I’m currently in the privileged position of having research leave and am using the time to finish the manuscript of my monograph, Whispers of Print. I’ve been working on the book on and off for the past eight years or so and I’m grateful to have the time to finally get the manuscript together.
I wrote the chapters out of order but now I’ve drafts of them all I’m working through them consecutively to cut them down to size and make sure they all make sense. I’m currently still on the first, ‘Damnably Reiterated: Understanding Serial Form’. Despite being first, it was actually one of the last I wrote, mainly because it’s based on two journal articles: ‘Repetition: Or, “In Our Last”’, which came out in Victorian Periodicals Review in 2015; and ‘Confused and Ill-Arranged: Reading Miscellaneity with Enquire Within’, which was published in Victorian Periodicals Review a few years later in 2020. The first article addressed seriality, the second miscellaneity, and I’ve revisited both to produce a chapter that makes an argument about how these features structured serial form.
While revising the first part of the chapter I found I’d made a mistake in the earlier journal article on which it was based. In the article I claimed an unsigned article ‘Summary of German Catholic Literature’, published in the Dublin Review in 1852 was by Jeffrey Francis. I’m not checking everything as I go but this attribution just didn’t seem right. I couldn’t remember why I was so certain the author was somebody called Jeffrey Francis. I knew it couldn’t have been a mistake for the well-known Francis Jeffrey, the noted lawyer, Whig MP, and longstanding editor of the Edinburgh Review . Not only was it unlikely Jeffrey would have contributed articles on German Catholic literature to a journal based in London but he’d been dead since 1850. A check in the Wellesley Index revealed the author to be James Burton Robertson, a frequent contributor to the Dublin Review and the author of a number of surveys of Catholic literature in German. I’ve no idea why I didn’t look before. I failed periodical studies 101.
I’m very embarassed about this and have duly noted the error in the book. But what makes all of this particularly galling is that I was using what I thought was Francis’s article to write about errata. My argument, in both the journal and the book chapter, is that errata demonstrate the povisionality entailed by never coming to an end. Open-ended serials are predicated on not finishing, on there always being another issue, and so there remains the possibility that whatever is written can be written again. At the same time, of course, back issues exist as witness to what was written. As I put it in the chapter, ‘errata attempt the doubly impossible: to rewrite a past that was already written from a standpoint that might itself be rewritten in future.’
The fact that I’m doing the same thing is not lost on me. A footnote in the chapter records my own errata, rewriting the error I’ve left in the scholarly record. This blog post does the same thing. A whiff of seriality runs through both media. Books get revised (although I don’t imagine Whispers of Print going to a second, revised edition). My blog is serial, although so irregular that I wouldn’t claim periodicity. But there’s a more interesting provisionality that underpins all of this. I’m pretty confident the article was by Robertson (the Wellesley sources are legit) but you never know. The past is like that. We write it as we go.