Editing Modernism in Canada


May 31, 2013

Anouk Lang, Alan Crawley, and TCLLP

EMiC co-applicant Anouk Lang, Lecturer in English Studies at the University of Strathclyde, UK, is currently working on an edition of correspondence between writers, editors, critics, and other individuals who were associated with Alan Crawley, the editor of Contemporary Verse. Given that he was unusually supportive of women, and also that he disrupted the dominance of networks and publication outlets in eastern Canada within critical narratives of the development of modern poetry over the twentieth century, Crawley is a figure who occupies an intriguing position within Canadian literature, modernism, and periodical culture more generally.

As such a figure, Crawley fits right into Anouk’s broader research into the way culture — specifically ideas about modernist aesthetics, literary innovation, what is understood to constitute “avant-garde” practice, and so on — is transmitted from person to person and from place to place, both within and beyond Canada. Crawley had a lot of cultural authority by the time Contemporary Verse ceased publication in 1953, but he came by that authority in ways very different from those by which others — men, mostly — who were controlling what was published, what was anthologized, and what was deemed worthy of critical attention in the mid-twentieth century came by their authority. Crawley’s letters are hugely important in understanding his influence, given that his public work editing Contemporary Verse was underpinned by a vast amount of private work — supported by his wife Jean and by other women including Dorothy Livesay, Floris McLaren, and Doris Ferne — that is largely invisible until you begin looking at the letters.

At this point, Anouk is several years into the process of visiting the archives and gathering the scans of all the correspondence that might go into her edition. Crawley’s correspondence is voluminous, and it is spread across a number of archives across Canada. While she would love nothing more than to tour Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and various university special collections, gather all of Crawley’s letters, and then select the best, Anouk is based in the UK and has a young family. Therefore, she needs to be strategic about the data gathering while still producing a volume with a coherent shape and compelling narrative.

Anouk knows to plan well in advance, and she makes sure to take advantage of every transatlantic trip: when at TEMiC in Peterborough in 2010, she was able to spend several afternoons in the archives at Trent; a conference in Ottawa last year gave her some time at LAC; and maternity leave allowed her three days at the Queen’s archives with the Crawley papers. Moreover, Anouk benefitted from Kaarina Mikalson’s trip to the archives at the University of Manitoba: Kaarina scanned some letters between Crawley and Livesay in addition to the work she was doing on Bart Vautour’s project.

In terms of the project’s future, Anouk is very excited about its potential to reveal previously obscured insights about cultural transmission by bringing the metadata from these letters — details about authors, recipients, dates, georeferences of where they were sent from and sent to — into conversation with the metadata from other collections of correspondence. Anouk has joined with some likeminded modernist scholars who also work on twentieth-century correspondence, and they are considering what it would look like to build a digital interface on top of a database of correspondence metadata which would enable users to find connections — social, geographical, prosopographical — between individuals who were significant within twentieth-century literature.

This project — entitled Twentieth-Century Literary Letters (TCLLP) — will provide an elegant solution to publishers’ concerns about concurrent digital (free) and print editions. While the full-text of the letters will be available in print form, only the metadata will be available online (given that it is unlikely that permission to publish the full-text will be forthcoming for every single letter from all of the collections). However, even with this restriction, the ability to cross-reference people, places, dates, and other elements will potentially open up further avenues for research. Hopefully, the digital resource will drive people to the primary source (the print edition), while readers of the print edition can add a new dimension to their reading of the letters by going to the digital tool and exploring the connections with other places and writers. It feels like a very exciting time to be working on correspondence, and no doubt new digital humanities tools will arise in the next few years that will go even further in deepening what can be learned about the development of modernism in Canada and beyond.

Anouk and the rest of the TCLLP team would love to hear from others also working on correspondence in this period who are interested in bringing the metadata from their materials into a wider conversation.

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