So, for my approach to the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge in particular, and to historic literature in general, I have postulated that I value contextual reading very highly. – Meaning that, to understand an author’s texts, you need to understand the circumstances under which he composed said text first and foremost. – And for the Napoleonic era, in which Coleridge wrote, this is not easy. You have the beginnings of modern humanism and science, and you have the Romantic-conservative reaction. You have the beginnings of a supranational European literary culture, and, most of all, you have the emergence of the modern market of books, magazines, and newspapers.
And that is when things usually get really nasty for most people who are not top-notch experts: Because what we study, what we remember, is the total A-list of authors. The ones that were literary sensations at their time, the J. K. Rowlings, the Stephanie Meyers, the Tolkiens, and Stephen Kings. But to be really able to investigate a text, we need to know about the B-list authors, too – the same way that, say, a discussion of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” just SUCKS if you do not know who Neal Cassidy was.
And for the 19th century B-list of authors, I would be completely lost without a little publishing company that I’d like to highlight tonight:
The work these guys – little older than myself, I think – do, is simply incredible; thanks to them, a few hundred texts from the 18th century onwards have been made available to interested audiences already. All the books I have bought from them so far are cleanly edited, quality prints, and, most importantly, come with sufficient introductory commentary and contexts that enable me to do my own research. I can wholeheartedly recommend their books – heck, their whole catalogue! – to anybody even remotely interested in the 18th or 19th century, for whatever reason.
The reason the texts released by them are noteworthy to even Coleridgians – who, after all, strive to investigate a literary entity fairly removed from Gothic bluebooks, and the like – is, again, let me emphasize, that we all must seek the ability to contextualize: How did others writers of the time write about similar themes, and why? As in, “how was the treatment of a certain topic by our author uncommon enough to gain notice”?
Now, the reason why I am presenting Valancourt Books today is quite removed from the main center of my attention (Coleridge, of course), but also quite lighthearted:
This Halloween, Valancourt Books releases an anthology of werewolf tales under the title Terrifying Transformations, a collection of, again, lesser known works from the 1830s onwards. Given that scientific research on the origins of lycanthropy in literature is somewhat of the ugly duckling in the investigation of Gothic fiction, this book again proves to be an incredibly useful opener of doors for students or other investigators that otherwise would struggle even to gain access to the texts reprinted in the book.
In short, the rather dismissive comments one hears about werewolf fiction, which state that things didn’t get started before Werewolf of London (trailer below) are wrong, and this collection may serve a struggling student to find valid examples for the contrary.
Now, why do I mention this in a blog that is dedicated to Coleridge, especially, since the earliest text in the anthology is from 1838? – Of course, because Mr C’s influence on the Gothic is so important! These authors are, in some sense, Coleridge’s heirs, and I am sure there might just be one or two good minds out there who can, through reading and research, find a more specific connection…
But that is another tale, for another time.