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Case Studies & Testimonials

'Deep down, I like the idea of this Shelleyan universal anthology waiting to be dipped into by random hands.'

Edwin Morgan, Emeritus Professor of English, Glasgow University

Since the publication of English Poetry in 1992, scholars and students from around the world have been using Chadwyck-Healey literature resources as part of their research. Many users have found that, as well as allowing traditional forms of research to be carried out more quickly and conveniently, electronic resources also open up entirely new possibilities. The value of both the contents and search possibilities of Chadwyck-Healey literature resources is attested to by the range of researchers, teachers, students and librarians who are quoted below. For further reading, please consult our bibliography of articles, reviews and scholarship.


Laura Fuderer, Subject Librarian for English and French Language and Literature, University of Notre Dame, Indiana:

Until a few years ago I used to rely heavily on the MLAIB. I got to know ABELL better when I began contributing to it and realized its coverage of topics relating to literatures in English may be more extensive than MLAIB on at least three counts:

  • by covering periodicals from other disciplines it is more interdisciplinary (e.g. a lot of history journals and newsletters);
  • the periodicals include more single-author and society newsletters;
  • the editors stress book reviews, so there are more book citations than in MLAIB.

As a consequence I urge every student and scholar of English to use ABELL as well as MLAIB (which picks up dissertations), especially if they want to go all the way back to the 1920s online.

Evan Ira Farber, Librarian Emeritus of Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana:

It is very welcome news that Chadwyck-Healey is putting into electronic form the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature. It is a reference tool I have long depended upon, and also one that I have seen too many reference librarians ignore or discount. This is unfortunate because that view is based on a misconception: they think that the MLA International Bibliography covers everything they could want in English or American literature. I trust that this misperception will soon be corrected now that ABELL is available in electronic form.

First, before 1956, the MLAIB, while covering both English and American literature and language, focused on scholarship published in America. ABELL's coverage was international from the start, so for those crucial decades of literary critical theory from 1920 through 1955, it is an unparalleled source for British and Continental criticism. Second, the journals covered by ABELL differ from those covered by MLAIB, particularly in the early years. Finally, ABELL also includes book reviews which are often sources of excellent critical commentary.

Aside from, and in addition to, those differences, is the fact that every comparative study of the two bibliographies shows that the overlap between them is surprisingly far from complete. One study, for example, showed that in one year the MLAIB had thirteen entries for Stephen Crane and ABELL had fifteen, but only three were identical!

There is no question in my mind that every academic library supporting serious work - and certainly graduate work - in English or American literature should make both ABELL and MLAIB available to users. As Michael Marcuse notes in his Reference Guide for English Studies (University of California Press, 1990): 'All current comparisons between the two bibliographies conclude by recommending that the scholar always consult both.' That advice is even sounder now that ABELL is available in electronic form.

On English Poetry

Andrew Brown, in The Independent:

English Poetry [. . .] allows you to discover in minutes what would have taken years. [. . .] The disks are not a translation of an existing resource into a new medium. They are a new creation.

Daniel Karlin, 'Victorian Poetry and the English Poetry Full-Text Database: A Case Study':

Daniel Karlin, who is Professor of English at University College, London, describes his use of the Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collection English Poetry in compiling The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse (1997) as 'an extraordinary experience, and one which permanently changed [his] understanding of literary history'. Whereas existing received notions of the nature of Victorian poetry are based on an 'absurdly small and unrepresentative' canon, Professor Karlin was able to discover, and include in his anthology, many poets who had been completely forgotten. Electronic collections allow a new, more open kind of reading, he claims: 'the sameness of appearance of the texts made me more open, less prejudiced than I might otherwise have been; English Poetry doesn't allow you to judge a book by its cover.'

Readers should note that in 2000, after Professor Karlin had carried out his work, Chadwyck-Healey launched English Poetry, Second Edition, an expanded version of the collection that corrected many of the omissions noted in this article. New writers who were added in 2000 include previously neglected women poets, such as Amy Levy and Augusta Webster, and writers classified as novelists in the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, such as George Meredith and George Eliot. The entire contents of English Poetry, Second Edition are now included in Literature Online.

Read Professor Karlin's article in full.

On Early English Prose Fiction

Dr David Margolies, Reader in English, Goldsmiths College, University of London:

The texts of Early English Prose Fiction are essential to understand the development of narrative in English. What came to be recognised as the dominant characteristic of English fiction, realism, was only one of a rich diversity of approaches in fiction's early years. The collection shows the evolution of English prose, covering the change from a predominantly oral culture, where prose fiction can be understood as 'written speech', to a literary culture dependent on strictly literary conventions. As well as the evolution of genre, the collection shows the development of narrative technique. Many things we now take for granted can be seen as narrative problems that early fiction had to solve - such as how the author should deal with a character's reiteration of events that have already been related to the reader, or whether the reader should experience an emotional piece of correspondence when it is being written or on delivery. The fiction in the collection also offers an invaluable guide to the attitudes of everyday life, and provides a basis for understanding the high culture of the period. Shakespeare's plays, for example, have a very different feel when seen in the context of the fiction that was part of his milieu.

The material of Early English Prose Fiction, besides its value for a scholarly understanding of the early stages of English fiction, displays a delight in the fictionality of fiction, a pleasure of imagination that many readers may have forgotten is an essential part of literature.

Prof. Dr. Holger Klein, Chair of English Literature, Universität Salzburg:

From a linguistic point of view, Early English Prose Fiction largely covers Early Modern English and provides a unique opportunity for broadly based indepth study of forms and developments in the language, especially in the fields of grammar and syntax, morphology, lexis and semantics. The selection has been carried out with a view to continuous coverage, though the realities of literary production in the period, with its periods of slack and of massed publication, is of necessity reflected: the volume of prose fiction coming from the presses increased towards the end of the sixteenth and again enormously towards the end of the seventeenth century, and no selection could neglect this trend. Yet most decades are well represented. Twentieth-century texts and theory have widened our concepts of not only what the novel but what prose fiction in general may encompass. At the formative stages of what one should (refining Ian Watt's expression) term 'The Rise of the Realist Novel in the West' there was a welter of trends, experiments and hybrid forms of great interest not only for the evolution of the major types but also for general analyses of structure and narrative technique. While providing the basis for new looks at the history of prose fiction and in particular the novel in England, the collection also greatly enhances the possibilities of comparative literary studies in the Renaissance and Baroque periods in Britain and continental European countries by enlarging the English material readily available.

For cultural studies centred on Britain from the late Middle Ages to the beginnings of the Augustan age, the database provides a rich fund of materials hitherto not easily available. Of all literary genres, prose fiction presents in most detail and concreteness the individual in a social environment - natural and man-made surroundings, economic, social and political situations, structures and institutions, the inventions and devices of civilisation, everyday habits and customs in the framework of individual and family life as well as in the scale of social groupings or indeed society as a whole at particular points in time. Fiction may not necessarily present objective data for the immediate use of social and economic historians; but it does enable scholars to obtain images of life, to feel the pulse of past periods precisely in those areas that are incidental to the authors' plots but can be taken as indicative of the very stuff of life.

On Eighteenth-Century Fiction

Dr Tom Keymer, St Anne's College, Oxford:

'I wish You would add an Index Rerum that when the reader recollects any incident he may easily find it,' wrote Samuel Johnson to Richardson in 1751: 'I beg that this Edition by which I suppose Posterity is to abide, may want nothing that can facilitate its use.' Johnson was not the only reader to press for an index, and as he did so Richardson was already beginning to equip his editions with an elaborate secondary apparatus: prefaces and postscripts; cross-references and explanatory footnotes; lists of characters and abstracts of plots; tables of similes, allusions and sentiments; even, in Clarissa's third edition, a table to the table of sentiments. Yet, for all this desperate accumulation of paratextual aids, Richardson's millions of words of fiction continued to evade the control of their readers - and even the author himself. 'I am a very irregular writer,' as he mournfully acknowledged the same year.

Richardson could never have imagined the possibilities of electronic access, or the extent to which the search options of Eighteenth-Century Fiction might indeed 'facilitate … use' of the kinds envisaged in Johnson's letter. Yet here are innovations he would surely have wished to embrace. Not only a novelist but one of the leading printers of eighteenth-century London, he worked at the cutting edge of publishing technology, and his texts (like those of Sterne after him) make experimental use of the press's full resources. The third edition of Clarissa has indeed been seen as itself a kind of proto-hypertext, which by flagging newly added material with marginal bullets acknowledges the fluid, unstable and developing state of the work while also enabling readers to recover the basic outline of earlier versions.

Concordances to prose fiction are rare things, most of all for this key period of the novel's development, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction now makes it possible to trace and analyse the details of a writer's language as never before. In certain test cases (not only Clarissa but also the politically sensitive Gulliver's Travels, which in its first edition was - in Swift's words - 'basely mangled, and abused, and added to, and blotted out by the printer'), users will be able to display different editions of the same work simultaneously on screen, to study the dynamics of revision or censorship with an ease and thoroughness never before achieved. By using proximity operators to search for key combinations of words, scholars will also see with new clarity the sheer allusiveness of such material. Key in the relevant words, and future editors of Clarissa need not miss the way in which Lovelace's contempt for those who 'undertake, for the sake of a paltry fee, to make white black, and black white' implies a quiet reference to Gulliver's Travels: 'I said there was a Society of Men among us, bred up from their Youth in the Art of proving . . . that White is Black, and Black is White, according as they are paid.'

Dr John Mullan, University College London:

[T]he availability of what was once popular alongside what it still widely studied will open the paths of influence to new examination. It is not however, only this wider study of buried influences that the database will facilitate. It will also allow the examination of the language and devices of the most famous and resourceful novelists (where necessary, in the different editions of novels that were much changed by their authors). Some of the best-known novels seem relatively chartless; texts like Moll Flanders or Pamela do not even provide the chapter divisions or headings that were later to become conventional. This [collection] will allow the researcher to trace patterns of diction and allusion within individual texts, or the works of a particular author. With electronic access to the language of novels, we will be able to explore the influence of novels on our language.

Dr Judith Hawley, Royal Holloway College, University of London:

Having new access to neglected works, including many by women writers, readers will be able to assess canonical texts such as Moll Flanders and Tom Jones alongside lesser known books which contributed to the trends and tastes of the times. Patterns of themes, forms, genre and language-use can be tracked with the aid of this database. Not a substitute for reading and thinking, but a tool to support imaginative analysis and sophisticated research, this database will be an invaluable resource for work in libraries and classrooms.

John Richetti, University of Pennsylvania:

Just about the entire range of significant British eighteenth-century novels [. . .] the choice of texts and editions is everything that a student of the period and the genre could desire.

On Twentieth-Century Drama

Trevor R. Griffiths, Professor of Theatre Studies, London Metropolitan University:

Anyone with an interest in drama is beset by the relatively short runs of plays and by their relatively brief life span in print. Scholarly editions may fill the gap for the canonical plays of earlier periods but the scripts of even the most popular twentieth-century plays often did not survive long in print after their first run was over.

The value of this collection is that it makes a very wide selection of twentieth-century play texts available in a fully searchable form for researchers, students, actors and directors. No single library could match the coverage provided by this collection, which enables its readers to access significant works that have long been unavailable except in the most specialised libraries. It restores once important but now neglected figures to the canon, and opens up the possibility of new productions to revive dormant reputations and explore the challenges of works from the whole of the twentieth century.

If I identify a text that I want to research, say Joe Corrie's In Time O' Strife (1927) or Michelene Wandor's Care and Control (1977), I would quickly discover that both plays are long out of print and basically inaccessible other than through major research libraries or second-hand booksellers. If they are on this database, however, not only can I access them direct from my home or office but I can search them for key terms, and expedite my research by searching for – in Corrie's case – other one-act plays of the period, other political works by Scottish authors, other plays about coal-mining or industrial relations, or – in Wandor's case – other plays dealing with women's rights, lesbianism or motherhood. We can find which plays were published in a given year, or performed by the same company, what kinds of language they use, how many people were in the cast, and which actors created the roles. The range of possibilities is literally endless, from searches for the prevalence of French windows in comedies of the 1930s, or plays with ghosts or librarians in their casts, to very detailed searches on linguistic patterns or types of stage directions.