2024 ASECS—SHARP Panels.

Author-focused literary studies have long ruled the roost, but some of the most important books have not had clear authors. Rather than a single author, these books have multiple authors, or false authors, or no author, or we simply do not know who conceived of and wrote them. Indeed, periodicals, newspapers, menus, folktales, and many other textual forms central to human activity flourish without conventional authorship. These paired panels bring together new thinking that explores books or other textual forms with overdetermined or under-determined authorship including but not limited to considering forgeries, anonymous work, pseudonymous work, openly transitioning authors, collaborative authorship, un-authored works, works that resist authorship, works that emphasize authorship alone, or any concept of textual creation that challenges a simplistic model of authorship.

Deadlines for pre-circulated papers

Deluxe deadline, 1 February: with this deadline, you get feedback and can revise for,

Regular deadline, 26 February: with this deadline, the group will read your paper in advance of ASECS, but feedback in advance from anyone isn’t guaranteed.

Drafts will be posted below.

Overdetermined Authorship: Rejecting Conventional Authorship (Chair: Betty A. Schellenberg schellen@sfu.ca)

William Lane’s Minerva Press and the Ever-Malleable Author Function (Yael Shapira shapira.yael@biu.ac.il)

Dozens of writers authored novels for William Lane’s Minerva Press, the publishing house that dominated the production of new fiction in England at the end of the eighteenth century. As has been amply discussed, contemporary reviewers were appalled by Lane’s formulaic fare and refused to treat it as the product of a genuine authorial act: “Over and over,” Ina Ferris writes in The Achievement of Literary Authority, “the ordinary novel is depicted as stamped out by machines, produced not by authors but by printing presses. It thus appears as a discourse outside the author-function identified by Foucault as fundamental to the category of the literary as it was developed by the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.”

Joining a recent wave of studies on what Jennie Batchelor has called the “culture of unRomantic authorship,” my paper will look beyond the dismissive periodical discourse to other ways of assessing how much weight the idea of the author carried in relation to Minerva’s fiction. Rather than existing “outside” the author function, I will argue, Minerva novel-writing was a discursive site within which the concept of the author proved usefully malleable – especially for Lane himself. By looking at Lane’s advertisements and publicity pamphlets of the 1790s, the decade in which Minerva established itself as the leading force in the popular fiction market, I will show his variable use of his authors’ Foucauldian “function,” which Lane played up and down in accordance with his changing marketing strategies. By way of conclusion, I will consider some examples of how Minerva novelists negotiated their own uncertain author status, in dialogue with – and sometimes in covert opposition to – their publisher’s entrepreneurial efforts.


Accounting for Authorial Labor in Women’s Self-Published Texts of the Long Eighteenth Century (Emily D. Spunaugle spunaugle@oakland.edu)

Book history’s corrective to author-centric literary studies shows that printing and publishing required many hands doing muddled albeit distinct tasks, as in the work of Helen Smith, Kate Ozment, and Lisa Maruca. But what of authors who had a hand in the publication of their own works? What of authors whose labors exceed being merely authorial, but which are involved in a greater variety of labors? To highlight the agency of the author, I propose the term author-facilitated publication to account for the physical, mental, and emotional hustle required for an author to see their work in print. These authorial labors are typically obscured—particularly in the case of women. This paper returns to the bodies of women authors not to reattribute texts or create a new canon, although this recovery work is paramount. Instead, this paper avoids the cult of the author-function created in concert with celebrity and instead uses the examples of relatively unknown authors to account for their labors in excess of composition. I use as example the autobiographical descriptions of the publishing ventures of Scottish author, Jean Marishall (active 1765-1789). I use Marishall’s two-volume A Series of Letters (1788-89), which include detailed accounts of her attempts to publish, to read for authorial labor in less illustrative cases, including women’s co-called “vanity publications” of the long eighteenth century. Ultimately, this paper aims to broaden what counts as labor in the print trade and offer a new concept, author-facilitated publication, for investigating women’s print publications.



Scribes as Authors in Restoration Manuscript Culture: The Case of Sodom (Jeremy Webster webstej1@ohio.edu)

The only known surviving printed copy of Sodom, one of the great authorial puzzles of the Restoration era, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2004 to a private collector for £45,600. The presale catalogue contains an image of the book’s title page, which attributes the pornographic work to “the E. of R.,” John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Scholars have long debated this attribution, which looms so large over the text that it is rarely studied apart from this controversy. My paper posits that it is time to decouple the study of Sodom, specifically, and Restoration manuscript satires generally, from the paradigm of single authorship by taking seriously the authorial roles of the scribes who produced the manuscript miscellanies that eventually formed the bases for printed editions in the early eighteenth century. Indeed, what Matthew Fisher writes of Medieval scribes is equally true of Restoration ones: “Scribes did much more than copy the exemplars before them.” As Paul Hammond similarly suggests, amateur and professional scribes during the Restoration period not only copied texts but created new ones along with new frameworks for understanding them. Yet the authorial function of scribes isre largely absent from our study of what Peter Beal calls “the last great flourishing of manuscript literary culture in England.” I argue that studying Sodom as a product of what Fisher calls “scribal authorship” is an excellent case study for understanding the under-determined authorial role of scribes in Restoration manuscript culture. To make this argument, I will outline the textual development of Sodom from its earliest incarnation (likely Princeton C0199) to the early eighteenth-century print edition and show how scribes likely created the text as we now know it. Based on this example, I further argue for seeing scribal authorship as an equally (if not more) seminal component in the production and transition of late seventeenth-century satire from manuscript to print, from scribal miscellanies to printed works such as Poems on Affairs of State, and for challenging the primacy of single-author studies.



Under-determined Authorship: Complicating Established Authors (Chair: J. P. Ascher jpa4q@virginia.edu)

Maria Edgeworth and the Collaborative Composition of Harry and Lucy Concluded (Susan Egenolf s-egenolf@tamu.edu)

Maria Edgeworth’s novels have long been recognized as collaborative works influenced by her larger family community. Although Richard Lovell (her father) provided feedback on her fictions and co-wrote several educational works, including early volumes of Early Lessons, he was not the only person who influenced her writings: her larger family circle played an active role in the composition and revision of her novels. I would argue, however, that Edgeworth’s composition process and the content of her Harry and Lucy Concluded (the final four volumes of Early Lessons, 1825) considerably widened the net of her collaborators.  I am co-editor of the Maria Edgeworth Letters Project and am continuing to find that Edgeworth was pushing boundaries in her composition by enlisting different inventors and business entrepreneurs (such as Josiah Wedgwood II, pottery magnate, and William Strutt, cotton spinner and engineer) to edit and expand her manuscript pages for Harry and Lucy. The final Harry and Lucy volumes, I believe, take her composition practice to the level of crowdsourcing, well beyond coterie or small-group practices we usually see in Romanticism. When writing Wedgwood in 1823, she claimed she was “ignorant of science” and that the “only way in which I can venture to finish this little book is by asking the assistance of his [her father’s] friends in the different scientific parts which they particularly understand,” instructing him “cut & carve freely” the included manuscript pages. Harry and Lucy is filled with mechanical and scientific knowledge as the characters and their parents tour the industrial Midlands, and Edgeworth, who did know some science, is marshalling forth scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs to produce accurate and compelling information that Humphry Davy hoped would “have the effect of making the rising generation agile thinkers on subjects, which have not sufficiently occupied the thoughts of their fathers & grandfathers,” adding, “I am sure all Men of Science have great obligation to you as their fair advocate.”


Samuel Johnson’s Construction of Shakespeare in Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth (1745) (Megan E. Fox megan.e.fox@wisc.edu)

Twenty years before the publication of his edition of Shakespeare’s works, Samuel Johnson published the pamphlet Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth (1745). Therein, he articulates his understanding of the relationship between Shakespeare and his cultural milieu. Johnson, one of a cascade of literary editors of Shakespeare (including Pope, Theobald, Warburton, and Malone) during the eighteenth century, articulates his editorial intervention in contrast to his contemporaries through a specific attention to the linguistic contours of Shakespeare’s language. Johnson’s focus on Shakespeare’s language, etymology, and style when editing develops further in the years between Miscellaneous Observations and his eight-volume edition of the plays (during which time he publishes A Dictionary of the English Language).

In this paper, I examine Johnson’s evolving characterization of Shakespeare’s language through a close reading of his notes on Macbeth in Miscellaneous Observations and his later edition of the play. I argue that Johnson’s attention to language, etymology, and style was a contributing factor in a larger editorial project during the period which constructs Shakespeare’s authorship as an overdetermined category of interpretation. “Shakespeare” comes to represent not just the poet-playwright, but also becomes a synecdoche for how eighteenth-century editors understood (and formed) a coherent conception of early modernity, intellectual and literary taste, and the English character.


Alexander Pope’s Cooperative Satire (Katherine Mannheimer katherine.mannheimer@rochester.edu)

As Britain’s first self-supporting poet, Pope is often described as a poet of the self. Specifically, Pope’s reputation as the era’s preeminent satirist led to what Helen Deutsch calls an alternating stance of “self-defense” and “self-exposure,” creating an oeuvre in which Pope became “his own favorite subject.”

This critical focus on Pope as self-made and self-authoring, however, neglects the lessons of Margaret Ezell’s depiction of Pope as participating in the practice of “social authorship,” as well as, more recently, Joseph Hone’s analysis of Pope’s uses of “scribal publication,” especially in the first decade of his career: much of the early work (perhaps most famously The Rape of the Lock) circulated in manuscript prior to print publication.

While Ezell’s and Hone’s scholarship helps us to see Pope and his work within new literary-historical contexts, Pope Studies has so far been slow to apply these insights directly to the close interpretation (or reinterpretation) of individual poems.

In this paper I will read Pope’s To a Lady in such a way as to restore it to its original social setting (the poem notoriously begins, of course, by quoting a comment that Pope’s friend Martha Blount “once let fall”); indeed, I read the poem as in many ways about the collaborative and interactive nature of imagination—as a glimpse into how Pope wrote to, for, and with the women portrayed in the poem, even (or especially) those whom he vociferously disdains.


Performing Indeterminacy: Named Names and Impersonated Persons in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (Christine Woody cmwoody@widener.edu)

In this paper I propose to explore how the satirical series “Noctes Ambrosianae,” running in Blackwood’s Magazine beginning in the 1820s and collectively authored for its first 20 numbers, plays with an open secret about the indeterminacy of authorship in the Romantic period. This series presents a sort of behind the scenes view of the production of the periodical, except, crucially, that view is entirely constructed, being a performance of what writing for the periodical might be like, rather than true access to its production history. Looking specifically at how the text handles two crucial figures of Scottish authorship in its historical moment—Walter Scott and James Hogg—I will argue that this series supports the claim that authorship is being cultivated as an intentionally indeterminate category within the context of this collectively authored series and persona/pseudonym-driven periodical. Scott is mentioned almost constantly in the series, his authorial status highlighted and reinforced through a multiplication of nicknames—some standard, like the Author of Waverley, some obscure, like the Great Magician. Hogg, meanwhile, appears “in person” in the series, although not always actually written by the author James Hogg. Hogg is encountered not through his honors and titles but through his works—which are excerpted, critiqued, and insulted by the other characters—and his behaviour—often comprised of drinking, singing, and occasionally passing out. The reader is left to reconcile which version of an author is real, and to confront the fundamental instability of authorial brands and personae as staged by this periodical. Methodologically, this argument draws from insights gained through the process of encoding this text for a digital edition, and my presentation will touch on why digital humanities methods can enrich our approach to texts that challenge the named authorship model.