Digital Editions

Cover of Cora Kaplan's Olive
Cora Kaplan’s Olive, on sale new at Amazon for $137?! You could probably get a first edition for that!

I have been proof-reading the final version of the special issue of Women’s Writing on Dinah Mulock Craik this week.  It’s exciting to see it all coming together.  And though a typo or two doesn’t really bother me in a student paper (I think I’m more lax than a lot of my colleagues in that department), once I get into, there’s something tremendously satisfying about catching those last few typos for a publication.  For some reason, switching everything from American to British punctuation (forgot to tell the contributors about that one!) felt particularly good.  There’s something very zen about concentrating on moving commas and periods outside the quotation marks for two hours.  Plus, you get to feel productive.  And when you’re done, everything is finished and correct, a feeling one rarely gets from rewriting, say, a conclusion, which could always be better, couldn’t it?

One question that arose for me as I was proof-reading contributor’s bibliographies was which editions people cite as standard.  It’s pretty easy when it comes to an author like Charles Dickens, whose entire works are in print.  Scholars tend to choose the Penguins or the OUP editions, on the grounds that they want a reliable edition that is also easy for people to get ahold of and check out the passages they’re citing.

This is much more complicated when it comes to an author like Dinah Mulock Craik.  Sure, there are popular editions of The Little Lame Prince, and a Broadview edition of John Halifax, Gentleman.  And for those works that have never really been re-issued, like, say, A Brave Lady, people tend to use whatever copy is in their university library.  (Cornell had a giant run of Tauchnitz editions that I used in grad school when it came to popular books like G.A. Lawrence’s Guy Livingstone.)  I think Olive is a particular problem for Craik studies.  Cora Kaplan put out a great edition with OUP fifteen years ago, which the majority of people still cite, but it’s been out of print for over ten years.

Some of these editions obviously aren’t that easy for anyone to get ahold of, making it difficult for people to look up the passages you so brilliantly analyze.  So, my question is, if part of the selection criteria for editions we use is accessibility, should we be moving to editions that are available freely online?  If not the ones put out by commercial enterprises like Google Books, then maybe the ones digitized by universities themselves?

Programming is good prose?

Here’s a great post from the Harvard Business Review blog from a CEO who won’t hire job candidates with poor grammar, even if they are applying for a job in a seemingly unrelated field like computer programming.  Over the past few months I’ve been learning HTML and CSS, and am just starting on TEI -compliant XML, and I think Weins’s comment on the similarities between good prose and good programming are right on.*

Ooops, did I just  end that sentence with a preposition?  This mistake highlights one difference between good prose and good XML:  if I make a mistake in marking up a TEI document, it flat out won’t work, whereas I can choose to make a mistake in my prose as a matter of style.  I’d actually suggest that prose is more complicated than these mark up languages in that way–you need to know the rules and then think about deviating from them, whereas to mark up a document, at least on a basic level, you just need to play by the rules.  But maybe a programmer would have a different perspective?  (There I go again, starting a sentence with a conjunction.)

At any rate, I think any grammar-loving English major might find more to like in XML than he or she might initially think.  The structure can be as satisfying as a Petrarchan sonnet or a Spensarian stanza.  Here’s the passage from the blog:

“programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code. You see, at its core, code is prose. Great programmers are more than just code monkeys; according to Stanford programming legend Donald Knuth they are “essayists who work with traditional aesthetic and literary forms.” The point: programming should be easily understood by real human beings — not just computers.”

What a nice thought!

*Though HTML and XML are mark up languages rather than programming languages, I’m presuming the point carries!