gwenynen: A flying bee (academic)
[personal profile] gwenynen
Fridays are when I do my work for the Wales and the French Revolution Project at what is left of the University of Wales. Aber!Boss recently discovered rather large discrepancies between the MS deposit of the letters of Edward Rigby, and the published version edited by his daughter, Lady Eastlake. In Aber!Boss's words, she "played fast and loose with the text," so the idea is to type them up, and put them out in as unadulterated a form as possible.
Some of the things Lady E has done with the text make sense, in their own way. She's tried to make a proper narrative out of a set of (necessarily disjointed) letters; where Dr. Rigby has written about, say, his time at Lille over the course of a couple of letters (because of time, or paper space), she's conflated it into one 'day.' Fair enough, in a way, I think. Life doesn't necessarily fall into a neat narrative pattern. Other omissions are explicable in various ways - she's left out a lot of bits of family detail (where Rigby asks after family friends, or passes on greetings, asks whether they've brought in the corn yet) and bits of detail about the movement of the post. These, I think, she deemed both extraneous to the narrative, and of little interest to readers. (or she felt them too private to share!) Of course, historians now get frustrated by the lack of little details such as when the post went from Lille and how long it took to get there, and so forth. Others seem to be of a revisionist bent - Rigby is, unusually for the time, fond of the French, and does not think them lazy and indolent, as most Englishmen did. Eastlake does print these, but modifies some of the more stringent criticisms of "my prejudiced countrymen."
The most frustrating thing about the letters is... well. Dr. Rigby was a medical doctor, and it would seem that doctors' handwriting was atrocious even 250-ish years ago. It's quite variable, and that is really fascinating. In one early letter, he blames bad handwriting on the fact that his luggage still hasn't arrived, and he's having to use a borrowed hotel pen. That letter is indeed worse than others around it. His handwriting with his proper pen is not messy, per se, but it's quite... like flat lines with a few squiggles in it, ikywim? Anyway, what really occurred to me yesterday was how much people are going to miss if we just type it up and present the words. Because I got to a letter from Paris where the hand was a lot less regular and neat than previously. Then I looked at the date - 13th July, the day before the storming of the Bastille. The wording of the letter is relatively measured, given what was happening outside his hotel, but the state of the hand really gives it away - it was anxious, quite shaky, written in a hurry, desperate to get this out to reassure his family who might have heard "disturbing reports" from the continent. The next letter, from the 18th, is even worse, and is just a side of a small page, hurriedly written again because the post is about to go, to let those at home know he is still alive.
What surprised me was how affecting I found it - typing up the 13th July letter, my heart was racing, and my hands were shaking (yes, I had had lunch!) It was all terribly exciting - and a little sad, on the 18th when he was writing of how the Revolution was awesome and enlightened, and even a little English, as he praised it for not disrupting trade very much, and being quite orderly. Knowing that his hopes for the future would very soon be dashed was really hard.
But I wonder - if we get on and publish all this, whether we could (or should) append photographs of the letters, especially the 13th July one. I really felt yesterday that readers would lose something special, just reading the words on the page.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-06-04 11:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh wow, that is fascinating. And - yes, I think those letters absolutely would be candidates for - well, even for having the original on the facing page, perhaps? Though you would need other examples in order to compare... oh gosh, a parallel-translation style text would be gorgeous, but I imagine way beyond the remit of what you're actually doing.

In summary YES YES YES to photographs.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-06-04 11:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think we're thinking of putting them up on a webpage, and writing an article about them for a journal, rather than publishing a book, so there might be more scope for fancy... things, I dunno, mouseovers or links or such. Much would also depend on how much/whether Bod would let us photograph, and what they might let us put up online, of course (and how much they might charge us for it, I've not done any of this before, so I have no idea!) Sample pages might be nice, at least, if we can't do the lot.

It's nice to know it's not me being weird! (or at least, not just me being weird ;-) )

(no subject)

Date: 2011-06-04 01:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Once you've done the text itself, you will of course have a digital version that you cam search for specific words - so you could potentially do at least a side-bar win images of the same set of words written at different times.

It's not quite the same as seeing the whole scribbled letter - but I would suspect it's more likely to be acceptable from a copyright viewpoint (IANAL), and it would allow a more objective comparison (because the word/s were being kept constant) to focus on the handwriting rather than squinting to decipher the content.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-06-04 01:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's an interesting thought, thanks! I think it's quite a way away yet, but I will start pitching these things to my boss for us to think about :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-06-04 12:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
How fascinating! More please!!!!

(no subject)

Date: 2011-06-04 01:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We'll have to see where he ends up next Friday. He was meant to be visiting Versailles this week, but, well...

(also, I am quite pleased that I managed to write this post and it not consist solely of "OMG squee I am touching paper that saw the Revolution!!elebenty!1!")


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June 2011

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