In keeping with my goal to make this project engaging to wider audiences, I will produce a short (3-5 minute) video overview of my project’s goals and broader significance. After this, I will include a more traditional written abstract. In so doing, I borrow Matthew Lincoln’s approach to his own multimodal dissertation abstract:
Matthew Lincoln’s Three-Minute Dissertation Overview
Video Abstract Components
- Dissertation abstract edited for oral presentation clarity and presented as a recording of me speaking
- link to a written transcript of the video for accessibility purposes
- Brief historical context using open-source visual media and images I have obtained the rights to adapt and circulate. (For example, images of my dissertation’s main authors, Victorian printing institutions, and pirated editions of
- Unobtrusive music sourced from public domain or Creative Commons licensed media
- Software used: Apple iMovie, Indesign
A: My dissertation explores what I describe as literary “borrowing” practices—actions that allow readers to renegotiate their social realities by strategically adapting printed literature. My project takes up scholarly debates about how texts’ formal construction and material composition work together to influence literary reception. I combine this scholarship with theories of reading that cast audiences creative agents rather than passive consumers. If, as Leah Price and Jill Rappoport argue, texts’ forms shaped interpretive practices while also providing new avenues for Victorian readers to position themselves in society, it is important for us to consider how readers’ responses to texts also took physical forms of their own.
I argue that nineteenth-century debates about fiction connect to broader conversations about who should participate in public dialogue and what forms their participation should take. Wilkie Collins’s The Women in White (1859) and Charles Dickens’s Edwin Drood (1871) both critiqued characters’ forgeries while raising larger debates about whether an author should control his novel’s theatrical adaptations or whether readers should complete unfinished works. Margaret Oliphant’s Phoebe Junior (1876) questioned the relationship between textual borrowing and social climbing. The plagiarism debates surrounding Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s reworking of two French texts in The Doctor’s Wife (1864) and Circe (1867) raised tensions around nationality and gender. By exploring the ways in which novelists and audiences attempted to police literary borrowing, I trace how Victorians began to understand responding to texts as a democratic, empowering act—an interpretation of the reader’s role that shapes the current age of participatory culture.