eliza had to walk a straight course.

Whenever I read The Coquette, I find myself frustrate–not with Eliza’s seeming inability to make the “right” decision between two men of completely opposite character, but more so with the fact that even now, ten years after I first read the novel, I still read it with a sense of dread, with the feeling that if she’d just settle down with Boyer, she might have a shot at making it out of the novel alive. The genre of seduction fiction into which The Coquette falls is a supremely predictable one, and Eliza is perhaps its most famous example. Each time I read the novel I ask myself, how can I possibly read this differently? How can I assign new meaning to Eliza’s doomed thirty-seven years? What more can I say about her all-too-certain fate, a fate that even Eliza seems to sense as the novel comes to a close?

With those questions in mind, I pondered each of the novel’s 242 pages, seeking answers and new clarity. It was not until I reached very last page that I sat up a little straighter in my chair, pulled out of my contemplations by three simple characters in ink:

The final two pages of "The Coquette," which include a rendering of the text on Eliza's gravestone.

The final two pages of “The Coquette,” which include a rendering of the text on Eliza’s gravestone. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg



A detailed image showing where a reader has edited Eliza's age from 37 to 27. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg

A detailed image showing where a reader has edited Eliza’s age from 37 to 27. Photograph by Molly Schwartzburg

Twenty-seven? One reader felt so convinced that a woman of thirty-seven could not possibly have fallen victim to one man’s practiced, seductive wiles that this reader had to “correct” the official record of Eliza’s age? So convinced that this reader not only altered Eliza’s epitaph but also felt the need to write it again, to underline it, in case we had any doubt that thirty-seven is way too old to be hanging out in gardens with a known libertine.

Whenever I teach an early American work of fiction, one that is likely digitized through my institution’s library or other vast internet repository, I encourage my students to seek out a physical copy of the book, preferably a first or early edition, housed in a nearby archive or in their university’s own special collections. If we’re lucky, the university’s special collections library will have a first edition, and I ask students to first read a digitized or contemporary scholarly edition of the work and to think about the experience of reading in their present moment. Then students venture out to their special collections library to request a first or early edition of the same novel, to gently lift the cover softened by wear, to delicately turn the pulpy yellowed pages, and to imagine what it might have meant to be reading this work in, say, 1797. Afterward, they write up a brief comparison of the two reading experiences, discussing what surprised them or caught their attention in reading the same book two different ways. These assignments repeatedly demonstrate to me the importance of paying attention to the experience of reading, an experience that today can take so many forms that we almost don’t even notice that we’re reading something when we’re reading it. These assignments have taught my students and me that the experience of reading means different thing to different people, and that we bring our own frames of reference to the text each time we read a book. There is a saying attributed to a Greek philosopher that you can’t step into the same river twice, and the archive continually shows my students and me that you can’t always step into the same book twice. It is different each time we read it, and often that difference comes not from the answers we demand from the book but from the way we let the book speak to us.

And, as it turned out, I’d been asking the wrong questions. I needed to start not with “I” the reader, but with a broader sense of readership, of a recognition that this novel, though it has ridden high crests and low troughs of popularity throughout its life, nonetheless has been read for over two hundred years. The solitary figure of the reader – the “I” – shrinks before The Coquette’s well-worn pages in recognition of just how many fingers have turned them. From the copy in Small Special Collections, modified so minimally yet so insistently, I find myself asking questions that start not with “I” but with how. How have people read this novel? How might previous ways of reading this novel change, affect, influence, the way we read –not just this novel but any text, any book, periodical, or blog? These interjections from the past into our present invite us to look at a familiar text differently, and moreover they invite us to consider the act of reading itself. In a world saturated with multimedia text, the physical presence of the book makes us aware that we’re reading.

That’s what these two numbers, three inked characters, did when I finished up the first edition of The Coquette in Small Special Collections. They spoke to me, caught me off guard, even in the final, oh-so-predictable (I thought) words of the novel. They made me envision another person holding that volume, made me wonder about someone so certain that Eliza just had to be twenty-seven, while I had paid at best scant attention to her age. I have other questions for this novel and its reader(s) – why, for example, was it Eliza’s responsibility to “know better?” For that matter, is thirty-seven really old? Why aren’t we talking about how old Sanford is here? But more important, once I turned the final page, was the way in which this volume – with Robert Taylor’s enclosed letter and the marginalia of an unknown reader – generated these questions from a book I had stepped into once again, a book made almost entirely new thanks to the readings of other readers.

Thanks, Amanda, for sharing your reading room “aha” moment with the blog!


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Robert Browning as Seen from Special Collections

(Note: This is the first of three posts by students enrolled this past Fall in ENNC 3240: Professor Andrew Stauffer’s course in Victorian Poetry. The three students–Heather Jorgenson, Ann Nicholson, and Eva Alvarado–elected to participate in one of the U.Va. Library’s initial “Libratories.” Originally proposed by the University Library Committee, and coordinated by Chris Ruotolo, Director of Arts and Humanities for the U.Va. Library, a Libratory is a one-credit library lab attached to selected courses each academic term. Participating students work with their professor and a librarian to undertake a course-related research project involving extensive use of library materials. Heather, Ann, and Eva spent considerable time in Special Collections studying books and manuscripts by a Victorian poet of their choosing. Then each prepared a 20-minute class presentation accompanied by a special exhibition of selected Special Collections materials. They have kindly agreed to share their experiences here. In this initial post, Heather Jorgenson discusses her work on Robert Browning.)

Throughout one’s college experience, academic opportunities present themselves and allow for a more creative, enriching, and memorable learning environment. The 2016 Fall semester sparked the first Libratory independent study and provided three students in ENNC 3240 with the opportunity to prepare a twenty-minute presentation on a topic in Victorian Poetry using the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library’s nearly boundless resources and fantastic staff.

The system used to find and request specific works from the library is called Virgo, and it proved instrumental as a catalogue of all available works by Robert Browning—the particular Victorian poet I chose. Special Collections happens to hold over one hundred of Browning’s works, which both lengthened the research process and led me to seek additional assistance from David Whitesell, a curator at the library. My only qualm with Virgo lies in the lack of visual representation—with David’s help I could view all of Browning’s work at the same time to identify any underlying themes and to investigate the hidden gems found in the library.

What I decided to include in my presentation were eighteen volumes dating from 1835 to 1910, showcasing the many forms and levels of craftsmanship present in these separate works. Some of these differences arose from multiple copies of the same book. By comparing and contrasting these copies, my presentation illustrated the unique nature of these older volumes, as well as the close relationship between reader, writer, and bookmaker which seems to have been stronger in the past than it is today.

Original pencil sketch in Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 2. Number 119 of 125 copies.

Original pencil sketch in Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 2. Number 119 of 125 copies.

I saw many books with personalized details—many of them had inscriptions, while others included letters or sketches. These made each book feel more special and the entire research process more exciting as I knew I would likely find something interesting in almost every one I looked at.

Original pencil sketch in Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 2. Number 119 of 125 copies.

Original pencil sketch in Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 2. Number 119 of 125 copies.

The library has 2 copies of the 1897 edition of Browning’s Poems. Copy 2 features original pencil sketches, but it also includes a cut and pasted Robert Browning signature, while copy 1 features a leather binding by the Guild of Women Binders with flowers, figures, and words from Browning’s work on the covers. In comparing both copies, I saw a sharp contrast between the amount of attention placed on the outside and the inside, since copy 1 does not include other features in its first few pages and copy 2 has a plain red leather binding with gold accents, in contrast to the detailed leatherwork found in copy 1.

Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 1. Number 116 of 125 copies. This copy features a binding by the Guild of Women Binders with fantastic leather-work on the covers.

Robert Browning, Poems (1897), copy 1. Number 116 of 125 copies. This copy features a binding by the Guild of Women Binders with fantastic leather-work on the covers.

I also found books containing letters. In fact, while reading volume 2 of The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, I encountered a facsimile on page 567 of a letter from Elizabeth to Robert Browning with a small note at the end directing the reader to page 443 of volume 1. After seeing this note, my curiosity was piqued and I rushed to look at volume 1, but at that point the library was about to close and I could not request any more items. Having to wait until the following day, I requested the book as soon as I could and opened it to page 443 to find: a printed version of the facsimile letter. I found this to be thought-provoking because, although not the first handwritten letter I had encountered, it was the only inter-volume communication I has seen in my research thus far.

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868), volume 1. Pasted-in letter from "Louise" to R. h. Collins.

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868), volume 1. Pasted-in letter from “Louise” to R. H. Collins.

This copy reflects an attribute of many of these books in that it was originally given as a gift. Per the presentation letter pasted in the front, “Louise” gifted it as a Christmas present to R.H. Collins in 1868, the year of its publication. I found this particular book fascinating because it also includes detailed inscriptions written by R.H. Collins—we know they were written by her because she wrote her name after the pictured letter and the other writings are in the same handwriting. In the front of the book she quoted several passages, presumably her favorites, with page numbers. Then, in the back of the book, she wrote what appear to be responses to the text. This amazed me because I could see the level of connection she had to this book in her inscriptions and also in the letter which originally went along with the gift.

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868), volume 1. Pasted-in letter from "Louise" to R. h. Collins.

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868), volume 1. Pasted-in letter from “Louise” to R. H. Collins.

I have seen many amazing books in my research—I have held a first edition of Paracelsus from the McGregor Library, a fully illustrated copy of Pippa Passes, and an original Robert Browning signature—and discovering what makes them unique and powerful has made this experience worthwhile and enjoyable. The process of turning through each and every page can seem grueling at first. However, the more you look the more you will find, and where else can you feel like a detective, a scholar, and a little kid at the toy store all at the same time?

Here is the complete list of featured works from my presentation; I strongly recommend visiting the Special Collections Library and requesting these items, or any others that interest you.

  1. Paracelsus (E 1835 .B76 P3)
  2. Sordello (E 1840 .B76 S6)
  3. Bells and Pomegranates (PR 4202 .M68 1841  copies 1-2)
  4. Christmas Eve and Easter Day (PR 4222 .C49 1850  copies 1-3)
  5. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (PR 4200 1868   1)
  6. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (PR 4202 .T3 1872   1)
  7. Asolando (PR 4222 .A7 1890  copy 1)
  8. The Complete Poetic and Dramatic Works of Robert Browning (PR 4200 1895)
  9. Poems (PR 4202 .G37 1897  copies 1-2)
  10. The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett (PR 4231 .A3 1899  1-2)
  11. Pippa Passes (PR 4218 .A1 1900)
  12. Browning Year Book (PR 4203 .T8 1909)
  13. Robert Browning’s Complete Works  (PR 4200 1910)

― Heather Jorgenson

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On View Now: Sacred Spaces: The Home and Poetry of Anne Spencer

Our latest exhibition, Sacred Spaces: The Home and Poetry of Anne Spencer, offers a glimpse into the exquisite world of Civil Rights activist, librarian, gardener, and poet Anne Spencer (1882–1975). Spencer spent over fifty years turning her house and her garden into a more beautiful and gentle world than the one outside her gates.

Inspired by the photographs taken by noted architectural and landscape photographer John Hall, the exhibition explores how each space was sacred in its own unique way. In “Any Wife to Any Husband, A Derived Poem,” Spencer writes, “This small garden is half my world.” With a myriad of flowers, a lily pool, and a cottage study, Anne’s garden was her own private poetic Eden. At the same time, her house, the other half of her world, was a welcome refuge for African Americans who would have been prevented from finding lodging in Lynchburg because of the color of their skin. The Spencers hosted civil rights activists, writers, and other famous African Americans such as Gwendolyn Brooks, George Washington Carver, Countee Cullen, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Thurgood Marshall, and even Martin Luther King Jr.

House case

However, for Spencer, poetic creation and political activism were not separated by the boundaries of architecture. Rather, they were wreathed together by Spencer’s own hand in the house and in the garden. She wrote about politics on seed packets and gardening catalogues in her garden cottage, but at the same time, a poem she wrote about her favorite flower, “Lines to a Nasturtium (A Lover Muses)” is, to this day, painted on the kitchen wall.

Shown here is a packet of seeds that Spencer wrote notes on and a copy of Dreer's Garden Book with an unpublished poem

Shown here is a packet of seeds that Spencer used to take notes  and a copy of Dreer’s Garden Book , open to  an unpublished poem

The exhibition is broken down into three parts—house, garden, and garden cottage (known as “Edankraal”)— in order to show how politics and poetry, public and private, the past and the present converge in the sacred spaces Anne Spencer created. To compliment John Hall’s stunning photographs of the house and garden, we have tried to fashion each of Spencer’s sacred spaces through the physical artifacts—manuscripts, books, letters, gardening paraphernalia— she left behind.

“Sacred Spaces” is on view through January 27, 2017 in the first floor gallery of the Harrison Small building. Spencer’s home is open to the public today as the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum. For more information, see To learn more about John M. Hall’s photography, please visit

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Researching the 1918 Flu Epidemic in Virginia

In 1918, a new strain of influenza swept around the world. Before it was done, it had killed approximately 30 million people. In the United States at least 750,000 died in only a few months—the equivalent today of almost 2.5 million.  When the epidemic arrived in Virginia, 25% to 30% of the population caught the virus and thousands died, including six U.Va. students and a nationally known faculty member.

Addeane Caelleigh is researching the epidemic in Virginia.  When she retired recently from the School of Medicine, she immediately began work in archives and libraries, including the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and the Historical Collections archive in the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library.  “I’ve long been interested in how communities respond in extreme situations, such as natural disasters and epidemics,” she explained.

Addeane uncovered emotionally powerful manuscripts here in Special Collections, including handwritten letters about family experiences with the disease and official documents about U.Va.’s response to the crisis. She also found a photograph of George F. Ferguson, M.D., an African-American physician in Charlottesville who cared for many during the epidemic.


Dr. George F. Ferguson poses with his children in this family portrait by Charlottesville photographer Rufus Holsinger taken a few years after the flu crisis, in 1922. (MSS 9862, available online).

Notably, Addeane is among the first researchers to have the opportunity to view a UVA Hospital admissions ledger for 1915-1919, where she can track the diagnoses—and deaths—of patients from around the region.


On the left are diagnosis entries in the hospital ledger from 1917, before the influenza outbreak. On the right, an entry from 1918, showing starkly the epidemic’s impact on the community.

Until recently researchers could not use the ledger because of restrictions imposed by the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), which protects the confidentiality of patient information. In 2014, Congress allowed an exception for historical research, and Ms. Caelleigh has collected invaluable data about hospital patients with influenza, helping to expand understanding the epidemic in Virginia. Studying issues of the Daily Progress, which is available digitally through UVA Libraries, enables her to reveal details of the community’s responses.

Overall, her research is building a picture of both the epidemic and the community’s responses. “Interestingly, as deadly as the epidemic was locally and nationally, it seems to have dropped out of sight in local memory,” she noted. Her research adds an important understanding of how a major event can unite a community.

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On View Now: Sisters of the Press: Radical Feminist Literature, 1967-1977

This week we are pleased to feature a post by graduate student Kelly Fleming. Kelly is a Ph.D. candidate in English and a curatorial assistant in Special Collections. She writes for us here about her first solo exhibition.

The word “feminist” is lit up in bright lights these days, and not just thanks to Beyoncé. Celebrities use their place in the spotlight to complain about the gender wage gap. Young women wear t-shirts with a crowned Ruth Bader Ginsburg, emblazoned with the words “Notorious RBG.” Students, unprompted, use the word “intersectional” in my classroom, deploying a piece of feminist terminology that was coined the year I was born.

Fifty years ago, in 1966, when Betty Friedan and other feminists formed the National Organization of Women (NOW), their statement of purpose declared, “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” While we still need to work toward a “truly equal partnership” in this country, feminism has become mainstream. In fact, it has hit mainstream society with such force and such flare that there is debate about the rise of a new wave, as well as new names: “pop feminism” and “marketplace feminism.” At least in part, we are living out Friedan’s dream in this very moment.

Yet in this moment, we are at risk of forgetting the women who wore the word “feminist” like a medal of honor into battle. Perhaps because they did not want to be part of “mainstream” American society, the achievements and work of radical feminists are the most often forgotten. “Sisters of the Press: Radical Feminist Literature, 1967–1977” is an attempt to shed light on this particular history of feminism.

Radical feminists took the second-wave feminist mantra—the personal is political— and made it into a lifestyle. Because they believed that American society was underpinned by a patriarchal system stretching back centuries, they sought to destroy its institutions, hierarchies, and beliefs. To work within the system was to be complicit in the oppression of all American women by men, a fact that the “mainstream” feminist movement, epitomized by NOW, would not formally acknowledge. As a result of this conviction, radical feminists did more than just join consciousness-raising groups. They formed collectives, they lived in non-hierarchical all-female communities, and they dispensed plastic speculums for personal use. But more than anything else, they wrote. They penned scathing critiques in easily disseminated materials, such as manifestos, periodicals, pamphlets, petitions, and flyers, that circulated to sisters nationwide and that provided the basis for radical action.

Smash Sexism

Detail from the February/March 1973  issue of the radical feminist periodical, Off Our Backs.  (HQ1101. O34 v.3 no.6)

While these radical feminists texts may not be as famous as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), or Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique (1963), their clear, concise messages still inspire change today. I am not alone in having read the Radicalesbian’s essay, “Woman-Identified Woman,” during my undergraduate studies, and imagine my excitement (which was effusive), when I found that we had Rita Mae Brown’s personal copy, complete with editorial marks, in the archives.

Woman Identified Woman

Shown here is  last page of the essay, with the signatures of co-founder Rita Mae Brown and other members of the Radicalesbians. (MSS 12019)

Another item in the exhibition that I know has impacted women today, and women at UVA in particular, is a letter from a feminist group called the Women’s Alliance. UVA did not admit female undergraduates until 1970 and only did so then because it was court mandated. In response to the “traditional sex stereotyping” female students continued to see in UVA classrooms, the Women’s Alliance demanded in 1977 that the university hire more female faculty members and create a women studies’ program. Even though radical feminists wanted to tear down institutions, their arguments did transform one institution, the university, from within. The UVA Women’s Center and the Women, Gender & Sexuality Program are the result of their efforts.

Women's Alliance Letter

The letter the Women’s Alliance sent to UVA President Hereford, regarding their petition for a women studies program, which reached nearly 3,000 signatures.  (RG-2/1/2.791)

“Sisters of the Press” may not be as powerful as Beyoncé standing in front of the word “feminist” at her concert, but it will remind of us of the women who were feminist before it was cool.

“Sisters of the Press” is on view through August 31st in the First Floor Gallery of the Harrison/Small Building. Come take a look!

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Shakespearean Insults: The Editorial Edition

Recount, O Muse, the editors who fell during the epic battle for Shakespeare’s words three centuries ago. Pope, that poetic genius, was blinded by Shakespeare’s meter; Theobald, may he rest in peace with his dictionaries, died of dulness; Johnson, the father of our language, was cut to the core by the Bard’s vulgar words; and Malone, the lone Irishman, lost his ear. In this, the battle of Shakespeare editions, each editor thought he was victorious. But alas! they all cried “huzzah!” too soon, for each editor soon felt the perfectly timed twist of the rhetorical knife or the slap of a rhetorical glove.

In all seriousness, over the course of the eighteenth century, editors battled with each other over the words of Shakespeare. The complicated work of editing Shakespeare began in earnest, arising from both the Enlightenment spirit of scholarship and a growing recognition of Shakespeare’s importance. Each editor sought to claim the “true” Shakespeare. Yet before the days of the First Folio’s renown (which Samuel Johnson first suggested editors use in 1765), editors typically used their predecessor’s editions as their base texts. They did not start with early folios or quartos, which were difficult to locate. For various reasons, each editor asserted the rightness of his own edition of Shakespeare, and as a result, each edition was met by equally strong criticism. Perfecting the noble art of the insult, editors padded their own editions with criticisms of their predecessors. In a few cases, they were so fired up they wrote entire books dedicated to explaining how their predecessors were wrong.

Our current exhibition, Shakespeare by the Book, has an entire section entitled “We Quarrel in Print: Editing Shakespeare.” Alongside books, it features a listicle of our favorite editorial insults from the eighteenth century, mined from the footnotes and the books in the exhibition. Read on to see the list in its entirety!

Editorial Insult Wall

Editor William Warburton on Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 edition of Shakespeare (1747):

A Wit indeed he was; but so utterly unacquainted with the Business of Criticism, that he did not even collate or consult the first Editions of the Work he undertook to publish; but contented himself with giving us a meagre Account of the Author’s Life, interlarded with some common-place Scraps from his Writings.

Editor Lewis Theobald on Alexander Pope’s 1725 editing of a passage in Hamlet (1726):

[N]o Body shall perswade me that Mr. Pope could be awake, and with his Eyes open, and revising a Book, which was to be publish’d under his Name, yet let an Error, like the following, escape his Observation and Correction.

Theobald's Shakespeare Restor'd

Lewis Theobald’s Shakespeare Restored is a  book entirely dedicated to criticizing Pope’s edition of Shakespeare.

Editor William Warburton on Lewis Theobald’s 1733 edition of Shakespeare (1747):

Mr. Theobald was naturally turned to Industry and Labour. What he read he could transcribe: but, as what he thought, if ever he did think, he could but ill express, so he read on; and by that means got a Character of Learning, without risquing, to every Observer, the Imputation of wanting a better Talent.

Editor William Warburton on Lewis Theobald’s 1733 edition of Shakespeare (1747):

Mr. Theobald was naturally turned to Industry and Labour. What he read he could transcribe: but, as what he thought, if ever he did think, he could but ill express, so he read on; and by that means got a Character of Learning, without risquing, to every Observer, the Imputation of wanting a better Talent.

Critic Thomas Edwards in a satirical “supplement” to William Warburton’s 1747 edition of Shakespeare (1748):

Poor Shakespear! your anomalies will do you no service, when once you go beyond Mr. Warburton’s apprehension; and you will find a profess’d critic is a terrible adversary, when he is thoroughly provoked: you must then speak by the card, or equivocation will undo you. How happy is it that Mr. Warburton was either not so attentive, or not so angry, when he read those lines in Hamlet,

Give me that Man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core; aye, in my heart of heart—

We should have then perhaps heard, that this was a way of speaking, that would have rather become an apple than a prince.

Alexander Pope satirizing the voice of Lewis Theobald in The Dunciad, who pays homage to the goddess Dulness with his edition of Shakespeare (1728):

Here studious I unlucky Moderns save,
Nor sleeps one error in its father’s grave,
Old puns restore, lost blunders nicely seek,
And crucify poor Shakespear once a week.
For thee I dim these eyes, and stuff this head,
With all such reading as was never read;
For thee supplying, in the worst of days,
Notes to dull books, and Prologues to dull plays;
For thee explain a thing ‘till all men doubt it,
And write about it, Goddess, and about it.

Samuel Johnson first on Alexander Pope’s 1725 edition of Shakespeare…

This was a work which Pope seems to have thought unworthy of his abilities, being not able to suppress his contempt of the dull duty of an editor. He understood but half his undertaking.

…and then on Lewis Theobald’s 1733 edition (1765):

Pope was succeeded by Theobald, a man of narrow comprehension and small acquisitions, with no native and intrinsick splendour of genius, with little of the artificial light of learning.

Critic William Kenrick on a footnote in Samuel Johnson’s 1765 edition of Shakespeare (1765):

Had our editor nothing to offer better than this? And hath he so little veneration for Shakespeare, as so readily to countenance the charge against him of writing nonsense? Did you, Dr. Johnson, ever read the scene, wherein this passage occurs, quite through?

Critic Joseph Ritson on Edmund Malone’s 1790 edition of Shakespeare (1792):

But it is not the want of ear and judgement only of which I have to accuse Mr. Malone: he stands charged with divers other high crimes and misdemeanors against the divine majesty of our sovereign lord of drama; with deforming his text, and degrading his margin, by intentional corruption, flagrant misrepresentation, malignant hypercriticism, and unexampled scurrility. These charges shall be proved—not, as Mr. Malone proves things, by groundless opinion and confident assertion, but—by fact, argument and demonstration. How sayest thou, culprit? Guilty or not guilty?

Critic John Collins accusing George Steevens of bribing the printers to show him proof sheets so he could plagiarize Edward Capell’s 1768 edition of Shakespeare (1779):

You will then find, my Lord, a regular system of plagiarism, upon a settl’d plan pervading those later editions throughout, and that,—not [Doctor Johnson’s] former publication, as one would naturally suppose, but—Mr. Capell’s, in ten volumes, 1768, is made the ground-work for what is to pass for the genuine production of these combin’d editors, and is usher’d to the world upon the credit of their names…But I cannot help observing, —that such injustice, as requir’d the united efforts of effrontery and falsehood to conceal it, amounts to a full acknowledgement of the superior worth of the person injur’d, and is an undeniable argument of as much indigence on the one hand as of abundance on the other.”

Editor Thomas Caldecott on the whole lot of his predecessors, in a review of Thomas Bowdler’s Family Shakespeare (1822):

In spite of the national veneration universally felt for our great bard, he has been subjected, amongst us, to a series of more cruel mutilations and operations than any other author who has served to instruct or amuse his posterity. Emendations, curtailments, and corrections (all for his own good) have been multiplied to infinity, by the zeal and care of those who have been suffered to take him in hand. They have purged and castrated him, and tattoed and be-plaistered him, and cauterized and phlebotomized him, with all the studied refinement, that the utmost skill of critical barbarity could suggest. Here ran Johnson’s dagger through, “see what a rent envious Pope has made,” and “here the well-beloved Bowdler stabbed:” while, after every blow, they pause for a time and with tiresome diligence unfold the cause why they that did love him while they struck him, have thus proceeded.

If you would like to see more editors behaving badly, come see Shakespeare by the Book in person. The exhibition runs through December 29th, 2016, with the Folger Shakespeare’s Library’s First Folio making its appearance for the month of October.

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Mining the Ores of Breece D’J Pancake’s Life and Works

This week’s post is contributed by two visiting undergraduate researchers, Megan Flanery and Hunter Walsh, who traveled all the way from Southern Georgia University to examine our Breece D’J Pancake manuscript collection. They represent a growing demographic of Special Collections researchers, and one that we value deeply here at UVA: undergraduates with an understanding of the importance and value of archival research. Thank you, Megan and Hunter, for sharing your experience with us here on the blog!


My colleague, Hunter Walsh, and I are both fourth-year undergraduate students at Georgia Southern University, and we will be graduating in the fall of this year. We were first introduced to Breece Pancake’s short story collection in 2014, when we studied his text under the direction of Dr. Olivia Carr Edenfield during her course on the American short story. Although we approach Pancake’s fiction from very different angles, both Mr. Walsh and I will present our undergraduate capstone projects on Pancake’s work. Our archival work at The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library has broadened our understanding of Pancake’s short, yet accomplished life. Our ultimate goal is to shed light on Breece Pancake, an under-appreciated Appalachian author, and we hope to bring new perspectives to the limited critical conversation that surrounds his fiction.

, Megan Flanery is 21 years old and currently a senior at Georgia Southern University. Here, she will earn a BA in English with a minor in Philosophy, and she plans to continue her studies by attending graduate school at East Carolina University. The focus of her scholarship is American literature, particularly that of the twentieth century. She enjoys reading the works of authors such as Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger, Eudora Welty, Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy and, especially, Breece Pancake.

Originally from Michigan but now a Georgia resident, Megan Flanery is 21 years old and currently a senior at Georgia Southern University. Here, she will earn a BA in English with a minor in Philosophy, and she plans to continue her studies by attending graduate school at East Carolina University. The focus of her scholarship is American literature, particularly that of the twentieth century. She enjoys reading the works of authors such as Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger, Eudora Welty, Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy and, especially, Breece Pancake.


Megan and I uncovered a countless amount of material. We found family photographs, postcards, interviews, and even personal letters from and to Breece Pancake. For me, these are all extremely interesting artifacts and sources that have really molded my study of Pancake’s work. The material I recovered has shed new light on his personal life and his relationships. Since I am interested in the family unit in Breece Pancake’s short fiction, this research has really opened up my reading. Breece’s biographical accounts of his life and his own admission to incorporating true elements into his writing offered even more insight into the familial relations in his writing. This was my first time doing archival research and I cannot thank the University of Virginia and Professor John Casey enough for allowing me this opportunity. The staff at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library were friendly and a tremendous support as well.

Hunter Walsh is an English major and Writing minor. He hails from Bristol, Virginia and is recipient of the 2015 Powell Award for Fiction Writing. His paper, “The Family in the Life and Works of Breece D’J Pancake,” examines the life and writings of Breece D’J Pancake. It documents Pancake’s personal experience with family and isolation, while highlighting these themes, via his experiences and perceptions, in his short fiction.

Hunter Walsh is an English major and Writing minor. He hails from Bristol, Virginia and is recipient of the 2015 Powell Award for Fiction Writing. His paper, “The Family in the Life and Works of Breece D’J Pancake,” examines the life and writings of Breece D’J Pancake. It documents Pancake’s personal experience with family and isolation, while highlighting these themes, via his experiences and perceptions, in his short fiction.

One of the most useful documents we unearthed is a catalog of the real sites and locations that have been included in Pancake’s work, written by his mother, Helen Frazier Pancake:

Box 1 of MSS10975-e, folder 5, holds a document titled “The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake – Locations and Sites,” written by Helen Pancake, Breece’s mother. The various sites, of which Pancake was well-acquainted, reveal how Pancake weaved his own memories into his fiction.

“The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake – Locations and Sites,” written by Helen Pancake, Breece’s mother. The various sites, with which Pancake was well-acquainted, reveal how Pancake weaved his own memories into his fiction. (MSS 10975-e 1.5)

My thesis is centered on memory and the negative effects of rumination and obsessive nostalgia; therefore, my research on Pancake’s own life has been crucial to understanding the ways in which memories affected him. His last letter, written to his major professor, Dr. John Casey, is filled with memories that Pancake was fixated upon:

Box 1 of MSS10975-a, folder 5, holds Breece Pancake’s last piece of correspondence. Shown here is the signature line, where he thanks the recipient, UVA’s Henry Hoynes Professor of Creative Writing John Casey. In the body of tje letter, he lists the various dates of the significant, yet traumatic, events that weighed on him. Two weeks after this letter was composed, Breece took his own life.









Although our study of Pancake’s life was dejecting at times, it allowed us both to appreciate Breece Pancake as a person, and not just as a writer. For now, our findings will be applied to some aspects of his fiction to highlight Pancake’s vexing themes; however, I plan to use this wealth of information to compose eventually a book-length study of Pancake’s life and works.



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The 51st U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest

Winners of the 51st U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest: Nora Benedict (at left) and Isaac May (at front), with contest judge David Whitesell. (Photo courtesy of David Vander Meulen)

Winners of the 51st U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest: Nora Benedict (at left) and Isaac May (at front), with one of the contest judges David Whitesell. (Photo courtesy of David Vander Meulen)

Since 1948 the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia has been pleased to sponsor a book collecting contest open to all U.Va. students. Originally held annually, and now biennially, the contest offers all students a chance to showcase their personal book collections, and to win substantial cash prizes as well. To enter, students submit a list of items in their collection along with a short essay describing its contents and their objectives in forming the collection. Judges consider collections on the basis of coherence of focus, method of collecting, progress made in creating the collection, and the quality of the explanation of the collection’s focus. Collections are not judged on dollar value or size. The first place winner receives a $500 cash prize and a $1,295 scholarship covering the entire tuition for a Rare Book School course; the winner is also eligible to enter this year’s National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Prizes of $300 and $175 are awarded for second and third place respectively. This year ten local booksellers have also contributed gift certificates, which are distributed among the contest winners.

Selections from Nora Benedict's winning entry, "Argentine Publishing and the Many Faces of Jorge Luis Borges."

Selections from Nora Benedict’s winning entry, “Argentine Publishing and the Many Faces of Jorge Luis Borges.”

At the BSUVA’s annual meeting, held on March 18 in the Auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, winners of the 51st U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest were announced. First prize was awarded to Nora Benedict, doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, for her entry, “Argentine Publishing and the Many Faces of Jorge Luis Borges.” Isaac May, a doctoral student in the Department of Religious Studies, was awarded second prize for his entry, “Collecting and Preserving Anglo-American Quaker Publications.”

Highlights from Isaac May's entry, "Collecting and Preserving Anglo-American Quaker Publications"

Highlights from Isaac May’s entry, “Collecting and Preserving Anglo-American Quaker Publications”

The Small Special Collections Library is pleased to partner with the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia in mounting an exhibition of highlights from the winners’ collections. The exhibition will remain on view in the first floor hallway leading to the Special Collections reading room through April 28.

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Now Open: Reading between the Lines of Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle Series

From 1954 to 1956, at the height of the McCarthy Era and at the time the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education launched the modern Civil Rights movement, Jacob Lawrence painted thirty history paintings encompassing the period from the American Revolution to early westward expansion. Thirteen of the resulting panels from the series, Struggle…from the History of the American People, are currently on display at UVA’s Fralin Museum of Art (September 3 –June 5, 2016).

Lawrence wanted to portray “not only the struggle and contribution of the Negro people, but also…the rich and exciting story of all the people who immigrated to the New World and contributed to the creation of the United States.” His colorful, dynamic, and highly symbolic imagery, paired with titles that are often quotations from historical documents, recasts familiar historical subjects and invites new understandings about the foundation of our country.

In conjunction with this exhibition, the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library is pleased to host a small exhibition featuring speeches, maps, drawings, and books that directly inspired or are historically related to Lawrence’s artworks. Original items from our collectionsare juxtaposed with reduced facsimiles of eight Struggle panels. Six of the panels shown in the Small Library exhibition are on view in their original form at the Fralin.

Like the larger Fralin project, this exhibition was organized by Professor Elizabeth Turner, whose graduate students have spent the last few months combing our collections to find the most salient historical counterparts to Lawrence’s paintings. Graduate students in Art History Chloe Downe and Elyse Justice made the final item selections and composed the layouts and label text.


Shown here is a map of the Battle at Yorktown alongside Lawrence’s panel depicting a fallen British redcoat.


Above Lawrence’s panel, which illustrates the death of Crispus Attucks during the Boston Massacre, is a rare period newspaper account of the event.


This Lawrence panel shows the British troops and Shawnee warriors, including Tecumseh, at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. The hand-colored broadside above it illustrates the Battle of the Thames in 1813, the last battle between Tecumseh’s warriors and General William Henry Harrison’s trooops.


IMG_5338For a new perspective on American history and Lawrence’s works, come see Reading between the Lines of Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle  through May 2016 in the First Floor Gallery.

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Three Elizabeths: Shakespeare Criticism by Women in the Eighteenth Century

Our current exhibition at the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Shakespeare by the Book, focuses on the history of Shakespeare as a book. As a result, the exhibition showcases mostly male editors and publishers until we reach the twentieth century. (Hannah Whitmore, our widow publisher of The Merchant of Venice, is a notable exception.) However, this is not to say that women were not involved in building Shakespeare in the early modern era. In fact, it is said that the first critical essay ever written on Shakespeare was by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, in 1664. In the eighteenth century, a number of other female critics published works on Shakespeare, some of which are held here in the Small Library.
Elizabeth Montagu
Out rush’d a Female to protect the Bard,
Snatch’d up her Spear, and for the fight prepar’d:
Attack’d the Vet’ran, pierc’d his Sev’n-fold Shield,
And drove him wounded, fainting from the field.
With Laurel crown’d away the Goddess flew,
Pallas contest then open’d to our view,
Quitting her fav’rite form of Montagu.
The stanza above is how David Garrick, famous Shakespearean actor, characterized Elizabeth Montagu on the occasion of the Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769, the same year that Montagu’s An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare was published. Montagu is perhaps best known for being “Queen of the Bluestockings,” a group of women who held a literary salon where they engaged in “rational conversation.” Her essay on Shakespeare is an important moment in Shakespearean criticism. This Bluestocking had the audacity to “protect the Bard” from the famed French critic Voltaire, and from her good friend, Samuel Johnson, whose preface to his edition of Shakespeare (1765) she felt neglected Shakespeare’s genius. In her essay, Montagu emphasizes Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature and his genius despite his lack of education.


Montagu’s essay sold exceptionally well: it went through seven editions and was translated into French and Italian. Shown here are first English and Irish editions. (PR 2975 .M7 1769, PR 2975 .M7 1769a)

Significantly, Montagu calls the playwright “Our Shakespeare” almost immediately in her preface. What follows is an apotheosis of William Shakespeare. As if warring with all of France and not just Voltaire (whose terrible translations she ridicules), she defends Shakespeare for not following all the rules of classical drama, declaring that his plays are more natural for their irregularities than the artificial plays of the French. Additionally, she is one of the earlier critics to take his history plays seriously, arguing that they are excellent vehicles for moral instruction, which, in her view, is the aspiration of all drama. Unlike many of the male editors represented in our exhibition who tried to “fix” or find the “true” Shakespeare, Montagu understands that Shakespeare’s dramatic irregularities are what make him a genius.
Elizabeth Griffith
Another Elizabeth picked up the “spear” and rushed out to protect Shakespeare a few years later: Irish playwright, novelist, and actor Elizabeth Griffith. Griffith debuted on the stage as Juliet at Dublin’s Smock Alley theatre in 1749, eventually specializing in tragic roles like Cordelia and Ophelia. Inspired by Montagu’s work on Shakespeare’s genius, she set out to defend his morals in The Morality of Shakespeare’s Drama Illustrated (1775). Griffith wanted to illustrate a system of “social duties” that Johnson claimed could be culled from Shakespeare’s plays in his preface: “I have ventured to assume the task of placing his Ethic merits in a more conspicuous point of view, than they have ever hitherto been presented in to the Public.” She contends that Shakespeare’s plays are effective because the morals arise naturally out of the play’s action and his characters are so attuned to human nature that audiences promptly grasp the lesson.


Note that unlike Montagu’s Essay, Elizabeth Griffith’s title page lists her name. (PR 3007 .G7 1775)

Griffith’s emphasis on the naturalness of Shakespeare’s characters brings us to her radical reading of drama. Like Montagu, she also defends Shakespeare from Voltaire, who criticizes Shakespeare for breaking from the classical unities of time, place, and action. In response, Griffith invents a fourth unity: character. For her, Shakespeare’s consistency in character is more important than whether his plays take place in one day or in one place because character is what makes the plays, as well as morals, succeed. Griffith’s work, moreover, is radical in its own right: she is the first woman ever to emend Shakespeare’s plays. While her work is not an edition, she includes passages with her own textual alterations and she explains Shakespeare’s language in her own footnotes. When coupled with her popular plays and novels, it should come as no surprise that this work earned her a spot next to Elizabeth Montagu in the famed portrait, “The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain” (1779).

The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain by Richard Samuel, oil on canvas, 1778

The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain by Richard Samuel, oil on canvas, 1778. Elizabeth Montagu is on the right, wearing a red cape with a cup in her hand. Elizabeth Griffith is seated on the right in white with a hand on her cheek. (NPG 4905: Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Creative Commons Licence).

Elizabeth Inchbald
Our last Elizabeth is an author, playwright, and actor who was perhaps a little too outrageous to be considered one of the nine living muses of Great Britain, but she and Shakespeare have that moral condemnation in common. Elizabeth Simpson ran away from home at the age of nineteen to become an actor despite having a stammer and no place to go. After marrying fellow Catholic actor Joseph Inchbald, she eventually made her stage debut as Cordelia to her husband’s Lear in 1772. Not only did she continue to act in Shakespeare’s plays for some time (she acted in the production of The Merchant of Venice represented in the Hannah Whitmore edition in our exhibition), she also began to write her own plays: Lovers’ Vow features prominently in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814). Yet today, she is best remembered for her novels, particularly A Simple Story (1791).

After her reputation was well established, publisher Joseph Longman asked Inchbald to write prefaces to The British Theatre, a collection of plays in twenty-five volumes, five volumes of which were Shakespeare’s plays (1806–1809). It is for this work that Inchbald has been labeled Britain’s first professional theater critic. Like Montagu and Griffith, she argues for Shakespeare’s morality in her prefaces, but notably she traces his morality and his realism to the way he mixes vice and virtue in some characters. In her analysis of Shakespeare’s morals, she also offers commentary on contemporary social mores, as in her preface to I Henry IV:
This is a play which all men admire , and which most women dislike. Many revolting expressions in the comic parts, much boisterous courage in some of the graver scenes, together with Falstaff’s unwieldy person, offend every female auditor; and whilst a facetious Prince of Wales is employed in taking purses on the highway, a lady would rather see him stealing hearts at a ball, though the event might produce more fatal consequences.
In addition to her hint about the problems of the sexual double standard here (“more fatal consequences”), we also see Shakespeare described in terms of performance (“auditor”). Inchbald’s prefaces are the first critical works to appreciate the theatrical as well as literary value of Shakespeare. She even criticizes some of her editorial predecessors for not addressing the role of performance and the pleasures we glean from Shakespeare’s language. Unlike the other Elizabeths, who mostly focused on morality and genius, Inchbald was condemned for daring to be a female critic: as her male biographer, James Boaden, wrote, “there is something unfeminine, too, in a lady’s placing herself in the seat of judgment” (1833).


These beautiful bindings of the first edition of Inchbald’s British Theatre feature her name in equal prominence with the subject of the books. (PR 1243 .I4 1808, v.1-5 shown)

As the works of all three Elizabeths shown here intimate, Shakespeare’s education was closer to their own than it was to Voltaire’s or Johnson’s. His work and success, like theirs, trespassed social and moral boundaries. Shakespeare’s rise to “genius” glimmered with the possibility of their own fame.

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