Periodicals have been on my mind quite a bit in the last few months. Not only have I continued to work with Nostromo in both its serial and volume witnesses, but I also took a fantastic UVic English seminar taught by Dr. Lisa Surridge. During the seminar, we explored the relationship between text and image in Victorian literature. Quite often, we considered what Mark Turner calls the “periodical context” of the texts, looking at the other articles, images, and even ads that ran alongside our primary texts of study.
Work for this course frequently took me away from the screen, away from markup and visualizations, and into the archives. I flipped through the un-digitized pages of the Graphic, the Illustrated London News, and the Yellow Book, reading without a search function or the ability to run the text through an XSLT that spits out aggregate data (or capta) about the contents/contexts of the periodical. My hands were occasionally ink-stained, and my eyes watered in the semi-public setting of UVic’s Special Collections when I read the serial conclusion to Tess of the D’Urbervilles. But what was most important for me was that I began to reconsider serial fiction in its material context. One of the questions the class explored was how the surrounding contents of the periodical affect a reading of the text being examined.
The work that I do with Nostromo currently separates the serial text from its periodical context. Cedric Watts and Xavier Brice have already explored this avenue. Sites like Conrad First even archive entire issues of T.P.’s Weekly in order to show the periodical context of Nostromo. My other ongoing assumption has been that considering the periodical context was separate from my work in versioning the text. After Dr. Surridge’s course, I’ve changed my mind. How can I afford not to consider the periodical context of Nostromo? How can the serial Nostromo be re-envisioned as a text that does not simply lack what is present in the volume edition? How can the serial be re-envisioned as a text that contains what the volume edition cannot because of the periodical context in which the serial publication is necessarily embedded?
As I’m thinking about new directions for my research, in part by moving from the 1904 Harper volume edition to the more historically and contextually distant 1918 Dent volume edition, I also have to return to T.P.’s Weekly. I have to merge digital versioning practices with analogue periodical studies practices. Needless to say, I am looking forward to this merger of critical practice.