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Friday, 20 July 2007


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Very, very nicely done, SEK.


Would a fourth underline be transcribed with an emoticon?

Jonathan Dresner

And here I thought I was an abuser of italics. Turns out that I'm just a traditionalist translating my thoughts into new media.

Rich Puchalsky

I once wrote a poem (a copy is buried in the page here if anyone cares) that bolded two lines in order to indicate that they were supposed to be read with emphasis. I recently went to one of those poetry critique sessions where you pass out copies of your poem to other people, read it, and they suggest possible changes to it. The only one suggested was that I take out the bold. There is certainly a reaction against bold, italics, all caps etc. that I think has been encouraged by reading within an Internet environment, where they have been figured as signs of newbiedom.

It's difficult to judge the usefulness of this, though, when the author has just read the poem out loud. When people have just heard it with the favored reading, of course they don't think that any indicators of emphasis are necessary.

I wonder whether this is related to the occasional, highly misguided attempts to de-dash Emily Dickinson.


Thanks, CR. Careful, Jonathan, we don't want to paint our students as traditionalists too. We OWN this MORAL HIGH GROUND, and need to keep.

Loki, I believe four underlines is smiley-face, five winking-smiley-face. Thus, your properly transcribed Emily Dickinson poem looks like this:

Because I could not STOP for DEATH :) —

HE kindly STOPPED for ME ;) —

Only, with the underlines I can't seem to insert in comments.


Are we on the same wavelength or WHAT ;) Rich?

Jonathan Dresner

I don't mind my students using italics (though I don't know why so many of them put entire quotations in italics as well as quotation marks), but I do wish they'd use punctuation a bit more often.

Dickinson with emoticons is really and truly surreal, though. (he said in a monotone)....


Wait, so he chewed everything thoroughly and still managed to leave bite marks?

Rich Puchalsky

Can anyone recommend a good edition of Dickinson that actually has the original marks? I vaguely remember that the friend who first published her work made many alterations.


To be serious(ish) for a moment: syntax is not orthography and correspondence is (more or less) not writing for publication. That car crash quotation contains a lot of subordinate clauses.

Did epistolary novels originally have underlining? (serious question)

Should e-pistolary novels use all caps? (not serious question)


Rich, you need a facsimile. Her dashes are so idiosyncratic -- her lines, which I'm having a laugh at -- so important to the meaning of the text, that any reproduction of them's bound to fail. Such, at least, is Susan Howe's theory in The Birth-Mark ... one which Walter Michaels addresses in the first chapter of The Shape of the Signifier. Arguments about the irreducibility of the text tend to absurdity at a certain point, but that's a problem endemic to manuscript studies. (Karl? Anybody seen Karl?) That said, I know there are a few facsimile editions floating around, but they're prohibitively expensive, if I recall correctly.

eb, epistles and epistolary novels don't share the same conventions; so, for example, Pamela doesn't look like letters. It's an enabling fiction more than anything else. You say imagining a contemporary e-pistolary written accurately isn't a serious question, but it is inasmuch as authors of epistolary novels deeply care about replicating the voyeuristic pleasures reading other people's mail brings. A contemporary one sans emoticons and ALL CAPS would feel less like an epistolary novel and more like an over-shopped MFA piece. ("Do you really need those low smileys? Couldn't you write about those who shun them?")


Nuh-uh! He said "CRAPULOUS," for real?

Speaking of one's larynx writing a dissertation on James's syntax (does anyone besides me have an absurdly literal mental image of that?), reading that letter excerpt out loud with those emphases gives it a decidedly campy effect. As in HE-llo!


I don't know; I'd think the decision about whether or not to use all caps in an e-pistolary novel would depend on what kind of writing style you want your characters to have: you can be accurate to people who use neither, although you're likely to have at least one character who uses some. (I actually thought my question wasn't serious because I thought the answer was obviously: sometimes.)

In any case, the point I should have made in a more straightforward way is that the fact that James or some 18th century author would today use all caps* in the course of writing long, winding sentences, doesn't really affect A White Bear's point that people today don't write in the same syntactic style. The specific claim that you target--that James wouldn't have resorted to all caps for emphasis--is yours, isn't it? As is the claim that the use of all caps can be taken as a sign of the lack of complex syntax. Which is not to say that you're wrong in disputing those claims, just that the post begins with other claims.

*I'm not sure this is true, actually. Was the use of italics and underlining in correspondence stigmatized in the way that all caps is in most online forums today? The transcription guide you link to suggests that the use of caps for underlining in the transcription of handwritten letters was largely influenced by technological limitations and the conventions of earlier time periods:

While modern readers are usually familiar with the convention that underlining in a manuscript becomes italics in print, James and his correspondents also used multiple underlining, which has no conventional corresponding equivalent in print. Clear text editors, historically, have resorted to SMALL CAPS ["SMALL CAPS" is in small caps in the original] or BLOCK CAPS ["BLOCK CAPS" is in block caps in the original] or various combinations of these and italics to render multiple underlined manuscript content. Word processing software, Acrobat Adobe PDF software, and most page setting today, though, easily allow for single and double underlining, and for we have rendered all the underlining in the manuscripts as single ["single" is single underlined in original] or double underlining ["double underlining" is double underlined in original]. Fortunately, none of the 65 letters included in the intial release of contains triple (or more) underlining, which our basic software does not support. Faced with triple, quadruple, quintuple (or more) underlining in any manuscripts to appear in future releases, we will--unless software upgrades should permit otherwise--render all [italics in original] multiple underlining as double underlining.

eb, your comments are a little too involved to get into tonight, but let me take a stab:

In any case, the point I should have made in a more straightforward way is that the fact that James or some 18th century author would today use all caps* in the course of writing long, winding sentences, doesn't really affect A White Bear's point that people today don't write in the same syntactic style.

James is 19th, not 18th century, which is important (as opposed to pedantic) because the rise of realism put pressure on "realists" to embrace TOTAL VERISIMILITUDE. Most didn't, obviously, but the tension remains. I think what AWB was saying -- and I'm more than happy to be corrected here -- is that those who wrote in complex sentences weren't forced to mark their sarcasm typographically; i.e. if your complex sentences are sufficiently complex, there's no need to signal emotive markers. The fact that Henry James felt it necessary to signal his sarcasm to as deft a reader (and social observer, and, well, all-around-genius) as Edith Wharton says something about the conventions of colloquial speech, I think. I could be wrong. I'm a n00b in these matters, so I'm sure there's a wealth of scholarship on the subject, but it seems to me (from what I've read) that the relationship between lived and literary conventions complicates how we read letters and/or epistolary novels.

Another way to say this is "No, I DO think James resorted to ALL CAPS (or its contemporary equivalent), because it's all about the informal communication of strong feeling." To be frank, it's a substandard argument, inasmuch as it assumes a naive grasp of intentionality ... but then again, when is intention not more plain than when things are trebly underscored and/or ALL CAPPED? I'm being flip tonight, so let me respond some more tomorrow, when I've a fresh and open mind, as right now my sense o' nuance is CRUSH CRUSH CRUSH ... which is fine if you're a giant, but not so good when an interlocutor.

What I mean is, I shouldn't have stabbed at anything tonight. Tomorrow, however, I'll be a veritable Ripper. C'mon back y'all, y' hear?)

Rich Puchalsky

John Crowley wrote an interesting epistolary book, Lord Byron's Novel, that alternates a wide variety of textures: sections of a book purportedly written by Byron, notes by Ada Lovelace, and a contemporary Email exchange between three people whose Email styles range from a young math expert whose Email is near-illiterate in its slangification to an older ex-English-prof who has clearly never developed a compressed Email style.


Back when I was a copy editor for my college paper (lo these many years ago) we were instructed, per house style, to remove and rewrite any italicization or bolded or underlined whatnots, revamping the sentences so that the structure or word choice and not the typography conveyed the tone/meaning. Private letters are, of course, a less formal method of writing than printed prose and so I think even Wharton and James would agree that it is a space where one could let one's hair down, so to speak, where "public" communication would be strictly prohibited from it. Wait I think we're agreeing. I lost the train of the argument. Whatever. Never mind.

Instead I shall change the subject and ask if anyone else has been able to read Dickinson seriously after being told that all her poems can be sung to the Theme of Gilligan's Island. Or the Yellow Rose of Texas.

I. Eaton

I know this is a little late, but, I'd like to mention one thing (I haven't read through Henry James' corpus but): James enacts an unconscious shift in tone between his omniscient third-person narration (which only rarely, in my experience with James, is marked with ALL CAPS-style emphasis) and limited narrative voices.

I recently reread Daisy Miller and noticed that he usually brought out the uber-emphasis when he was reproducing dialogue between characters. Only in one instance (in my hasty read) did he beat the reader over the head with the ALLCAPS thing, and that was in a passage in which his narrator was stepping more closely to the (usually out of sight) "I" of James' 3rdperson narrator.

So, if James used the uber-emphasis in his letters to Wharton, maybe he did so because he felt that their interaction wasn't to be governed by the dictates of omniscent narration.

This leaves open the question of why James felt that unfettered human interaction should be marked by extraemphasis, but, at least clarifies to me the question of why he would be more prone to engage in it when writing more informally.

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