Some Amlit-related posts: Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Edith Wharton, Jack London

If you’d like to dip into some short, scholarly-adjacent posts on American authors, here are a few:

Edith Wharton

Frank Norris

Jack London

Stephen Crane


Hello, 2021. 2020 was a long year.

So there I was, going along, writing little pieces here on literary mysteries and my take on biographies and tech tools and then . . . 2020. Need I say more? It’s been a year almost to the day since I’ve posted here, but I’m hoping to get back to it, including updating the research materials, CV, etc. 

In the meantime, here are some selected posts until I get new material posted.

Retro-reading for pleasure: The Graduate

Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 12.54.13 PMThe Graduate by Charles Webb

What’s it like to retro-read a popular book fifty years after it appears? Spoiler: the book isn’t always what you think or hoped it will be.

The Graduate is a short novel about a deeply unpleasant, unhappy, and entitled man, Benjamin Braddock, whose idea of rebellion and a “zany revolt” is to refuse to speak to anyone most of the time and insult everyone he meets the rest of the time, declare his independence from working for The Man by sponging off his parents, and treat everyone who tries to help him with contempt.

He’s meant to be a sympathetic character, of course–a disillusioned young man resisting the corrupt affluence of his parents’ society–but Benjamin comes across now as a specimen of entitled white masculinity like Brent Norwalk in The Good Place–who Eleanor says “was born on third and thought he invented baseball.” He goes through life literally throwing money at everyone, taxi drivers included, to get his own way. It’s his father’s money, but in his deep narcissistic self-absorption, he doesn’t see that.

Each encounter has Benjamin obnoxiously pushing too far, either in his sullenness or in his questioning, until the person he’s interrogating gets fed up and leaves; at that point, he begins a dogged pursuit and always ends up charming the person back into a relationship through sheer persistence. The deeper idea may have been to press them to confess something authentic, something real, beneath their shallow facades, but it’s still  not clear why an actual human being would find such behavior charming. Yet in The Graduate, this technique is surefire. The novel may well be “brilliant. . . sardonic . . . ludicrously funny,” as the New York Times claimed, but it has definitely not aged well.

The natural comparison here is to the 1967 film, although much of the dialogue from the film was taken from the book and reduced by about 2/3.  Any scrap of humor–“Plastics,” for example, or the Norman Fell scenes in the Berkeley rooming house –was the work of Buck Henry and Calder Willingham, the screenwriters.

The plot unfolds in the same way that it does in the film, with Benjamin’s affair with Mrs. Robinson and the pursuit of Elaine taking center stage. In the film, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft raise the situation into both humor and pathos through the power of their acting. The weariness that Bancroft shows when she tells Benjamin that her major was art really is the deeper point of the movie, which hints at dreams lost and disillusionment with a life of meaningless affluence. In centering solely on Benjamin’s stubborn protest against said meaningless affluence, however, the book misses the pathos of Mrs. Robinson entirely.   Benjamin’s obtuse misunderstanding of what she’s going through and the pain he’s causing her comes through in the film, but in the book it’s merely part of his habit of interrogating past the point of comfort anyone who talks to him.

The pursuit of Elaine is the biggest mystery in both novel and movie. Benjamin spends the second half of one date, the first half of which he abuses her shamefully at the strip club by humiliating her, persuading her that he’s worthwhile, and Elaine agrees. It’s not clear why. After not seeing her again for weeks, he decides on the basis of this two-hour acquaintance to marry her, sells his car, and moves to Berkeley to stalk her. (All of the suspense of the last chapters of the book–the race against time back to the church, car running out of gas, finding out from the frat boys where Elaine is getting married, etc. is invented for the movie.) At one point the novel’s Benjamin grandstands by insisting that a woman student tap a water glass for silence in front of 200 other women in the dining hall to get their attention so that he can announce his desire to speak to anyone who knows Elaine. There is one large difference between Elaine of the movie and Elaine of the book, though: to the book’s credit, Elaine has actual lines and thoughts and sensible ideas. She persists in asking Benjamin what he’s going to do, tells him that he’s too young to get married and ought to travel, and expresses her misgivings about their relationship at greater length.

And what will he do? Retreat into class privilege, of course. He  stubbornly remains silent when explaining would help, as when the landlord asks why Elaine was screaming. “It’s a private matter,” he repeats many times, retreating into WASP privilege as though it’s an answer to everything and all will be well. And his plan for the immediate future?

“I can work for a degree and be a teaching assistant at the same time.”
“How do you know you could get in here.”
“I could get in this place in ten minutes.”
“I don’t think you could.”
“Well I know I could.”
“How do I know?” he said. Because I’ve been admitted to Harvard and Yale graduate school. . . .”I have had teaching offers from Eastern colleges. EASTERN colleges. And you don’t think this place would grab me up in five minutes?” (132)

A presumably podunk place like Berkeley (!) would be glad to have him, in other words, because Ivy and Eastern are keys to open any door. Unless this is meant to be satire, and nothing in the book indicates that it is, this is the most overt but not the only statement of class privilege; Benjamin has already mentioned that he’s an “Ivy trophy” for his parents. Sure, he’s passed up a prestigious teaching fellowship by refusing to show up on campus, but he’s sure that he can argue his way back into it. The refusal to accept that rules apply to him is the A-1 marker of class privilege then and now. What enables his rebellion is class privilege and the ability to come back home to the comforts of his room and the financial support of his parents.

Besides the dismissal of Berkeley, another gap between the sensibilities of 1968 and those of today is that Elaine literally has no future in mind as far as anyone in the film is concerned–except marriage. Elaine-of-the-book wants to finish her degree, but Elaine-of-the-movie is surprisingly compliant about being yanked in two directions, which the film defines not as school versus marriage but Carl Smith versus Benjamin Braddock. The question is not “what will she do?” but “whom will she marry?” which makes her a 19th-century heroine in all but name. Although it does give her more of a voice, the book really isn’t interested in her wishes or her mind except as an obstacle for Benjamin to conquer, as he conquers every other obstacle in the book, through sullenness, silence or excessive, intrusive questioning, and swinging his privilege around.

The famous ending is the same in both versions, with an awkward “what’s next?” Elaine and Ben on the bus, although in the book he throws money at the bus driver and orders him to “get this bus moving” (160). Their future is uncertain, as is the status of their relationship now that they’ve got each other. One thing is certain: they’ll land on his, or her, parents’ feet.
[Note: For this quick retro-read , I haven’t read any of the recent responses to The Graduate but look forward to doing so.]

Editing devices for collation (a brief list)

Volume Editors have many methods of comparing texts, some of which are text based (relying on typed text) and some of which are image based (relying on photographs or physical volumes). This is a very limited list. If you have other resources, please feel free to add them in the comments.

Volume Editors have many methods of comparing texts, some of which are text based (relying on typed text) and some of which are image based (relying on photographs or physical volumes). If you have other resources, please feel free to add them here.

Different methods, text-based or image-based, will work better depending on what  you’re comparing.

  1. EDITIONS, which will usually be set from different plates and have different typefaces and page numbers (e.g., Scribner’s first edition, Macmillan [British] first edition, and so on), can’t be compared with image-based technology because of the the differences in typefaces and pagination.  What’s on page 31 of the Scribner’s first edition of The House of Mirth will not be similar enough to what’s on page 31 of the Macmillan edition to make a comparison of individual words and letters possible, for the words will not be on the same lines. EDITIONS will need to be typed so that the text can be compared using Juxta or another text-based method.

The image on the left is from page 31 of the first Scribner’s edition of The House of Mirth; the second image is from page 31 of the Macmillan (British) first edition.

  1. PRINTINGS, which will be printed from the same plate as the first edition with the same typeface and page numbers, will differ little in appearance. The same material will be found on p. 3 of the Scribner’s edition, first printing and the Scribner’s edition, 5th printing, and the words will appear on the same line. PRINTINGS can be compared using image-based comparison methods like the Hinman or other image-based technologies. 

Text-based comparisons

Text-based comparisons let you look at the differences between two typed documents. Most of us are already used to doing this in Word, but Juxta Commons is useful for more complex comparisons.

Juxta Commons  This easy-to-use and free software can compare two screens of text at once and can identify the differences by highlighting them. Juxta looks like this: juxta

To get typed text to compare, you might try these:

    1. Typing the volume into a text editor (like Notepad or Text Wrangler) or into Word.
    2. Using a typed version or the raw OCR (Optical Character Recognition) version found online that you proofread carefully against the copy-text volume (usually the first American edition).
    3. When raw OCR text comes out of the scanner, you’ll see that it is kind of a mess. There are odd characters, like ! instead of 1, m instead of rr, and even worse. You can see a little of this if you try to convert a .pdf document back into text using Google Docs.  Whenever scanned text is used, it has to be carefully proofread.You may see references to “cleaning” the raw OCR text. “Cleaning” is just a term from data processing; it means to correct the data (in this case the text) according to the scanned material so that it makes sense.
    4.  Adobe Acrobat Pro can turn .pdf files into  text, but the text it creates must be carefully proofread.
    5. Google Docs is supposed to be able to turn .pdf files into text, but the text it creates must be carefully proofread.
    6. Scanning the copy-text volume with a specialty software such as ABBYY Finereader This text must also be carefully proofread but is supposed to have fewer errors than other scanning to OCR (Optical Character Recognition) kinds of programs.


Image-based comparisons

If you have taken pictures of several printings of the volume you’ll be editing, image-based or digital comparison software will be helpful.

  1. Traherne Digital Collator, a free comparison and collation software. The Traherne Digital Collator compares two page images so that you can see differences between, say, the first and second printing of a volume.

The download links can be found here: and These methods work for different printings or states of the same edition but not for different editions that have different fonts.

In the screenshots below, the top image compares the first edition of The House of Mirth, from a copy in the Lilly Library, with a copy of the first edition in the Beinecke Library. Note the broken character on the running title (HOUSE), which is illuminated by a red color instead of purple in the second image.



2. Pocket Hinman. The Pocket Hinman is a free experimental app developed for James Ascher and DeVan Ard. It’s a free iPhone and Android app, available through the App store and here:

The Pocket Hinman allows you to compare visually a volume that you’re looking at with a previous picture of a volume. Differences will stand out by flickering slightly.

Mechanical Comparators and Collators

If you live near a research library or are visiting one, you can use these older devices to compare physical volumes of the text: the two major kinds are the Hinman Collator and the Lindstrand Comparator.  Developed by Charlton Hinman from WWII bomb target technologies that compared two images and found slight differences by flickering images and used in creating comparative versions of the First Folio, the Hinman Collator can find small differences that indicate changes from one printing to the next.

Here’s an article that lists the locations of mechanical collators:

“Armadillos of Invention”: A Census of Mechanical Collators

Author(s): Steven Escar Smith Source: Studies in Bibliography, Vol. 55 (2002), pp. 133-170 Published by: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia

Stable URL: 

Suggestions for Using Twitter

  1. Make your presence something that people will want to follow. You only have a few (less than 30) words for your description of yourself, so if you want a professional presence there, make those words count.
  2. You’re on Twitter basically for two reasons (1) to join conversations and add to them and (2) to provide value in the form of interesting information for your followers. You can do this through original information or posts, through likes, or through retweeting.
  3. A “like” helps you to save something for future reference and supports the original post; a retweet implies endorsement or information that you think others need to have. You can use the @ or hashtag # to call attention to the tweet if you think it would be useful or relevant for someone else.
  4. If you’ve just joined and are deciding whom to follow, try some of the following:
  5. Scholars in your area,
  6. Academic and research libraries and librarians, which often have great feeds featuring their collections as well as research grants. Beinecke Library, British Library, New York Public Library,
  7. Aggregator sites such as openculture or Century Past History.
  8. Groups–many scholarly societies have Twitter feeds (@SSAWWrs).
  9. Contemporary authors: Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood have active Twitter presences, for example.
  10. If you’re tweeting a conference panel:
  11. Be sure that it’s all right with the conference/panelists.
  12. Use the hashtag
  13. Don’t tweet individual tweets on the panel; instead, use a threaded tweet by replying to yourself. To post a series of individual tweets clogs up people’s twitter timelines.
  14. If there’s an unusual meme or piece of information, indicate where you got it. (This usually isn’t a problem if you’re retweeting, since the source is shown.)
  15. If you see a thread worth saving, you can use Threadreader to create it in one spot with
  16. You can choose to follow, unfollow, or mute people. You might discover that some people go on Twitter solely to promote themselves or their projects, so you might choose to follow them even if they never provide additional value in other ways.
  17. Follow junior scholars! A Twitter study a few years ago showed that users tended to follow those at or above their professional level, but that’s not the ethos you want.
  18. Set up your professional site (if WordPress) to post to Twitter and Facebook.

MLA Panel 8. Pacific Northwest Literary Regionalism: Acts of Recovery (January 8, 12-1:15)

I’ll be presenting a paper based on a section of my book manuscript Bitter Tastes: Naturalism, Early Film, and American Women’s Writing  at the Modern Language Association Convention in Vancouver, BC, on Thursday. It’s drawn from Chapter 2: “The Darwinists: Borderlands, Environment, and Evolution,”

8. Pacific Northwest Literary Regionalism: Acts of Recovery

Thursday, 8 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 205, VCC West

A special session

Presiding: Laura Laffrado, Western Washington Univ.

1. “Carol Ryrie Brink and Moving Memory: A Novel Family History, from Caddie Woodlawn‘s Wisconsin to Buffalo Coat‘s Idaho,” Jana L. Argersinger, Washington State Univ., Pullman

2. “Batterman Lindsay’s Derelicts of Destiny and Pacific Northwest Native American Culture,” Donna M. Campbell, Washington State Univ., Pullman

3. “Besides the Bureau of American Ethnology: Recovering the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood as a Community of Native Writers,” Michael Taylor, Univ. of British Columbia, Vancouver

Bookmarking: Digital Literary Studies (journal) under development & DH journals

Penn State just announced a new, open-access journal under development, to be called Digital Literary Studies:

Since this is basically a bookmarking post, here are some others:

Digital Humanities Quarterly:

Journal of Digital Humanities:

Literary and Linguistic Computing:   (not free or open access)
Digital Studies / Le champ numerique
Digital Humanities Now:
Here’s a good list of resources from Duke:


A Companion to Digital Literary Studies:

A Companion to Digital Humanities:

Debates in the Digital Humanities:

University of Illinois Press series (not free or open access):

Lesson links:

Also bookmarking this set of tutorials at programminghistorian:

Scholars’ lab:

NY Times: Coming Soon, a Century Late: A Black Film Gem

For decades, the seven reels from 1913 lay unexamined in the film archives of the Museum of Modern Art. Now, after years of research, a historic find has emerged: what MoMA curators say is the earliest surviving footage for a feature film with a black cast. It is a rare visual depiction of middle-class black characters from an era when lynchings and stereotyped black images were commonplace. What’s more, the material features Bert Williams, the first black superstar on Broadway. Williams appears in blackface in the untitled silent film along with a roster of actors from the sparsely documented community of black performers in Harlem on the cusp of the Harlem Renaissance. Remarkably, the reels also capture behind-the-scenes interactions between these performers and the directors.


Comment: This is good news indeed.