Editing Aphra Behn in the Digital Age

Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

BBC Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking’: Aphra Behn

The Behn Project’s General Editor Claire Bowditch (@thefairjilt), alongside Annalisa Nicholson (@apuddleofmuddle), and Tom Charlton (@Baxterianae), joined John Gallagher (@earlymodernjohn) on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking to discuss research undertaken for The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Aphra Behn; the life of Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarine, to whom Behn dedicated her tale of bigamy and murder, The History of the Nun; and the politically tumultuous period of the 1670s and 1680s.

The episode first aired on 7 January 2021.

You can listen again on BBC Sounds here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000qyvg

End of 2020: Project Reflections, and Looking Forward to 2021

Credit: Clocks: a universal sundial, with a compass. Engraving. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to provide a brief update on what we’ve managed to achieve this year, despite the innumerable challenges presented by the grave and unpredictable global situation, and importantly highlight some of the plans and objectives for the project in 2021.

2020 was supposed to be the culmination of the funded part of the project, with the finale signalled by an international conference ‘How to do things with early modern words’ in Loughborough in April, an exhibition on Behn’s espionage career at The National Archives, and the publication of the first volume of the edition (Volume IV) by the end of the year. Due to the pandemic, all of these milestones have been delayed until 2021.

Through the hard work and support of our editors and the publishing team at Cambridge University Press, Volume IV is scheduled for publication in March 2021. It has been a learning curve for all involved (the complexities of typesetting for early modern drama will never, ever, be underestimated by any of us, ever again) but we are hugely pleased with the final result. Watch this space for a formal announcement of the volume’s publication and some celebratory (virtual) cake.

The exhibition at The National Archives has been reconfigured as a digital video exhibit, to comprise the first part of a new series on ‘Literary Lives’. The design work is now well underway and it should be launched in early 2021.

Finally, for our end of project conference, we are working towards a provisional date of June 2021, although the specifics of what this revised event will involve are currently being finalised. We wish to thank the AHRC who have extended our funding window to enable us to reschedule this event.

Whilst there have also been delays in some areas, there have also been substantial developments elsewhere. Both of the project postdoctoral research assistants, Dr Alan Hogarth and Dr Claire Bowditch, have begun new chapters in their careers – although their input and expertise are so deeply embedded in the project and the edition that intellectually they will never leave! Of course, Claire will also continue to work closely on the edition in her capacity as general editor over the next few years. We want to say a huge thank you to both of them for all their hard-work onn the project to this point 😊.

The general editorial team have also produced various publications linked to our work on the edition:

Bowditch, Claire and Elaine Hobby. ‘Introduction: Aphra Behn’s 350th Anniversary and Some Radical Re-imaginings’, Women’s Writing Special Issue: Aphra Behn at her 350th Anniversary (2020), 27.3, 265-274

Hogarth, Alan and Mel Evans. ‘“For all the Alterations which I made were in the first Act”: Authorship and Editorial Interference in Aphra Behn’s The Younger Brother (1696)’ Women’s Writing Special Issue: Aphra Behn at her 350th Anniversary (2020), 27.3, 325-343

Wright, Gillian. ‘Aphra Behn and Bishop Burnet’, The Library (2020), 21.2, 235-239

Wright, Gillian. ‘Aphra Behn’s ‘Oenone to Paris’, John Dryden, and the Ovidian Complaint in Restoration Literary Culture’, in Early Modern Women’s Complaint: Gender, Form, and Politics, ed. by Sarah C. E. Ross and Rosalind Smith (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), pp. 205-223

As we look towards 2021, we are aware that many more milestones and challenges await us. From the perspective of attribution, there remain questions over Behn’s prose, poetry and correspondence, and work is ongoing to identify the appropriate methods to investigate these genres. There is also the small matter of preparing the next volume for publication (Volume II), which we hope will appear in the latter half of the year. And work continues on the other volumes (prose, poetry, plays and translations) as well.

Whilst 2020 was the 350th anniversary since the performance of Behn’s first play, 2021 signals the 350th anniversary since that play’s publication. So there is still much to celebrate, and aim for, over the coming 12 months.

Scholarly Editing of Literary Texts: A Symposium Sponsored by The Lewis Walpole Library

In September 2019, Prof. Elaine Hobby was invited to speak as part of Yale’s Symposium on ‘Scholarly Editing of Literary Texts from the Long Eighteenth Century’.

Now, through digital wizardry (led by Sue Walker at The Lewis Walpole Library and edited by Guy Ortoleva at the Yale Broadcast Studio), the talks from the day are available to view, incorporating speakers’ powerpoint slides. These can be seen on the Yale Library YouTube channel:

Talks from the morning session: including the sympoisium organiser, Stephen Clarke discussing The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence; Robert DeMaris Jr outlining the editorial processes involved in The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson (first volume published 1958, and the 23rd and final volume published in 2019); and Peter Sabor, whose talk is entitled ‘Hemlow and Beyond: Editing Frances Burney’s Journals and Letters, 1972-2019’.

Talks from the afternoon session: including Gordon Turnbull, general editor of the Yale Boswell Editions – a project that was initially conceived in the mid-twentieth century, with the final volume of The Life of Samuel Johnson appearing in 2019; Elaine Hobby on the editing processes and wider aspects of the Editing Aphra Behn in the Digital Age project, and Michael F. Suraez, whose paper asked ‘What Might it Mean to Editing a Book? Pope, Poesis, and the Possibilities of Bibliography’.

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