Surprenant_Pet Book Report #4: Helen by Maria Edgeworth

During our Wednesday discussion of scrapbooks, I came to the conclusion that a “scrapbook” proper is really just another name for an object that contains a particular type of information. It seems that the typical definition of a scrapbook is grounded in the material value of the object itself. As Garvey notes, “Scrapbooks are the direct ancestors of our digital information management” (10).  As repositories of information, what makes them different than any type of book? For Maria Edgeworth, Helen and her earlier novels represent repositories of thought and creativity. They are representations of a particular set of values, a mindset, a way of thinking, and a way to make sense of the world.

I made the comment in class that scrapbooks are perhaps the most personal form of writing since they are representations of thoughts and ideas of everyday people collected into bound volumes. Novels (and widely published books) are perhaps elevated forms of scrapbooks made available to everyone. The scope of the dissemination of information is where a distinction can be drawn, but even then, historical scrapbooks like Frederick Douglass’s escape the personal realm when they are made available for public consumption. I am interested to learn about the publication history of Edgeworth’s novels, although I’m not sure where I would be  able to find that information. It would be interesting to trace the amount of copies produced with each initial publication run of each of her novels.

Garvey writes “Like nineteenth-century scrapbook makers, the present-day  scrapbookers engage in what I call performing archivalness, acts and gestures of preservation, they express the will to save, organize, and transmit knowledge through a homemade archive” (20). What is a novel but a transmitter of information? Edgeworth’s words are her own, expressed through a collection of pages that have dispersed information for hundreds of years. While I think that the division of the personal and private realm is what separates the traditional scrapbook from a widely-published bound book, that division is beginning to blur in the Information Age. Social media platforms, as we discussed, are types of scrapbooks. They are repositories of our personal information and memories, but they are also available to a wide public audience.

This brings up the place of publication in today’s market ( a subject I find myself drawn back to more often in these posts).  Self-publishing online is easy and allows anyone to transmit any number of ideas. Edgeworth’s novels, didactic in nature, needed a third party that supported her content to allow it out into the world. Today, those who are active on Pintrest or are avid bloggers can create a library of content available to everyone. The form is different, but the idea is still the same. Authors of self-published books, blogs, Tumblr posts, or even widely published novels are all in the business of transmitting and disseminating information. To some degree, the audience doesn’t matter, but rather the content of the information. The scrapbook, whatever its form, serves to add one’s voice to a chorus of opinions, no matter the final outcome of that addition.

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