Documentary Social Networks and Narrative Structure in Enchanters of Men: Visualizing the Synchronic and Diachronic based on Alison Booth’s Collective Biographies of Women
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In Ethel Colburne Mayne’s work of collective biography, Enchanters of Men (1909), she narrates the erotic adventures of twenty-three “worldly” women from five centuries of history. She tells their stories elliptically and out of chronological order, with many narratorial interventions that cast doubt on the verifiability of the historical record and the reliability of previous biographers. Mayne’s narrative disarray and self-subversion as historiographer have the effect of pinpointing specific yet unnarrated moments of female desire, by enveloping them in fully narrated passages of sexual conquest, notoriety, and humiliation.This presentation will situate the subjects of Mayne’s erotic prosopography within what Alison Booth calls their “documentary social networks.” A documentary social network ist he constellation of biographical subjects—usually signified by proper names—that share space on a prosopography’s table of contents page and function as respective foci of its individual chapters. This constellation may also be conceived as the more extended network of documentary social connections seen when each biographical subject is linked in a network visualization to the other volumes of collective biography in which she appears. These second-order networks are revealing in ways significant to feminist historians, biographers, and narrative theorists, not least because, as Booth points out in her 2004 How to Make It as a Woman, collective biography is a historically significant but often unrecognized form of writing about women: “Catalogs of notable women have flourished in plain view for centuries, while generation after generation laments the absence of women of the past” (Booth 2004, 3).The individual subjects of Enchanters of Men exist in a documentary social network of biographical subjects that are described as “adventuresses” in Booth’s online digital humanities project, Collective Biographies of Women (CBW), hosted by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, and for which I am the project manager. CBW comprises (1) an exhaustive bibliography of the more than 1200 collective biographies of women published in English, (2) a database of all these collective biographies, searchable to reveal documentary social networks (among other data), and (3) a sample set of archives of TEI texts of these collective biographies, marked up with Booth’s stand-aside XML narratological schema, known as BESS (Biographical Elements and Structure Schema). Thus CBW offers a unique opportunity to explore connections between feminist narrative theory and social networks as conceived in prosopographical form.CBW is in part a work of feminist recuperation. I will suggest that Mayne’s convoluted biographical narratives reveal a recuperation project of her own, focused on historical women whose erotic exploits enabled ambition and dominance. Booth also argues that “group biohistoriography or prosopography has been instrumental in constructing modern subjectivities” (12), a claim that bears particular relevance for Mayne, whose editorial position at The Yellow Book and her position in a network of British Modernist intellectuals and artists suggests that her experimental, reader-resistant prose deserves reconsideration as a Modernist project of innovation in the representation of female subjectivity. For “Nodes & Networks in the Humanities: Geometries, Relationships, Processes,” I propose to present CBW-derived visualizations of subjectivity along synchronic and diachronic axes. Far from offering mere “fetish objects for the Digital Humanities,” I hope to show revolutionary ways of describing and analyzing the relation between between narrative process, genre, and networked subjectivities.
Graduate Paper, Digital Humanities Forum 2014: Nodes & Networks in the Humanities. University of Kansas. September 13, 2014: http://idrh.ku.edu/dhforum2014/Rennie Mapp is at the University of Virginia.
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