Children’s Book Week 2022

May 1, 2022

Tomorrow kicks off the first of two Children’s Book Weeks for 2022 – May 2 to 8 and November 7 to 13. Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week has engaged children with books through events at schools, libraries, bookstores, and, in recent years, online. Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg have been proud to be part of this online initiative by making available to everyone, for free, a wide variety of public-domain children’s books. And over the past year, DP has contributed some fun and interesting children’s books to Project Gutenberg in celebration of Children’s Book Week.

Animals are always a popular category in the juvenile genre. Elizabeth Stafford Fry’s Bully Bull Frog and His Home in Rainbow Valley (1921) is a series of gentle stories about various animals in idyllic Rainbow Valley, with pretty color illustrations by Frances Beem. Published the same year, The Woodcutter’s Dog is a translation of 19th-Century French author Charles Nodier‘s short story about a heroic canine. It features charming color illustrations by English artist Claud Lovat Fraser. And from the previous century is Eliza Grey’s The Adventures of a Marmotte (1831), the whimsical “memoir” of a large ground squirrel. This book is unusual in that it was “sold for the distressed Irish,” apparently a reference to the 1830 potato crop failure and subsequent food riots in Ireland (not to be confused with the later, and far worse, Great Famine).

Children have always loved book series with engaging heroes and heroines. In 1842, educator and clergyman Jacob Abbott followed up his successful educational “Rollo” series (many of which are at Project Gutenberg) with one for girls featuring Rollo’s Cousin Lucy. Cousin Lucy at Play and Cousin Lucy at Study are both interesting slices of a child’s life in pre-Civil War America, with an emphasis on good conduct and kindness to others.

Good conduct for children is meticulously laid out in the 1856 guide, Etiquette for Little Folks, by an anonymous author. Given how highly class-conscious that era was, it’s not surprising to find advice such as, “Be meek, courteous, and affable to your inferiors; not proud nor scornful. To be courteous, even to the lowest, is a true index of a great and generous mind.” And in The School-Girls in Number 40, published in 1859 by the American Sunday-School Union, the boarding-school heroines learn about sharing, tolerance, penitence, and forgiveness.

The antebellum period in America is also represented by Fanny Fern‘s story collection The Play-Day Book, published in 1857. Fern was the most highly paid newspaper columnist of her day and is said to have coined the saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The Play-Day Book followed on the success of her first children’s book, Little Ferns for Fanny’s Little Friends (1853). Fern’s conversational style made both her newspaper columns and her breezy little stories highly readable.

The author of Alice and Beatrice, published in 1881, is listed simply as “Grandmamma,” who is also the character who tells young Alice and Beatrice the stories in the book. Each story has an educational component, on such diverse subjects as lacemaking, life in Russia, rainbows, bees, and more.

Before writing the immortal Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne wrote a lovely collection of fantasy stories, appropriately entitled A Gallery of Children. The book, published in 1925, features exquisite color illustrations by Dutch illustrator Henriette Willebeek le Mair, also known as “Saida.”

Poetry is a perennial childhood favorite. Miriam Clark Potter’s Rhymes of a Child’s World (1920) has delightful line drawings and decorations by Ruth Fuller Stevens. Its dedication reads:

TO MY MOTHER AND FATHER
WHO ALWAYS HAD TIME
TO WAIVE GROWN-UP MATTERS
AND READ A SMALL RHYME:

WHOSE HEARTS EVER HELD
THROUGH THE FLIGHT OF THE YEARS
A SOFT UNDERSTANDING
OF SMALL JOYS AND TEARS.

A much earlier little volume of children’s poetry, Simple Poems for Infant Minds (1856), anonymously written and illustrated, contains just what the title says, with a blend of whimsy and moral instruction.

Dime novels were wildly popular in the 19th Century and beyond. The Boy Ranger; or, The Heiress of the Golden Horn, by Oll Coomes, published in 1874, is a good example of the kind of Western adventure much loved by children back then. This one is a bit unusual for the time in that it portrays a Native American tribal chief and his warriors in a heroic light.

Lastly, music makes an appearance with The Pinafore Picture Book (1908), a delightful children’s version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s popular operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. It was written by W.S. Gilbert himself and beautifully illustrated by Alice B. Woodward. The e-book version contains audio files so you can listen to the musical excerpts from the operetta that were printed in the original book.

We hope these selections will delight your inner child this Children’s Book Week!

This article was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Creating E-Book Covers

April 1, 2022

Distributed Proofreaders volunteers work hard to make the e-books they contribute to Project Gutenberg as user-friendly as possible. Among the things we do to that end is creating e-book cover images to make it easy for readers to find e-books of interest to them.

The role and requirements

Book covers in the digital age have taken a different role. Where in the past covers and dust jackets served to protect and later also advertise the book, they now mainly serve to advertise the book and make it easy to quickly locate it on a computer or e-reader screen. With that changed role, the requirements for book covers have also changed.

In short, the role of a book cover in the digital age is to

  • Invite a potential reader to give it some attention.
  • Provide an easy-to-locate icon in e-book readers or computer screens, so it can be found quickly.
  • Provide a reasonably sized, readable short title and the author’s name, so people can ascertain they have selected the book they want.
  • Give some impression of the type of content to expect.

All the while considering that a digital cover is now often just the size of a postage stamp.

A short history

Historically, decorated book covers are a relatively new invention. Books started to be sold in neatly designed covers only by the end of the 19th Century, and in some countries even later. Book buyers were expected to provide their own cover and binding, as desired and fitting for their personal library. So the publisher just sold the book as a bound stack of pages with a nondescript paper cover. That is why old libraries often look very uniform, with all those similarly and often richly bound and decorated volumes. (Our 34,000th title contributed to Project Gutenberg was a manual of artistic bookbinding published in 1878.)

Since books are stored in bookcases or cabinets with only their spine visible, the publisher needed only to put identifying information, such as the title, on the spine. The cover could remain boringly neutral, or, as with some ancient bibles, heavily decorated, but there was no need to put a title on them.

Fortunately, many of the originals we work from at Project Gutenberg are late 19th- and early 20th-Century titles, which often do have nice book covers. However, even when the book we are digitizing does have a cover, it is the part of a book (after the spine) that is most likely to suffer from wear and tear, stained with ink and coffee, mutilated by repeated unprofessional repairs, and defaced by libraries who like to put stickers with shelf locations and bar-codes on them. They are also most exposed to sunlight and so end up discolored.

Even then, such covers were designed to be attractive when placed in the book shop’s window, on a table, or when pulled from a shelf by a prospective buyer, so the requirements for large-size titles and author names are quite different from those you’ll need on a postage-stamp-sized digital image.

Challenges

When dealing with book covers, we at Distributed Proofreaders face a number of challenges. It is our intention to reproduce the original book in its full glory, “the book, the whole book, and nothing but the book.” Of course, with the transition to a digital format, we will lose some of the artifacts of the paper medium, such as page headers and page numbers, although we often retain the latter as small notes in the margin. Similarly, book covers will have to be reinvented for our books reincarnated in their digital form.

When preparing a book for Project Gutenberg, we will address these challenges in different ways.

Locating a good quality cover

First of all, we prefer to use an image of the original cover, so if we have one, we can use that as a starting point. In that case, it often requires some digital restoration. But before we invest in the labor-intensive process of restoration, we’ll seek out alternatives. If we don’t have a good quality cover, but have some idea of what it looks like, our first step is an internet search. Surprisingly often, better-quality scans of the same cover can be found, and sometimes those can be used. We need to be sure to pick only scans of a truly matching cover (i.e., same edition and printing), both to avoid a copyright violation, and to maintain the integrity of the e-book edition we’re making. Covers tend to appear in far more variations than the book itself, even within a single print-run.

Digitally restoring a damaged cover

If our search fails to unearth a good-enough cover, we will fire up our photo-editing software to restore what we do have. My personal guidelines in digital restoration is not to try to reconstruct an as-new cover (it would be nice if such a cover is still available), but only to remove mutilations like bar-codes and disfiguring damage, such as scratches and stains. Smaller aspects of wear and tear I will leave as is: it is not a shame to be old and look it. What I will also try to do is brighten up the colors, and restore color balance. Of course this involves a lot of guesswork, but again, if we can find alternative images on-line, even if tiny photographs, they can give us an indication of the original colors if our copy is particularly discolored.

Removing disfiguring stains from the cover of Van de Noordpool naar den Aequator
Improving the cover colors for Belgian Fairy Tales
Removing the bar code from the cover of The Mason Wasps

Adding titles and authors to original covers

As explained above, the original cover will often not mention the title or author at all. In such cases, to make it easier to recognize a book, we can decide to digitally add the title to the front, — that is, if the original design leaves space for it, which it often does. When adding the title and author, it makes sense to use a typeface matching that of the spine (if known), or the title page. Sometimes we can also use the title from the title page directly, manipulating the color and appearance to blend in with the original cover design.

Adding the title and author to the cover of Myths of the Cherokee

Designing our own cover

Then we come to the point where we have no cover to start with at all. The book at hand is in a generic, unmarked cover, or we have none at all, for example when we work from a set of scans produced elsewhere. In that case, we will design a new cover. From here onward I will concentrate mostly on the way I do this, as other volunteers may have different procedures. It may be tempting to go all overboard and design something really fancy, but here I normally try to restrict myself and keep it functional.

One starting point I often use is the scanned cloth pattern of a book’s back to serve as a generic background. I derived a range of color variants from it. I will pick one color, depending on my mood and gut feeling of what would be appropriate for the book, and will add the original title, author, and year of original publication in a centered design. If the book itself includes a suitable illustration, often the frontispiece, I will use that. If not, I will slightly emboss a generic “PGDP” design on it, but won’t use artwork not present in the source, because of the copyright implications that might have. Balancing out the letters takes some puzzling with font-sizes, splitting lines, and letter-spacing, but normally, I am able to produce a reasonable new cover in some 15 to 30 minutes. Not perfect, probably not to everybody’s taste, but better than auto-generated.

DP-created covers for Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, Serbian Fairy Tales, and De Hogerveldt’s Oorspronkelijk Tooneelspel in 3 Bedrijven

I normally use serif typefaces, capital letters, and symmetrical design, because that was the standard in the era most of our books where produced. Asymmetric designs only started to come into vogue after the 1920’s, and thus are inconsistent with most books’ age. I still don’t feel the need to fully emulate an old style cover: I typically use somewhat brighter and larger letters, and prominently place the year of the original copy at the bottom of my design. This should immediately signal to the reader they are dealing with an old book in a new digital cover.

Some things that work less well

An alternative I regularly see is to use the title page as a replacement for a cover. I am not a big fan of that, because title pages are far more similar to each other and often black-and-white, so they lack distinctiveness. Besides that, they often include more detailed information, like the publisher’s name, author credentials, and such, given in a much smaller type. Imagine what it does with your ability to spot the book you’re looking for on a screen filled with postage stamp sized title pages in an e-reader.

Not all books in Project Gutenberg have book covers, so as a gap-stop measure, PG has a system to generate generic covers automatically. The results are not always satisfactory, because the software we use isn’t smart enough to understand what part of the title is most significant and to tweak letter sizes and spacing accordingly to obtain a pleasing result.

Finally, a little searching on some large commercial e-book platforms will reveal a range of newly designed covers for public domain books (the texts for which are often harvested from Project Gutenberg’s offerings in bulk), which range from boring to utterly hilarious: using inappropriate photographs on designs that make serious literary classics, even non-fiction, look worse than cliché Harlequin romances. Such things should not happen at Project Gutenberg, except when we keep the original pulp magazine cover that happens to be equally cringe-worthy, such as this:

Cover of the Dutch pulp magazine Lord Lister No. 8

This post was contributed by Jeroen Hellingman, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


In Memoriam Stephen Hutcheson

March 1, 2022

With heavy but grateful hearts, the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders bid farewell to our Beloved Emeritus Stephen Hutcheson (1956-2021), who uploaded his final book to Project Gutenberg on September 27, 2021, one day before he passed away.

Stephen joined DP in July 2004 under the user name “hutcheson” and ultimately became one of our most prolific contributors. Although he proofread and formatted over 75,000 pages, his primary roles were as a Content Provider, Project Manager, and Post-Processor for numerous projects that he shepherded from the beginning steps (copyright clearances, image scanning) to final upload to PG. He also graciously processed items from the collections of other volunteers, with a “kid in the candy store” glee over the latest find. (Anything pertaining to his beloved home state of Tennessee would get top priority!) He completed over 1,000 projects and was also active with Distributed Proofreaders Canada, completing around 200 titles in the Canadian public domain. One of his projects, French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art, was selected as Distributed Proofreaders’ 37,000th title posted to PG and was celebrated in this Hot off the Press blog post.

Stephen was the oldest and only boy of six children reared on a farm in Murfreesboro. His sister, Libby Smelser, recalls that his hay fever kept him indoors, reading voraciously, listening to classical music, playing solo chess. “He was very cerebral, very focused, with wide-ranging interests … his mind had so many tendrils. We sisters thought he was just terribly smart!” Stephen followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating from Middle Tennessee State University and becoming a computer programmer. He and wife Ruth were married for over twenty years, and had two children, Laura and David. Although separated, he and Ruth remained dear friends; she enjoyed accompanying him on his book scouting forays to secondhand shops.

Stephen spent years developing his own tools for post-processing DP projects, requiring a special set of proofreading and formatting methods. Volunteers who braved the learning curve of his “Hutcheson Wiki” guidelines were rewarded with a rich variety of topics that reflected his own eclectic interests: old buildings, “interesting places” (as he phrased it), anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, history of inventions and technology, arts and crafts, cookbooks, botany, U.S. history and geography/geology, mining/minerals, religious history and hymnology, classical music, ornithology and zoology, juvenile mystery/adventure series, and science fiction. He loved coming upon cross-references between books at Project Gutenberg, saying, “That’s the thing about a library: the bigger it gets, the more the books start talking to each other.”

Stephen processed many field guides for U.S. National and State Parks, monuments, nature parks, museums, and locations with historical importance, with a view to having an eBook guide available to any traveler with a smartphone. These were his favorite projects to work on, and he had a penchant for maps and atlases. He inherited a love of birding from his family, and contributed many books about flora and fauna.

Stephen participated in DP’s “Project Not Quite Nancy Drew,” featuring various juvenile series in which young people ran around “unsupervised and unchecked,” solving mysteries and having adventures. His contributions helped expand and even complete PG’s collection of series such as the Camp Fire Girls, Jean Craig, Judy Bolton, Motor Girls, Dorothy Dale, Go Ahead Boys, The Airship Boys, and many more. His sardonic sense of humor was evident in his project comments: “What to expect: Ghosts. Cemeteries. Midnight vigils. Ominous telegrams. Disguises. Trafficking in illegitimate rubber products. City kids lost in the woods on a snowy night. Most frightening of all, efficiency experts in the newsroom. Amnesiacs. And … I forget. But I’m sure our blundering but persistent detective figured it all out, and her father published everything in a special edition of the Star.”

Soon after being diagnosed with leukemia, he was hospitalized in December 2020 until his passing in September 2021, but he continued diligently working on DP projects from his hospital room. He often remarked that DP was what kept him sane, and he worked every day except when the chemotherapy affected his vision. Even when he was in the ICU on a breathing machine, he made the effort to connect to DP. He was determined to reach a personal milestone of 1,000 projects uploaded to PG, which he achieved with about 80 to spare in his final weeks. Ruth recalled,

“Stephen loved his work and his friendships at Distributed Proofreaders. This spilled over into his contacts with the hospital staff as they learned about DP. His ability to continue with DP kept him going throughout his long hospitalization…. I was so thankful he could continue his passion project until almost the last day. It brought him joy, fed his thirst for knowledge, and gave him goals to work toward even on the most difficult days. The hospital staff encouraged him, inquired daily about his projects, kept track of his book count on his patient whiteboard, and celebrated each book completed. After he reached 200 books [posted to PG] while in hospital, staff gave him a celebration party.”

The DP community can certainly relate to Ruth’s phrase “passion project.” Stephen’s passion and dedication is an inspiration. DP offered Stephen the perfect venue for his love of books, his insatiable curiosity, and desire to stay productive until his very last day of life. In turn, he has left an enduring legacy of preserving lovely books across many genres for all the world to have at their fingertips – a treasure indeed. Rest in peace, Stephen. You were one of a kind.

This post was contributed by Lisa Corcoran (Leebot), a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Many thanks to Ruth Hutcheson and Libby Hutcheson Smelser for their valuable insight. Photos of Stephen courtesy of Ruth Hutcheson.


Celebrating 43,000 Titles

February 1, 2022

This post – in English and German – celebrates the 43,000th title Distributed Proofreaders has posted to Project Gutenberg: Die Sitten der Völker, Zweiter Band (The Customs of Peoples, Volume II). Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it! This post was contributed by salmonofdoubt, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

‘… much of the material possession of the tribes on their way to extinction, their weapons, tools, clothes, and many other everyday objects could just be preserved and included in the ethnographical museums. This is much less the case with the spiritual and intellectual heritage of the peoples in question, such as customs, practices, religious views, and so forth, even though some of the explorers attach importance particularly to this area of interest; but, unfortunately, an enormous amount of time and effort is needed to penetrate deeply into the inner life of the primitive peoples, which is quite different to how it is with us civilised people, and on the other hand, their perceptions have been subject to change in earlier times, as a result of European influences, which wound their way to them, sometimes in a roundabout way that one might never had expected.’

G. Buschan, The Customs of Peoples, Vol. I.

Georg Buschan, in his time, was a quite well-known and prolific author who devoted himself to anthropological, ethnological, and ethnographical questions, thereby reaching a large audience. His works counted among the most eminent and most comprehensive depictions in this range of subjects. Without doubt, Buschan still belongs to the older branch of ethnographers, classifying the cultures of peoples into ‘uncivilised’ and ‘civilised,’ even though the sense of mission and the narrow-mindedness of social scientists of the 18th and 19th Centuries can be found in Buschan’s works merely in a somewhat reduced form. At the same time, he was well aware that the original and unaltered cultural practices were already a thing of the past.

After serving as a military surgeon, Buschan travelled to Eastern Asia and to the Balkan Peninsula, but he was especially interested in the former German colony of Cameroon. Most of the chapters in The Customs of Peoples concerning this region of Africa can be ascribed to his authorship. Many of the book chapters from other regions of the world were written by well-known and renowned explorers, such as Sven Hedin, the Swedish explorer of Asia, and the Australian biologist and ethnologist Sir Baldwin Spencer.

‘Ethnography can be considered a fundamental methodology of the social sciences. Over the past century, ethnographic methodology has led to the discovery of some of the most valuable concepts, theory and data produced in the social sciences.’

Faye Allard and Elijah Anderson, Encyclopedia of Social Measurement, 2005.

The past decades have brought a substantial change to ethnography, particularly after the heyday of colonialism gradually came to an end after the First World War. Up to that time the depiction of foreign peoples had always been compared to the paradigm of the own culture. The ‘alien’ was considered to be the less developed, with a need for development; the colonial powers’ culture, on the other hand, was made out to be the shining example. This perspective also provided a pretext for the colonial powers to actively interfere in the affairs of foreign peoples.

Today, ethnography rarely depicts entire groups of peoples but rather addresses smaller social groups, even units as small as a football team or a work group. One important reason for this reorientation might be found in the intense mixing of cultures. Probably, an environment unaffected by the outside world no longer exists anywhere.

Even by the time Buschan published his three-volume The Customs of Peoples in 1914-1916, this was more or less true. The contributors to the work keep encountering outside influences of European culture wherever they go. Sometimes the influences manifest themselves very plainly, as seen in the omnipresent Christian symbolism in some colonies, for example, in Central and South America. Objects of European production can be seen in some of the illustrations, sometimes subtly hidden, but they are still there; for example, articles of clothing or tools that found their way into the everyday life of the observed peoples, having thus changed their traditional practices.

Without doubt, The Customs of Peoples can be considered one of Buschan’s most important works. In the first volume, Buschan focused on the peoples of Australia, Oceania, and the southern and eastern parts of Asia. In the second volume he delved into the civilisations of the remaining parts of Asia, as well as Northern, Eastern, and Southern Africa. The third volume, in progress at Distributed Proofreaders, concludes the series with the description of the peoples of Western Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Each of the three volumes contains about 500 illustrations, mostly photos and colour drawings. In fact, the books create the impression of being picture books, probably to appeal to a wider audience. Today the choice of the subjects might not be classed as ‘politically correct.’ A disproportionately high number of illustrations show scantily dressed women and young girls, which might be intended to get the predominantly male readers interested in the contents of the books.

Yet, it would not be right to impose today’s standards on yesterday’s ways of thinking. Our variety of different cultures is continually changing. A great number of things are changing almost daily, and in a hundred years’ time our view of the world may well be just greeted with smiles.


Dieser Blog-Artikel auf Englisch und Deutsch würdigt das 43.000ste Projekt, das Distributed Proofreaders bei Project Gutenberg veröffentlicht hat: den Die Sitten der Völker, Zweiter Band. Herzlichen Glückwunsch und vielen Dank an alle Freiwilligen bei Distributed Proofreaders, die an diesem Projekt gearbeitet haben! Dieser Blog-Beitrag auf Deutsch wurde von salmonofdoubt, einer Freiwilligen für Distributed Proofreaders, verfasst.

„… vieles von dem materiellen Besitz der im Aussterben begriffenen Stämme, also von ihren Waffen, Werkzeugen, Kleidung und vielen anderen Gegenständen des täglichen Lebens konnte noch gerettet und den ethnographischen Museen einverleibt werden. Weniger trifft dies aber für den geistigen Kulturbesitz der fraglichen Völker, wie Sitten, Gebräuche, religiöse Ansichten und dergleichen zu, obwohl manche der Forschungsreisenden gerade auch auf dieses Gebiet bei ihren Forschungen Gewicht legten; aber leider gehört, um in das Innenleben der primitiven Völker einzudringen, das ein ganz anderes als bei uns Kulturmenschen ist, viel Zeitaufwand und Mühe, und zum anderen haben ihre Vorstellungen verschiedentlich durch europäischen Einfluß, der manchmal auf Umwegen, auf denen man es gar nicht vermuten würde, schon in früheren Zeiten zu ihnen gelangte, eine Abänderung erfahren.“

(G. Buschan, „Die Sitten der Völker“, Erster Band)

Georg Buschan war in seiner Zeit ein ziemlich bekannter und produktiver Autor, der sich mit anthropologischen, ethnologischen und ethnographischen Fragen beschäftigte und damit ein großes Publikum erreichte. Seine Werke zählten zu den bedeutendsten und umfassendsten Darstellungen dieser Themengebiete. Buschan selbst muss zweifellos noch dem älteren Zweig der Ethnographie zugerechnet werden, der die Kulturen der Völker wertend in „primitiv“ und „entwickelt“ einordnet, wenngleich sich das Sendungsbewusstsein und die Engstirnigkeit der Sozialwissenschaftler des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts sich bei ihm nur noch in abgeschwächter Form findet. Ihm selbst war dabei sehr wohl bewusst, dass die Inhalte der ursprünglichen und unverfälschten Kulturen bereits der Vergangenheit angehörten.

Nach seinem Dienst als Militärarzt reiste Buschan nach Ostasien und auf die Balkanhalbinsel, vor allem aber galt sein Interesse der damaligen deutschen Kolonie Kamerun; die meisten seiner Buchbeiträge, die sich mit dieser Region Afrikas beschäftigen, stammen daher aus seiner eigenen Feder. Die Beiträge für seine Bücher, die aus anderen Weltgegenden stammen, wurden oft von berühmten und angesehenen Forschern, wie beispielsweise dem schwedischen Asienreisenden Sven Hedin und dem australischen Biologen und Ethnologen Sir Baldwin Spencer verfasst.

„Ethnographie kann als eine fundamentale Methodik der Sozialwissenschaften begriffen werden. Im Laufe des vergangenen Jahrhunderts hat die ethnographische Methodik zur Entdeckung einiger der wertvollsten Konzepte, Theorien und Fakten geführt, die in den Sozialwissenschaften hervorgebracht wurden.“

(Faye Allard, Elijah Anderson, Encyclopedia of Social Measurement, 2005)

Die vergangenen Jahrzehnte haben der Ethnographie einen beträchtlichen Wandel beschert, insbesondere nachdem die Blütezeit des Kolonialismus mit dem ersten Weltkrieg allmählich zu Ende ging. Bis dahin wurde die Beschreibung fremder Völker ausschließlich am Paradigma der eigenen Kultur gemessen. Das „Fremde“ wurde stets als das weniger Entwickelte, Entwicklungsbedürftige, angesehen, die eigene Kultur dagegen als leuchtendes Vorbild dargestellt. Diese Sichtweise lieferte dann auch einen Vorwand der Kolonialmächte, als selbsternannte Weltverbesserer in die Geschicke anderer Völker eingreifen zu dürfen.

Die moderne Ethnographie beschreibt heute nur noch selten ganze Völkergruppen, sondern widmet sich vielmehr kleineren sozialen Einheiten, sogar bis hinunter zu Fußballmannschaften oder Arbeitsteams. Ein wichtiger Grund für diese Umorientierung dürfte unter anderem in der starken Durchmischung der Kulturen zu finden sein. Eine von der Außenwelt unbeeinflusstes Umfeld kann heute nirgendwo mehr bestehen.

Bereits zur Entstehungszeit der „Sitten der Völker“, von 1914–1916, lagen die Dinge schon ganz ähnlich. Wo immer sie hinkommen, treffen die Beitragenden der Bücher in den jeweiligen Gegenden der Welt auf die Einflüsse europäischer Kultur. Manchmal treten diese Einflüsse so deutlich zutage wie bei der allgegenwärtigen christlichen Symbolik in einigen Kolonien, beispielsweise in Mittel- und Südamerika. Bei vielen Gelegenheiten erkennt man in den Abbildungen Gegenstände aus europäischer Produktion, manchmal subtil versteckt, und dennoch sind sie vorhanden; zum Beispiel Kleidungsstücke oder Werkzeuge, die schon längst in das Alltagsleben der betrachteten Völker Einzug gehalten, und somit die althergebrachten Gebräuche verändert hatten.

Zweifelsohne können „Die Sitten der Völker“ als eines der wichtigsten Werke des Autors betrachtet werden. Im ersten Teil widmet sich Buschan den Völkern Australiens und Ozeaniens sowie dem südlichen und östlichen Teil Asiens. Im zweiten Band befasst sich der Autor mit den Kulturen aus den restlichen Teilen Asiens sowie dem nördlichen, östlichen und südlichen Afrika. Der dritte Teil beschließt die Reihe mit der Beschreibung der Völker Westafrikas, Amerikas und Europas. (Der dritte Band ist bei Distributed Proofreaders in Arbeit.) Jeder der drei Bände enthält etwa 500 Abbildungen, meist Fotos und farbige Zeichnungen. Tatsächlich erwecken die Bücher manchmal den Eindruck eines Bildbandes, sicher auch um ein breiteres Publikum anzusprechen. Die Wahl der Motive würde man heute wohl kaum als „politisch korrekt“ einstufen. Überdurchschnittlich viele Abbildungen zeigen spärlich bekleidete Frauen und junge Mädchen, was möglicherweise die überwiegend männliche Leserschaft für den Inhalt der Bücher interessieren sollte.

Es wäre jedoch nicht richtig, die heutigen Maßstäbe an die Denkweisen von gestern anzulegen. Auch unsere heutige Vielfalt an verschiedenen Kulturen ist in immerwährendem Wandel. Viele Dinge ändern sich beinahe täglich, und in hundert Jahren wird man für unsere Sicht auf die Welt wohl nur noch ein mildes Lächeln übrig haben.


Freud’s Dreams

January 1, 2022
The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli (1781). Freud reportedly had a copy of it hanging in his apartment.

I am very incompletely dressed, and I go from a dwelling on the ground floor up a flight of stairs to an upper story. In doing this I jump over three steps at a time, and I am glad to find I can mount the steps so quickly. Suddenly I see that a servant girl is coming down the stairs, that is, towards me. I am ashamed and try to hurry away, and now there appears that sensation of being impeded; I am glued to the steps and cannot move from the spot.

Who among us hasn’t had that dismaying dream of being in a state of undress in front of others? Or of desperately wanting to get away but being frozen to the spot? Even Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, had this classic anxiety dream, as he recounts in Chapter V of his groundbreaking work, The Interpretation of Dreams, first published in 1899. Thanks to Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg volunteers, you can read the 1914 fourth edition in German, Die Traumdeutung, or the 1913 English translation of the third edition by A.A. Brill, the first psychoanalyst to practice in the United States.

Humans have been trying to make sense of their dreams for thousands of years. The ancient Sumerians treated them as prophecy. In the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1800 BCE), one of the earliest surviving pieces of human literature, the hero dreams of a falling star; his mother interprets the dream to mean that he will soon have a new friend. Shortly thereafter, he meets Enkidu, his boon companion through many adventures, and both of them have significant dreams that are portents of things to come.

This view of dreaming as an aid to divination persisted for many centuries in many cultures. But, as Freud points out in Chapter I of The Interpretation of Dreams, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was probably the first to recognize a psychological component to dreams. Unlike his contemporaries, Aristotle did not believe that dreams were prophetic. Rather, he believed that they were sleep-altered forms of impressions the dreamer received during his waking life. And that’s exactly how Freud interpreted his staircase dream:

The situation of the dream is taken from everyday reality…. When I have finished my work downstairs late at night, I go up the steps into my bedroom. On the evening before the dream I had actually gone this short distance in a somewhat disorderly attire—that is to say, I had taken off my collar, cravat, and cuffs; but in the dream this has changed into a somewhat more advanced degree of undress, which as usual is indefinite. Jumping over the steps is my usual method of mounting stairs; moreover it is the fulfilment of a wish that has been recognised in the dream, for I have reassured myself about the condition of my heart action by the ease of this accomplishment.

The impetus for the dream arises from events in Freud’s daily life, consistent with Aristotle’s view. But Freud goes further. The meaning he assigns the dream is the cornerstone of his dream theory: wish fulfillment. The unconscious mind forms a wish; the wish is expressed in a dream, but in a disguised form due to an internal “censor” in one’s mind. Freud believed that the wish fulfillment in this particular dream revolved around his health – his concerns about his heart were assuaged by his being able to easily jump three steps at a time in the dream. As for the rest, he felt he “must postpone the further interpretation of this dream until I can give an account of the origin of the typical dream of incomplete dress.” Although his appearing before the servant partially dressed was “undoubtedly of a sexual character,” it puzzled him because the servant involved was an unattractive older woman.

Freud interprets several of his own dreams, as well as his patients’ dreams, along the same lines. In discussing some of them, he introduces his famous theory of the Oedipus complex – the unconscious wish to kill one parent and have sexual relations with the other. Freud argued that all children have such wishes to some extent, although most don’t have them in an intense form. He noted that “parents play a leading part in the infantile psychology of all later neurotics, and falling in love with one member of the parental couple and hatred of the other help to make up that fateful sum of material furnished by the psychic impulses, which has been formed during the infantile period, and which is of such great importance for the symptoms appearing in the later neurosis.” These “psychic impulses” are sometimes expressed in violent and/or erotic dreams about one’s parents. Indeed, Freud points out, such dreams are even referred to in Sophocles’s play Oedipus Rex, when Jocasta tells her husband Oedipus (who does not yet know that he has murdered his father and married his mother) that “it hath already been the lot of many men in dreams to think themselves partners of their mother’s bed. But he passes most easily through life to whom these circumstances are trifles.” This “trifle,” however, inevitably leads to tragedy for Oedipus and Jocasta. In Freud’s view, it could lead to neurosis.

Freud acknowledges that the ancient belief in dreams as prophecy is “not entirely devoid of truth. By representing to us a wish as fulfilled the dream certainly leads us into the future; but this future, taken by the dreamer as present, has been formed into the likeness of that past by the indestructible wish.” And to Freud, this method of interpreting a patient’s dreams is a critical tool in psychoanalysis, as it is “the via regia to a knowledge of the unconscious in the psychic life.” He considered it so crucial that in 1901 he published an abridged version of The Interpretation of Dreams, entitled On Dreams, to make it more accessible to those interested in this new method of psychoanalysis. Another abridgement, Dream Psychology: Psycholanalysis for Beginners, was published in 1920 in an authorized English translation by British psychoanalyst M.D. Eder.

Freud later adjusted some of his theories, and later psychoanalysts have refined or taken issue with some of his interpretations, but The Interpretation of Dreams remains a seminal work in the development of psychoanalysis.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer. Hot off the Press wishes all its readers a happy and healthy New Year – and hopes those wishes are fulfilled.


Grammar-Land

December 1, 2021

grammarland-parsing

What a delightful book is Grammar-Land. I only wish I had first encountered it while in school learning grammar. Every chapter has an awesome initial illustrated capital letter. The book is worth reviewing just for the fun illustrations.

Subtitled “Grammar in Fun for the Children of Schoolroom-shire” (yes, that’s “in” not “is”), this book introduces the Parts of Speech in story form. Each part of speech is represented by a character who is pleading his case for ownership of his words.

The charm of this book makes me want to quote extensively from it to fairly represent it. Let me see if I can give you an idea of it, enough to make you want to read it for yourself.

Our kings and queens, and emperors too, have all to obey Judge Grammar’s laws, or else they would talk what is called bad grammar; and then, even their own subjects would laugh at them, and would say: “Poor things! When they were children, and lived in Schoolroom-shire, they can never have been taken to Grammar-land! How shocking!”

The parts of speech start quarreling about ownership of words and are called before Judge Grammar to defend their ownership of disputed words or explain whether they are stealing one another’s words. They also disagree concerning whose words are most important. Judge Grammar calls on Serjeant Parsing and Dr. Syntax as counsellors.

The exercises for the students are far from dry and boring. For example, while the Judge recesses to lunch off a few pages of dictionary, the Schoolroom-shire friends are to fix these verses by replacing nouns with appropriate pronouns.

Little Bo-peep has lost Bo-peep’s sheep,
And does not know where to find the sheep;
Leave the sheep alone till the sheep come home.
And bring the sheep’s tails behind the sheep.

I’m sure this textbook taught while entertaining many school children. I would not be surprised to find that Dr. Seuss was influenced by this book. Doesn’t this remind you of his verses in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish? or of Thing One and Thing Two in The Cat in the Hat?

A beautiful thing, an ugly thing, bad things, good things, green things, yellow things, large things, little things; and so you can say, one thing, two things, some things, any things; and also, this thing, that thing, these things, those things.

The conversations among the characters are entertaining as well as educational. For example:

Dr. Syntax rose and said: “The first person is always the person speaking, and the second is the person spoken to. Let every one in the court say, ‘I am the first,’ and we shall all be right, and all satisfied.”

I first, we first,” they all shouted; “and you, you, you, only the second.”

The noise was tremendous, and the Judge, finding himself only one against a number, thought he had better turn the subject; and clapping his hands loudly, to call for silence, he called out:

“But if we are all firsts and seconds, pray where is the third person to go?”

“Oh, the third person,” said Pronoun, contemptuously, “is only the one we are talking about. He may not be here, so it cannot matter if we call him only the third person.”

Hmm. Perhaps Abbott and Costello studied with this book before creating “Who’s on First?”

Or this:

“Yes, my lord,” answered Serjeant Parsing, “that is my way, and therefore, of course, it is the best way. My way is always the best way. Now there is a sentence all ready for you: My way is always the best way. I’ll find the nominative before you can dot an i. ‘What is
always the best way?’ Answer, my way is always the best way; – so my way is the Nominative.”

“But you asked ‘what?’ not ‘who?’ there, Brother Parsing,” remarked the Judge.

“Because way is a thing, not a person, my lord. When we are talking of a thing, then we ask ‘what?’ instead of ‘who?’ If you said ‘the pudding is boiling in the pot,’ I should say ‘what is boiling?’ not ‘who is boiling?’ for I should hope you would not be boiling a person in a pot, unless you were the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.”

There are many more gems in this book as well as an opportunity for a solid grounding in grammar. I hope this enticed you to give it a look. May you enjoy it as much as I did.

This post was contributed by WebRover, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Frédéric and George

November 1, 2021

During what had to be one of the world’s worst vacations, Frédéric Chopin completed his sublime Preludes (Op. 28), 24 piano miniatures covering all the major and minor keys and evoking the gamut of human emotion. Perhaps as astounding as their brilliance is the fact that he was able to focus on them at all, when he was ill and chilled to the bone, on a cold, rainy island with hostile locals, incompetent doctors, and a dreadful piano.

It’s a testament to his genius and dedication that he was able to finish these and several other great works during that miserable trip. Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have contributed to Project Gutenberg a number of books touching on Chopin’s short but fascinating life and his relationship with the eccentric and passionate female novelist George Sand, who brought him to that inhospitable island.

Born in Warsaw in 1810 to a French father and a Polish mother, Chopin was a piano prodigy who settled in Paris at 21. He immediately made the right connections, including the wildly popular Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt. Despite Chopin’s reluctance to give public performances in concert halls – unlike Liszt, the inveterate showman, Chopin preferred to perform in intimate salons – he became a celebrity whose compositions and services as a master piano teacher were very much in demand.

Eugène Delacroix‘s unfinished 1838 double portrait of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin was cut in two and sold as separate pieces.

In 1836, at one of those intimate salons, Chopin met George Sand, a free spirit who frequently dressed like a man and smoked cigars. Although not attracted to her at first (“Is she even a woman?” he asked a friend), he soon fell under her spell. It was with her and her children – she was divorced from a French baron – that he traveled to the island of Majorca in November 1838 for what they hoped would be a healthful, warm winter in the Mediterranean sun. But, as Sand relates in her 1842 memoir, Un hiver à Majorque (A Winter in Majorca), it was a catastrophe. It was chilly and rained continually, Chopin became ill, and their landlord in Palma kicked them out for fear of contagion. They were forced to move from town to an abandoned hilltop monastery, the Valldemossa Charterhouse, with a bad locally-made piano – Chopin’s fine Pleyel was stuck in Customs until just three weeks before they left. (The Pleyel now takes pride of place at the Chopin/Sand Museum there.)

It was at the monastery that Chopin completed the Preludes and other works. In her 1855 autobiography, Histoire de ma vie (Livre 3), Sand wrote of the Preludes, “Ce sont des chefs-d’œuvre. Plusieurs présentent à la pensée des visions de moines trépassés et l’audition des chants funèbres qui l’assiégeaient” (“They are masterpieces. Several bring to the mind visions of departed monks and the sound of funeral chants that besieged him”). Chopin did not agree with her narrativist interpretations of his music, and was even angry when she suggested that one of them imitated the sound of the endless raindrops on the monastery roof. This was probably a reference to the famous Prelude No. 15 in D-flat Major, the so-called “Raindrop,” a name decidedly not given it by Chopin, who hated descriptive titles. Meanwhile, Sand, a prolific writer, completed Spiridion, an atmospheric novel about a young monk haunted by the ghost of an abbot.

Though the weather eventually improved, they left for France in February 1839. Chopin continued to compose, teach, and occasionally perform, and Sand continued to churn out novels. But he was becoming more and more ill, to the point where Sand found herself more a nurse than a lover. And there were already simmering tensions in the love affair. In 1846, she wrote Lucrezia Floriani, in which a long-suffering actress cares for a sickly and jealous prince. Their friends, appalled, immediately recognized Chopin as the prince. Liszt, in his Life of Chopin, one of the first full-length appreciations published after Chopin’s death, decried the “false proportions” of the prince’s character. But Sand, while respectful of her old friend Liszt, retorted in her autobiography that he “s’est fourvoyé de bonne foi” (“went astray in good faith”) by relying on their friends’ mistaken notions. Sand was, perhaps, protesting too much.

Sand ended the relationship in 1847 after family squabbles involving Sand’s now-grown children – though she claimed in her autobiography that he ended it by accusing her of no longer loving him. Chopin died of tuberculosis two years later, aged only 39. Sand was deeply affected by his death but did not attend his funeral. In her autobiography, though she still complained of her role as nurse, she had the grace to admit that he had repaid her “de mes années de veille, d’angoisse et d’absorption par des années de tendresse, de confiance et de gratitude” (“for my years of vigil, of anguish, and of devotion with years of tenderness, of trust, and of gratitude”).

Other 19th-Century accounts of Chopin’s life can be found at Project Gutenberg, including Frederick Chopin, as a Man and Musician, by Frederick Niecks, which criticizes George Sand’s “pretentions to self-sacrificing saintliness”; and Frederic Chopin: His Life, Letters, and Works, by Maurycy Karasowski, which, by contrast, relies extensively on her autobiography. There’s even a short biography for children, Chopin: The Story of the Boy Who Made Beautiful Melodies, part of the “Child’s Own” series of composer biographies. Not surprisingly, it omits all mention of Sand, whose place in his life could hardly be explained to a child, at least not in 1917. Biographies of Sand include the sympathetic Famous Women: George Sand, by Bertha Thomas, which vehemently denies that Sand “blighted” Chopin’s life. Whatever conclusion one may draw from their relationship, it certainly can’t be said it was dull.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Freedom to Read

October 1, 2021

This week (September 26 to October 2) is Banned Books Week, a celebration of our freedom to read. And, coincidentally, Distributed Proofreaders is 21 years old today – all grown up, as it were, with a world of books, banned or not, to contribute to Project Gutenberg, making them freely available to anyone with an electronic device.

Both Distributed Proofreaders (DP) and Project Gutenberg (PG) follow the principles of the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read statement – “free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture.” As long as the book is in the public domain in the United States, there is no restriction on content at DP or PG. Below are some highlights of the once-banned books that DP and PG volunteers have preserved as e-books.

Book-banning has been around for centuries. It has been said that the ancient Roman poet Ovid was exiled for his Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), published in 1 BCE (but some theorize that the exile was politically motivated). Henry Fielding‘s English translation of it was published under the title The Lover’s Assistant, or New Art of Love in 1759. Fielding’s own wildly popular novel, Tom Jones, was belatedly banned as “indecent” in 1913 by one library in England, because “whatever might have been the habits 150 years ago, it was not a suitable book … to have access to in a free public library.”

Not surprisingly, books of prurient interest are frequently the target of the guardians of morality. The very bawdy L’Escoles des Filles (The School for Girls) of 1655, said to be the earliest of the French “libertine” novels, got its Parisian publisher, Michel Millot, into hot water. He had to flee the city, and the public prosecutors burned every copy they could get their hands on. But they must have missed some. In February 1668, Samuel Pepys got hold of a reprint, in a “plain binding,” from his London bookseller. Claiming in his Diary to have read it strictly “for information sake,” he found it “mighty lewd,” apparently enjoyed it, and then “burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame.” (And, speaking of lewdness, the part of this passage involving his enjoyment was excised from the 19th-Century edition that was used to prepare the e-book version of his 1668 diary entries at PG.)

The Roman Catholic Church officially banned thousands of books through its Index Librorum Prohibitum (Index of Prohibited Books), begun in the 16th Century. Protestant theology works were naturally on the list as being heresy, but the Church also went after scientific books. For example, it considered heliocentrism – the idea that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around – particularly heretical. And so, among many other astronomical works, the Church banned all of Galileo‘s books, including The Sidereal Messenger, in which he reported his observations supporting heliocentrism through the newly-invented telescope. In 1633, Galileo was found guilty of heresy and forced to formally reject heliocentrism (though he is said to have muttered afterward, “Eppur si muove” – “Still, it moves”). Despite mounting scientific evidence, the Church did not remove books on heliocentrism from the Index until 1835. The Church abolished the Index altogether in 1966 and officially exonerated Galileo in 1992.

The combination of politics and religion was also a recipe for censorship. America’s first banned book, Thomas Morton’s The New English Canaan, published in 1637, was an exposé of the misdoings of the Puritan settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It led to Morton’s arrest and exile to what was then the wilderness of Maine. You can read all about it in this blog post.

What we now consider classics did not escape censorship when they were published – and some are still targeted today. Mark Twain‘s beloved Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned by libraries in Massachusetts and New York shortly after its publication in 1885, on the grounds that it was “rough, coarse and inelegant.” Today, it continues to be challenged for its use of racial stereotypes and epithets, even though the story of the friendship between Huck Finn, a runaway white boy, and Jim, a runaway black slave, is clearly anti-racist in intent.

James Joyce‘s famed stream-of-consciousness novel, Ulysses, was banned – and burned – in both England and the United States after its publication in Paris in 1922. One Irish critic called it “[t]he most infamously obscene book in ancient or modern literature,” citing its “flood of unimaginable thoughts, images, and pornographic words” and its “unclean lunacies … larded with appalling and revolting blasphemies.” That particular criticism found its way into the U.S. government’s argument in the second trial of the book for obscenity in 1933 – and that time, the government lost, finally allowing Ulysses to be legally published in the United States.

Another Irish writer, Frank Harris, also had a notorious work banned on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time. Harris was a knockabout journalist who hobnobbed with many celebrities of the turn of the last century (see his somewhat embellished biography of his friend Oscar Wilde). Harris’s steamy autobiography, My Life and Loves, was privately published in Paris in installments from 1922 to 1927, but it was not legally published in its entirety until 1963. You can see why if you take a peek at Volume 1: His accounts of his amorous adventures are quite graphic and are illustrated by photos and drawings of nude women.

Even poetry has had its censors. Walt Whitman‘s 1855 Leaves of Grass was a bit too erotic – specifically homoerotic – for 19th-Century librarians’ tastes. They refused to stock it, and Whitman even lost his government job thanks to the long-running controversy it engendered. Nearly thirty years after its first publication, the Boston district attorney insisted that some of the “obscene” poems (like “Song of Myself”) be excised from a new edition. Whitman refused, found another publisher, and saw the unexpurgated edition sell out in one day.

In celebrating Banned Books Week, let’s remember the warning of the great 19th-Century German poet Heinrich Heine, whose own books were banned in his lifetime and later burned by the Nazis:

Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.
That was just a prelude, where they burn books, they will also in the end burn people.

– from Almansor

Exercise your freedom to read.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Astrea Triumphant

September 1, 2021
Aphra Behn, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1670

What do you do when you’re a 17th-Century Englishwoman whose parents and husband are dead and you have no resources other than your own courage and wit? Well, first you become a royal spy. And when that doesn’t pan out, you take up your pen and write some of the hottest plays on the London stage, throwing in some racy, ahead-of their-time novels and poetry.

And so Aphra Behn (c. 1640-1689) – playwright, novelist, poet, spy – survived as one of the first Englishwomen to make her living by writing. Distributed Proofreaders volunteers have contributed to Project Gutenberg a six-volume collection of her works, edited by literary scholar Montague Summers and published in 1915.

Behn’s early life is obscure – possibly because she herself obscured it – but she may have been born in Kent, the daughter of a barber and a wet-nurse. The couple is believed to have brought her to the South American colony of Surinam in 1663. Behn’s best-known novel, Oroonoko (in Volume V of the collected works), a tale of an enslaved African prince, was allegedly based on her experiences there, and is considered by some to be the first anti-slavery novel, preceding Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s Uncle Tom’s Cabin by almost two centuries.

In 1664, Behn returned to England and may have married a German or Dutch merchant named Johann Behn. The relationship apparently ended quickly, but she referred to herself as “Mrs. Behn” for the rest of her life. Somehow she managed to acquire enough social and political influence to bring her to the attention of Charles II’s spymasters. England was at war with the Dutch, and Charles wanted to identify English exiles in the Netherlands who were plotting against him. Under the code-name Astrea, which she later used as a pen-name, Behn embarked on a mission to befriend a potential double-agent in Antwerp. But the mission failed and Charles never paid her. She managed to get back to England on borrowed funds.

Once again thrown upon her own resources, Behn took a job with an acting company as a scribe. The re-opening of the theatres under Charles II (after the Puritans’ fun-free Interregnum ended) and the consequent demand for new entertainments gave Behn the opportunity to write her own plays. Her first, The Forc’d Marriage (in Volume III), was staged in London in 1670. She did not shy away from the lustiness of the time. Her plays are peppered with erotic innuendos that her audiences found highly entertaining, despite Alexander Pope sourly tut-tutting in his Satires and Epistles of Horace Imitated, “The stage how loosely does Astraea tread,/ Who fairly puts all characters to bed!”

Behn wrote 19 plays in all, as well as several novels. Her success (and her private life) led to frequent criticism of her as an immoral woman, but that didn’t stop her from writing and certainly didn’t hurt the popularity of her work. She got into more serious trouble when she unwisely dabbled in politics – she criticized the King’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, in a prologue and epilogue to the play Romulus and Hersilia (see Volume VI) and was briefly arrested in 1682.

She also wrote a fair amount of poetry (Volume VI), often with topical references, disguised allusions to real people, and erotic subjects. One poem, “The Disappointment,” frankly explores themes of attempted rape and male impotence. She even celebrated lesbian love in “To the fair Clarinda, who made Love to me, imagin’d more than Woman.”

After her death in 1689, Behn’s work was all but forgotten, except by prudish scholars who were apt to denigrate her as “shameless” and “coarse.” More respectful interest in her was revived in the early 20th Century, beginning with Summers’s collection of her works, and continuing with tributes to her in the 1920s from Vita Sackville-West in Aphra Behn: the Incomparable Astrea and Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. Appreciation for her increased with the dawn of the Women’s Movement in the 1970s. Behn is now regarded as a pioneer for women’s literary independence, or, as Woolf put it, “the right to speak their minds.”

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Celebrating 42,000 Titles

August 3, 2021

Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 42,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg: Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it!

Fellows who know all about that sort of thing – detectives, and so on – will tell you that the most difficult thing in the world is to get rid of the body. I remember, as a kid, having to learn by heart a poem about a bird by the name of Eugene Aram, who had the deuce of a job in this respect. All I can recall of the actual poetry is the bit that goes:

“Tum-tum, tum-tum, tum-tumty-tum,
I slew him, tum-tum tum!”

But I recollect that the poor blighter spent much of his valuable time dumping the corpse into ponds and burying it, and what not, only to have it pop out at him again.

From “Jeeves Takes Charge,” in Carry On, Jeeves.
cover

There are few things better calculated to put a smile on your face than a dip into the sunlit world of P.G. Wodehouse. And that’s particularly true of his famed stories of that brilliant “gentleman’s personal gentleman,” Jeeves, and his master, the upper-class twit Bertie Wooster. As the above quotation shows, Bertie narrates the stories in a marvelous potpourri of the King’s English, Jazz-Age slang, and half-remembered literary quotations – the hallmark of Wodehouse’s unique wit.

Thanks to the expiration of the 95-year copyrights that the U.S. Congress had accorded works published from 1923 through 1977, much of Wodehouse’s best work is coming into the public domain. Our 42,000th title, Carry On, Jeeves, a 1925 collection of 10 short stories, is among his many classics.

The first story, “Jeeves Takes Charge,” was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916. It recounts the first meeting between Jeeves and Bertie, whose previous valet he’d had to fire for “sneaking my silk socks, a thing no bloke of spirit could stick at any price.” Bertie is grappling with a hangover from the previous night’s revels and at the same time trying to read a tome called Types of Ethical Theory. Bertie’s usual fare is detective stories, but his fiancée – “a girl with a wonderful profile, but steeped to the gills in serious purpose” – has essentially ordered him to read this rather daunting volume. Jeeves arrives from the employment agency and gives him a hangover remedy that at first makes him feel “as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch.” But it works instantly, and Bertie hires him on the spot.

Thus began a fictional partnership that lasted another half a century, during which Jeeves masterfully extricated Bertie from numerous outlandish scrapes – including engagements, both deliberate and accidental, with utterly mismatched women. The last Jeeves/Wooster novel was Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (The Cat-Nappers in the U.S.), published in 1974.

Wodehouse was amazingly prolific, writing over 90 novels, 40 plays, and 200 stories in the course of his long life. Project Gutenberg has more than 40 of his works, including four in the Jeeves/Wooster canon. Wodehouse’s other series, such as those featuring Lord Emsworth, Mr. Mulliner, Psmith, and Ukridge, are also much beloved. His works remain highly popular today, and his devoted fans have gathered in numerous Wodehouse Societies around the world. There are even websites like Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums that provide scholarly resources, such as annotations explaining literary and cultural references in Wodehouse’s work. (See, for example, the annotations to Carry On, Jeeves.)

In tough times like these, the world needs more Wodehouse. Distributed Proofreaders is proud to celebrate its 42,000th title with one of his comic masterpieces. Let Bertie and Jeeves have the last word:

“… Do you know, Jeeves, you’re – well, you absolutely stand alone!”

“I endeavour to give satisfaction, sir,” said Jeeves.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer and a member of The Wodehouse Society.


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