Juxta and Frankenstein

Using digital platforms to perform literary analysis offers both students and teachers a unique opportunity to engage with the processes of close-reading (e.g. linguistic patterns for a given author) and distance-reading (e.g. editorial progressions for a given text). These platforms enable students to invest in the practice of discovery and to think critically about how data is collected and visualized. While there are many useful digital humanities projects and tools for teaching literature, Juxta might be one of the best for considering novels. This tool enables users to upload different texts to compare them. Users can download a desktop version or use a web version of the program which allows them to compare texts side by side, to annotate texts, and to perform some textual analytics. As an example, students can use Juxta to compare the 1818 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with the 1831 edition and locate where Shelley made substantial changes to the story. Students consider these observations in relation to her introduction to the 1831 edition in which she writes, “I will add but one word as to the alterations I have made. They are principally those of style. I have changed no portion of the story, nor introduced any new ideas or circumstances […] Throughout they are entirely confined to such parts as are mere adjuncts to the story, leaving the core and substance of it untouched” (169). Choosing an altered passage or selection of altered passages, students then assess Shelley’s claims about the 1831 edition. They consider questions like: Are her changes more substantial than for mere “style”? Are they confined to unessential parts of the plot? Students also examine how Shelley’s alterations change the narrative and consider why she may have made these editorial decisions. They both discuss and write about how her changes to the 1818 edition affect our understanding of the novel’s themes. They can also attempt to trace any evidence of Shelley’s experience with “grief and death” (the death of a child and husband) since the first edition though she claims that “[her] readers have nothing to do with these associations” (169). Along the way, students mark up the juxtaposed editions and collaborate in small groups to arrive at potential arguments for Shelley’s alterations.

Scholarly editions of the novel often include the 1818 preface and 1831 introduction as paratexts for understanding the authorial background of the text, and Juxta allows students to verify Shelley’s claims about the distribution of alterations in the later edition as well as their impact on the story. While some editions offer representative examples of differences between the editions, Juxta allows students to mine the text themselves, potentially generating a greater investment in the process of discovery and analysis as well as enabling distance comparisons of the whole text. This tool cultivates the skills of close-reading, annotation, and literary interpretation. Additionally, it prompts students to consider the process of revision and the implications of using a specific edition of a text to draw any sort of analytical conclusion. Juxta users have the option of exporting and sharing the data from a textual comparison, giving classes the option of contributing their scholarly work to the public sphere. Juxta is one of many digital tools that has potential to radically transform how students practice literary analysis in the classroom.

 

Tawnya Ravy, The George Washington University

 

Work Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: Norton Critical Edition. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2011. 

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