Between annotation and John Oliver Hobbes

When it comes to annotation and critical editions, I am a relative outsider to the genre. In my entire life, the only example of this type of project that I’ve read was a critical edition of Anne Frank’s diary. I have to admit that I eventually had to put the book down because every page was filled half-way with footnotes. It interrupted the flow of my reading and it made it difficult to get “into” the book. However, having annotated a few chapters of JOH, I have come to realize that this genre seeks to provide a threshold between the inside and the outside of the text. The value is to not get “into” the story as such, but to see what lies at its margins, what it is reaching towards. As such, the process of annotation has forced me to consider what was important for JOH’s experience of Victorian culture.

In annotating I discovered that much of the setup of A Study in Temptations is spent describing the social context of the Victorian era. In the first chapter, she quite specifically locates her characters within a time where the episcopal lecturer James Gibbons proselytizes, where Dissenting from the Church of England is a hot topic of debate, and Tories and Whigs abound. Furthermore, she incorporates her personal knowledge of non-conformity as the political-religious position of Dr. Johnson. I find it interesting that she is so explicit in setting up her novel with these religious undertones. It speaks to the sort of anxieties and concerns that I assume were prevalent at the time.

This attention also speaks to the craft of her writing. At the outset, the novel is explicitly about temptation. However she mobilizes this concept by positioning it in a time where temptation implies religious-political tensions between restraint and release, between virtue and sin. In other words, a morality that structures the Victorian society. In this way she has expertly set up the conditions where there is logical frame from the nature of the ensuing conflicts. Had it not been for the process of annotation, I do not believe that I would have seen how her unfamiliar literary and cultural allusions amassed and coalesced into a foundation for the very structure of the narrative.

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