Particle 8

Marginalia

{Chapter 4}

I found this old fragment when trolling through my notes and was reminded that I was initially going to begin this chapter with a reading of Wuthering Heights. Instead of an exploration of the book’s page as a space of sharing, it was going to be about the problem of narrative control, which of course Brontë’s novel exhibits wonderfully. I was trying to situate Brontë’s work within the trend towards published marginalia, where the reader became an author that left no room for the reader…
Near the beginning of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights we are introduced to a scene in which we observe Lockwood reading Catherine’s marginalia. Few nineteenth-century works dramatized more rigorously than Brontë’s novel the continual taking and retaking of narrative control, the essential contest of narrative ownership that was at the heart of the fiction making enterprise in the early nineteenth century. And as this opening scene makes clear, it was the margin and its marginalia – a textual space and a technology – that functioned as the metaphors for this larger social crisis of narrative ownership in Wuthering Heights. Unlike Coleridge’s project [of Marginalia], the margin in Brontë continues to be identified as the place where a story is no longer wholly one’s own, where we can materially observe the predicament of sharing that accompanied the reorganization of writing under the conditions of mass communication. Of the many ways that Brontë’s novel is important for this period, it indicates first and foremost the incompletion of the process of consolidation I identified above. It indicates, in other words, the incompletion of the delimitation of literature’s boundaries.
Where Brontë’s exploration of this condition of exchange and the incomplete ownership of narrative material occurred through the genre of the novel, one could locate numerous examples of the way the short fiction within the miscellanies also continued to prioritize values of sharing and circulatability well beyond this project of consolidation in