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Cover of issue #219

Current Issue: #219 Contested Migrations (Winter 2013)

Canadian Literature's Issue 219 (Winter 2013) is now available. The issue features articles by Vinh Nguyen, Miriam Pirbhai, Rachel Bower, and others, as well as new Canadian poetry and book reviews.

Writing, Coupling

  • Judith Thompson (Editor) and Marjorie Stone (Editor)
    Literary Couplings: Writing Couples, Collaborators, and the Construction of Authorship. University of Wisconsin Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)

Reviewed by Manina Jones

Moving from “snapshots” of contemporary authorship that propose the continuing urgency of examining the practices by which authorship is conceived, to engaging historically-situated essays, Literary Couplings examines how “intimate relationships” between authors complicate conceptions of “solitary genius.” Its contributors focus on frictions and felicities contributing to and arising from joint composition in analyses that resonate beyond their periods, to theories of editing, translation, pedagogy, biography, composition, reception, and intellectual property.

Patricia Demers’ discussion of The Countess of Pembroke’s translations of the Psalms with brother Sir Philip Sidney, for example, asks readers to consider the text as a set of “experiments in expressivity,” while John B. Radner’s exploration of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell’s accounts of a 1773 Hebridean journey reveals authors struggling for control of the narrative in a process of mutual self-constitution.

Gerard Goggin analyses William Godwin’s editorial interventions in Mary Wollstonecraft’s unfinished novel Wrongs of Woman, highlighting the dynamics of gender and sexuality in their personal and working relationship, represented as a scene of pedagogy. Anne D. Wallace identifies shifting domestic economies of Romantic composition in William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s sibling-anchored household, which exemplifies “changing valuations of corporate production and domestic labor.” In Alison Hickey’s essay, Sara Coleridge’s editing of father Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s corpus is imagined as a filiative labour, comprehending Sara’s co-editor/husband, and literary “parentage,” the Wordsworth-Coleridge-Southey triumvirate.

Corinne Davies and Marjorie Stone contribute an informal scholarly correspondence on Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, writers whose engagement with one another’s writing lives destabilizes distinctions between influence, editing, and collaboration. In an essay on Victorian women travellers’ coordinate accounts to their husbands’ narratives, Jill Matus argues that such accounts adjudicate “competing claims of gendered authorship, personal relationship, feminine propriety, and national superiority.” In their analysis of Teleny, an erotic novel of the gay subculture of the 1890s, written in chain-letter fashion, Robert Gray and Christopher Keep see it as a model of “queer writing practice characterized by fluidity, circulation, and exchange.”

Two essays turn to couples at the heart of literary Modernity, with Lisa Harper’s commentary on W.B. Yeats and Dorothy Wellesley’s “competitive reciprocity” in their friendship, correspondence, commentary, influence, and advocacy paired with Amber Vogel’s revisiting of the composition and reception of Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, which exposes sexist violations of intellectual property, by which Laura Riding was represented as avatar rather than co-author.

Rebecca Carpenter addresses Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade and Bengali poet Maitreyi Devi’s competing fictionalized accounts of their love affair, viewing their struggle for authority over shared life episodes as part of the racial, colonial, and sexual politics of intercultural narratives. Sarah Churchwell examines that infamous literary coupling, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, through Hughes’ Birthday Letters, a volume situated between secrecy and revelation, art and life, collaboration and appropriation. Finally, Lorraine York investigates the problematics of shared physical, textual and cultural space in lesbian collaborations, from late nineteenth-century to late twentieth-century partnerships.

For readers with an interest in authorship, Literary Couplings is essential reading, not just for individual essays, but for its framing materials, including a superb overview of theoretical issues and a wide-ranging survey of scholarship on literary couples, contextualized within collaboration studies.

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MLA: Jones, Manina. Writing, Coupling. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2014.

This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #194 (Autumn 2007), Visual/Textual Intersections. (pg. 179 - 180)

***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.

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