Dal professor invited contributions by dozens of scholars.
Rebecca Schneidereit - June 20, 2011
Dalhousie Professor Julia Wright spent two-and-a-half years editing A Companion to Irish Literature (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) — choosing contributors, overseeing revisions, fact-checking quotations and dates.
It’s a difficult job she was hand-picked for. “The commissioning editor came to me,” recounts Dr. Wright, Canada Research Chair in European Studies. “And asked if I wanted (the job).” Having both published widely on Irish literature and co-edited four essay collections, Dr. Wright was a natural choice.
She said yes – but conditionally. “Only if I could focus on literature before the 1900s” — an underrepresented era, according to Dr. Wright. “The dominance of Joyce and Yeats is such that people often don’t look beyond that… Irish literary studies has tended to focus on writers associated with national independence. The writers before that either got forgotten because they were seen as peculiarly Irish or they got absorbed into the canon of British literature.”
The publishers liked the idea, and Dr. Wright set to work. How does one begin to undertake such an enormous literary task? “I started with a table of contents,” says Dr. Wright. Once that was approved, Dr. Wright herself sought out people to write on the different areas covered – an unusual order of events, since “Most of the collections I’ve done have started by putting out a call for papers… rather than inviting people to submit.” However, “there was a lot of enthusiasm – most of the people I contacted were happy to do it.”
Dr. Wright’s work may be demanding, but that’s not to say that she doesn’t enjoy it. “One of the strange things about humanities… is that our work tends to be very solitary. We sit and read books… (it’s) us alone in a corner reading, and us alone in a corner writing. What I like about editing is that I get to work with other scholars very closely.” That’s only a blessing if the company’s good, but fortunately, “Every one of them was fantastic to work with… I got to learn so much more about the field from working with them.” Such as? “Queer theory comes in in an early modern essay and an essay about a 21st century writer. There were connections across 500 years that I really wasn’t expecting.”
Dr. Wright’s interest in Irish literature emerged from her studies of British Romantic writings. “At the time, the books (on Irish literature) were very hard to find,” Dr. Wright explains. She eventually discovered the key – to look at writings concerned with India. “Whenever I found India in major Romantic fiction, I found Ireland” – in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for instance. “It just became clear to me that something was going on. The connection turned out to be colonial rule.”
Dr. Wright is proud that her collection will rectify the usual omission of Irish Romantic writers and includes “quite a bit on the Gothic, which I’m very happy about… there’s a lot more attention to the Gothic (generally), which used to be dismissed as sensationalistic hackwork.” And what of the fame, the fortune, the glory that comes on working for so long on such an enormous undertaking? “I have a flyer I can hand out at conferences,” laughs Dr. Wright, “But that’s about it.” Besides, “I’ve got two more edited collections that I’m working on this summer.”