Journal I


All three journals in this project were intentionally produced with the goal of keeping the transcriptions as close to their original source as possible. Simple mistakes in the writing such as spelling errors were typically left as they were found in the manuscript and noted accordingly. Any minor changes that do appear in the transcriptions were made strictly for the purposes of cohesion and continuity. Alice Dunbar-Nelson began keeping her first reading journal at thirty-one years of age. It was started in 1906, or the year that she experienced the loss of her first husband, Paul Laurence Dunbar, to tuberculosis. Four years prior to his death, Dunbar-Nelson had begun teaching English at Howard High School in Wilmington, Delaware. She moved to this city with her family from Washington, D.C. after her separation from Dunbar. Her travel during this period was limited to commuting back and forth to Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania to further her education in English literature and psychology. Some of this work is reflected in the journal entries. This first journal in the series, in fact, shows that Dunbar-Nelson held a deep appreciation for classic literature. In it, we find titles from the likes of Aristotle, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Eusebius as well as later figures such as Shakespeare, Dryden, and Jonson. It would have been an ambitious reading list for any reader of the period, and of all her reading journals, this one includes the greatest amount of review and commentary. Her effort to establish a sustained engagement with the Western canon as evidenced in this journal is incontrovertible. Some of the commentary included in this journal, however, shows that as a reader, Dunbar-Nelson was not afraid to find fault with works from even the most celebrated authors. Her pithy and uncompromising commentary on Mark Twain’s Editorial Wild Oats (1905), for instance, reads simply, “Very poor for Mark Twain. Humor of the slap-dash tumble and get-up variety.” Lastly, one could assert that Dunbar-Nelson’s fiction was conversant in Victorian, realist, and modernists tropes. We discern from this journal that her reading list does not exhibit strict fealty to one literary camp or another. Demonstrating a broad range in taste from Romanticism to Transcendentalism, one finds figures like Browning, Thackeray, and Kipling listed alongside Thoreau, Ibsen, and Sinclair. Beyond the canonical, moreover, early signs of Dunbar-Nelson’s fondness for popular fiction are also present among the entries.

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