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Internet to the rescue of rare books

Cavalier Daily, (December 22, 1996).

Charlottesville (Virginia), Dec. 22: In an effort to reconstruct and preserve the literary world from 1775 to 1850, the University of Virginia is creating computerised versions of about one-third of the American fiction published during the era. The project will digitally archive the enduring classics, as well as obscure books long out of print. Few readers today know that such famous works as The Scarlet Letter and James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans were a small percentage of the books published in the 18th and 19th centuries. The lesser-known works, however, made their mark on the literature of the day. They include such works as Washington Allston's Monaldi, published in 1841, Jeremy Belknap's The Foresters, An American Tale, published in 1792, William Alexander Caruthers' The Knights of the Horse-Shoe, published in 1845, and Hannah Foster's The Coquette, published in 1797. All are included in the university project.

Other, more known authors also are featured in the project and include, Washington Irving, The Devil and Tom Walker, published in 1830, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Tales of Humor, published in 1840, and Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, published in 1840. The authors of these classics read, and were influenced by, "What you would tend to dismiss as junk fiction," according to Ronald Gottesman, an English professor at the University of Southern California.

Many of the books that didn't become classics are inaccessible to most researchers. "For a fair slice of these (now forgotten authors), there is no modem publication at all," said David Seat man, head of the University of Virginia project. For example, Sedgwick has only one book still in print, not Clarence. All her other works have been consigned to the shelves of rare-book libraries. The $600,000 project will scan 581 rare first editions into computers. (AP)


Jan Cienski.