A Multi-layered Electronic Text of Wordsworth's The Ruined Cottage


Note: The following abstract was written with an intention to present at Digital Humanities International Conference held outside the country. It was however not accepted. But I still believe that the idea I presented at the paper was well worth a place in a related session. But I did not try again.


A Multi-layered Electronic Text of Wordsworth's The Ruined Cottage

Chankil Park


Background and Objective

Wordsworth defined poetry as "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," but he never wrote his poems "spontaneously." Quite to the contrary, he revised the drafts again and again even after manuscripts were in the publisher's hands giving him the notorious title of a "publishers' nightmare." The Prelude being the prime example, he sometimes decided not to publish the poems he had laboriously revised for a long time. The Ruined Cottage, generally regarded as one of the finest achievements of Wordsworth's entire poetic career, was another example that was never given the chance to be published as a separate poem in Wordsworth's lifetime. Wordsworth started to work on it from as early as 1796 and presented it to the world after many revisions in 1814 as the first book of The Excursion. Even after publication, the poet did not stop tinkering with the poem until as late as 1845, five years before he died. But The Ruined Cottage had to wait more than a century to encounter scholars who appreciated it enough to think that it deserved publication as an independent poem. The Ruined Cottage was finally presented to the general public as a separate work (MS B) by Jonathan Wordsworth in 1969 with his meticulous study of its long and complicated textual history. James Butler completed Jonathan Wordsworth's pioneering editorial efforts when he published The Cornell Wordsworth edition of The Ruined Cottage in 1979 offering three versions of reading texts along with an exhaustive textual history. There is no doubt that the Cornell series is an example of the best textual scholarship imaginable within the limits of print book technology: laboriously prepared reading texts presented as parallel pages, photographic reproduction of original manuscripts with their professionally deciphered readings printed alongside, and all the related source material available then. The Cornell edition of The Ruined Cottage has been accepted as a standard reference by all Wordsworthian scholars since its publication but its use has been by and large limited to Wordsworth specialists.  Our objective is to develop a multi-layered electronic edition of The Ruined Cottage, making use of recently developed encoding technique, which we hope will render the results of textual scholarship contained within the Cornell edition more readily available to the general readers through multimedia visualizing technology.




As a computing literary scholar of Wordsworth, I have always dreamed of an ultimate text of Wordsworth which somehow visualizes the poetical texts that are constantly evolving within the poet's mind, only a few slices of which  materialized in printed editions. The ultimate text made possible by digital technology would have the following features:


* The E-text would accommodate all the surviving materials that contributed to the making of The Ruined Cottage from a short fragment to a full scale printed version. That is, the collection of related materials must be comprehensive and complete.


* The E-text would show clearly the evolving process of the poem, not only as a whole but also part by part even to the level of a single word, which will be made possible by the multi-layer encoding technique along with a related visualizing method.


* The E-text would be malleable enough to allow non-specialist end-users (readers) easy accessibility and maximum manipulability. Readers should be able to access easily a particular part of a particular version with hypertextually linked and graphically connected materials. Readers should also be allowed to bring out a particular part of a particular version and compare it easily with another part of another version, assuming himself a temporary editorial authority.




Apart from basic background knowledge gleaned from McGann and Hockey, we have been greatly inspired by Dino Buzzetti's model of dynamic text and Casey Due's multitext project of Homer, both of which were presented at the 2008 Digital Humanities conference. we also learned a lot from The Canterbury Tales project by Peter Robinson of University of Birmingham. Making the best of all the useful knowledge from the preceding research, we hope to contribute to the scholarship of electronic text with our multilayered electronic text of The Ruined Cottage by incorporating:



-     User-friendly interface using multimedia visualization techniques

-     Increased interactivity between the text and the user by the "autopoietic" structure of the e-text

-     Three-dimensional graphic images showing the depth of multilayered e-texts

-     VR navigation techniques to feel the volumetric effects of the layers

-     Comparison among various hypertext poems using XML techniques

-     Graphical rendering with the original calligraphy and material according to the change of some parts in the e-texts




Wordsworth's life-long textual manipulation of his major works makes him in hindsight a precursor to the hypertextual author; he, for example, had an ambition to organize all his poetic texts into one great work allocating a proper place for each poetical text in the hierarchical structure of his poetic corpus where each poem is implicitly or explicitly cross-referenced ("linked") with each other, which was all done within the limits of print book technology. In other words, the corpus of Wordsworth's poetry was already structured like the Web and his inveterate habit of revision might well be understood as a reflection of his efforts to weave a particular poem into his own docuverse by placing it in a new context with a new link. The textual history of any single poem of Wordsworth, therefore, cannot be revealed until it is shown within the complex web-like structure of his poetic corpus. Our multi-layered text with its three-dimensional visualizing technique will offer a clearer picture of a poem's connection to the Wordsworthian docuverse system, the e-text of The Ruined Cottage first to be showcased.




Butler, James. (ed.) (1979). The Ruined Cottage and The Pedlar. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.


Buzzetti, D., Rehbein, M., Towards a Model for Dynamic Text Editions. Proceedings of Digital Humanities 2008, Oulu, Finland, June 2008.


Due, C., Ebbott, M., The Homer Multitext Project. Proceedings of Digital Humanities 2008, Oulu, Finland, June 2008.


Landow, G.P. (2006). Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


McGann, J. (2004). Marking Texts of Many Dimensions. In Schreibman, S., Siemens, R., Unsworth, J.(eds) (2004), A Companion To Digital Humanities. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.


Robinson, P. (1998). New Methods of Editing, Exploring, and Reading The Canterbury Tales. (accessed 2 November 2008)