Chapter Text

At present, I have three rough chapter drafts, all of which will benefit from revision regardless of whether I compose an alternative dissertation. In the section below, I outline the basic components of each body section. I also include examples of the kinds of interactive media I could incorporate into these chapters.

Chapter 1: “Textual Misconduct: Wilkie Collins’s Unaccountable Public”

In past decades, reception theorists have called attention to the ways in which readers critique others’ texts and forge interpretive communities by creating media of their own, an interest often described using the language of “derivative” or “transformative” works. These terms hight ongoing debates about appropriate authorship and readership practices, inviting critics to question the boundaries between productive adaptation and “derivative,” inferior copies of existing texts. While scholars have only recently begun to analyze how readers navigate generic forms and contexts when adapting literary works, I argue that Victorian periodical columnists confront these same theoretical debates using performative strategies that have been under-theorized.

My first chapter takes up this discussion, describing how Wilkie Collins raises anxieties about unscrupulous reading practices in The Woman in White. Next, I explore how subsequent reader adaptations and periodical reviews of the novel challenged Collins’s right to control his text.

Potential Chapter Media:

  • annotated photographs of original periodical articles I analyze in this chapter[1]
  • illustrations of theatrical portrayals of Count Fosco – these portrayals became the subject of a dispute about character ownership between Collins and some periodical contributors
  • teaching materials: a persuasive analysis assignment that invites students to explore the changes Collins made to his novel when he adapted it into a play


Chapter 2: “Something Borrowed: Margaret Oliphant and Phoebe, Junior’s Appropriation”

My second and third chapters each examine texts that engage in meta-commentary about the boundaries of appropriation: both Margaret Oliphant and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novels borrow from others’ narratives while at the same time including characters whose textual appropriations shape the novel’s final outcome.

In this chapter, I consider how reviewers’ frequent—and often patronizing—comparisons of Oliphant’s work to Anthony Trollope’s fiction affect what it means for her to ostentatiously draw from Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset in her novel, Phoebe, Junior: A Last Chronicle of Carlingford.

Potential Chapter Media:

  • supplemental excerpts from Anthony Trollope’s The Warden and The Last Chronicle of Barset
    • Oliphant borrowed pointedly from these novels, so I could annotate a few key passages with the character descriptions Oliphant included in her own work. I could also provide direct links to the sections of Phoebe, Junior that speak to these descriptions, thus allowing readers to engage with these quotations in their primary text context.


Chapter 3: “Renegotiating Roles: Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Print and Periodical Personae”

In this chapter, I consider the ways in which Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s 1867 novel, Circe, served as a touchstone for debates about author-reader roles and relationships. What began with an accusation that the novel’s (pseudonymous) author, “Babington White,” had lifted passages and plot from Octave Feilullet’s Dalila soon led to a forged apology letter (ostensibly by the novel’s real author, Mary Elizabeth Braddon) in The Pall Mall Gazette, a rebuttal purportedly written by the Captain Shandon (a fictional character in Thackeray’s Pendennis), and a series of well-publicized think-pieces about how Circe had crossed the line between inspiration and plagiarism.  In this chapter, I analyze Circe’s periodical reception. I argue that the discussion surrounding Circe can cast light on Victorian understandings of literary reception—conceptualizations that shape conversations about participatory culture in the present day.

Potential Chapter Media:

  • a timeline of events that both orients the reader to a complex series of exchanges and helps to make my broader case for taking a wider view of the literary scandals that sometimes fueled metacritical commentary

  1. provided that I am able to obtain British Library permissions or access to original texts