Victorian Paratextual Poetics and Citation Analysis

July 17, 2013, 10:30 | Long Paper, Embassy Regents C

This study combines elements of literary theory, citation theory, and techniques of citation analysis to study paratextual elements in the work of Victorian poets Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892). The study will focus on Swinburne, who provides the largest and richest collection of paratextual elements, but will also look at Rossetti and Tennyson for the sake of comparison. In his Foreword to the English translation of Gérard Gennette’s Seuils (translated as Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation), Richard Macksey defines paratexts as

those liminal devices and conventions, both within the book (peritext) and outside it (epitext), that mediate the book to the reader: titles and subtitles, pseudonyms, forewords, dedications, epigraphs, prefaces, intertitles, notes, epilogues, and afterwords…but also the elements in the public and private history of the book, its “epitext,” that are analyzed in the latter part of this volume: “public epitexts” (from the author or publisher) as well as “private epitexts” (authorial correspondence, oral confidences, diaries, and pre-texts). (Macksey xviii)

In humanities documents, particularly primary source materials, analysis of paratextual elements may provide information about influence, impact, and networks shared by authors, artists, and their works. These networks of intertextual and interpersonal relationships contribute to the production of meaning in the text. Our study will focus on peritexts, that is, the paratexts within the document. We are further limiting our focus to paratexts that in some way or another resemble a citation, i.e., those paratexts that explicitly reference one or more bibliographic elements, such as author, title, date, or a quotation that identifies itself as such (e.g, by the use of quotation marks). We look at a number of specific textual elements, including titles, subtitles, epigraphs, dedications, and notes. Titles may reference specific authors (e.g., Swinburne’s “Song for the Centenary of Walter Savage Landor” and “From Victor Hugo”) and/or works (e.g., Swinburne’s “Grand Chorus of Birds from Aristophanes”). Epigraphs include quoted text, often accompanied by more formal citations indicating author, title, and even line numbers. See the example below, one of the epigraphs to Swinburne’s lyrical drama Erechtheus (1876):

ΑΤ. τίς δὲ ποιμάνωρ ἔπεστι κ πιδεσπόζει στρατοῦϗ;
ΧΟ. οὔτινος δοῦλοι κέκληνται φωτὸς οὐδ’ ὑπηκόοι.
Æsch. Pers. 241 - 2.

By focusing our attention on these “citation-like” paratexts, we are able to apply the techniques of citation analysis to probe these poets’ paratextual gestures. Our analysis is complicated and enriched by the presence of “invented” paratextual citations, such as the fictitious French epigraph to Swinburne’s “Laus Veneris” (1866).

Dedications provide an interesting case in that they typically refer to a person rather than a specific work. But the overwhelming number of Swinburne’s dedication were to men and women of letters and visual artists: Walter Savage Landor, Victor Hugo, Richard Francis Burton, Edward John Trelawny, William Bell Scott, Charles Lamb, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris. The target of the dedication, posited as a bibliographic entity in a bibliographic and literary context, becomes a sort of document, like Suzanne Briet’s antelope, and represents not just the individual but that individual’s body of work.

Swinburne’s notes, like the epigraphs, often include more formal citations. In fact, a number of long odes —to favorite authors Walter Savage Landor and Victor Hugo — may be characterized as bibliographies in verse, accompanied by notes containing formal citations to the works described in the verse. The “Birthday Ode” (1880) to Victor Hugo contains thirty-eight notes, each with a citation to one or more works by Hugo. Harold Nicolson called this poem “a complete rhymed bibliography of the works of Victor Hugo.”

Swinburne is certainly not unique among nineteenth-century poets in buttressing his poems with a rich paratextual framework. Other noteworthy examples include the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge’s introductory note to Kubla Kahn and his glosses to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Byron’s notes to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and Shelley’s notes to Queen Mab. But Swinburne was incredibly widely read, a scholarly poet, and an enthusiastic bibliophile. The paratextual network that surrounds Swinburne’s work is particularly large, diverse, and complex, and in the context of information studies his work provides fertile ground for this sort of bibliometric analysis. Swinburne’s poems and paratexts reference a large number of explicitly identified works by other writers and artists. The six volumes of Swinburne’s collected Poems contain over four hundred poems, large and small. Within these roughly four hundred poems, we have identified over four hundred and fifty paratextual citations, references embedded within Swinburne’s titles, epigraphs, notes, and so on. The works cited by Swinburne cover the range of Western culture from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to classical antiquity through the middle ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment to contemporary 19th-century works by figures such as Landor, Hugo, Tennyson, Gautier, Robert Browning, Whitman, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Besides English, languages represented by Swinburne’s paratexts include French, Greek, Italian, and Latin. His paratexts also reference visual art (Rossetti, Whister) and music (Wagner).

The Swinburne documents analyzed in this study have been digitized and are available in TEI/XMLencoded formats through the Algernon Charles Swinburne Project http://www.swinburneproject.org/. The TEI provides markup elements that map fairly neatly to the types of paratexts and bibliographic entities under consideration here:

  • <epigraph>
  • <title>
  • <author>
  • <date>
  • <quote>
  • <div type='dedication'>
  • <ab type='dedication'>

Since these elements were already encoded in the TEI/XML, it was relatively trivial to extract them from the enclosing texts and identify those that contain paratextual references. Swinburne’s references, or “citations,” were entered into a database that was augmented with more detailed bibliographic information about Swinburne’s sources. This bibliographic information was then analyzed to provide different “views” of Swinburne’s paratexts. The analysis provides us with feedback about:

  • frequency of paratextual types (i.e., titles, epigraphs, notes, etc.)
  • frequency of cited authors/artists
  • genres of cited works
  • literary/historical periods of cited works
  • languages of cited works
  • trends in paratextual practice across Swinburne’s career

The text/document sits at the intersection of the humanities and information studies, and a consideration of the paratext brings together theoretical concerns about the material document and intertextuality from literary studies with theories about citation and methodologies of citation analysis from information studies.

In an effort to broaden the study and provide comparison data, we have also gathered information about paratexts in the poetry of Swinburne’s contemporaries, Rossetti and Tennyson. Our paper will provide a comprehensive examination of a large, defined subset of the paratexts found in the work of a three important Victorian poets. Our analysis will provide different views of these poets as seen through their paratexts and the diverse collection of authors, artists, and works referenced by those paratexts. We will present the findings from a thorough analysis of paratextual reference in Swinburne, Rossetti, and Tennyson, and based on those findings, we will make some preliminary observations about Swinburnian Victorian paratextual poetics.


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Genette, G. (1997). Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Macksey, R. (1997). Foreword. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. By Gérard Genette. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. xi-xxii.
Nicolson, H. (1926). Swinburne. New York: Macmillan.
Swinburne, A. C. (1904). The Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne. 6 vols. London: Chatto & Windus.
Walsh, J. A., (ed.) (2011). The Algernon Charles Swinburne Project. Indiana University. 1 Nov. 2011. http://www.swinburneproject.org/.