Annotated bibliography
August 29, 2022 9:05 AM   Subscribe

As a volunteer in a historical research group, I've been tasked with putting together an annotated bibliography for a prolific nineteenth-century novelist. Looking for guidance or examples.

This is for a short publication. Others are writing sections about the writer's life and the critical response to their work and activism. Some readers, but not all, will know a lot about the writer; most, but not all, others will be fairly well-informed about the context in which the person wrote. There are a lot of books and not a lot of space for me to expand on. I will be talking this through with the rest of the team but could do with some thoughts from anyone who's worked in this area, or pointers to anything similar.

I have four A5 pages, which comes out at around a thousand words in the font we are using. Given this limit, I think I have to confine myself to around eight of the writer's most well-known books, which gives me around 125 words per book. I think the primary item is a very brief plot and setting summary. Is there anything else I should consider including? I will check in with the people working on other sections to make sure that, for instance, the critical response does not focus on completely different books.

(I'm not mentioning the writer's name to avoid my real life name being able to be linked to this post once the work is published.)
posted by paduasoy to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think in addition to how you are conceptualizing this you might save a few words for the significance of the works you selected, especially if the author is prolific and this is just a small selection of their works. Another way would be to use, say, 50 words for each of the eight titles you selected but then save the rest of the space for listing the author's other works if there are a lot more of them.
posted by jessamyn at 9:17 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Here is an example on Walt Whitman and Phrenology, at the Walt Whitman Archive, a scholarly digital archive. You'll see that each entry is only a single sentence; that may not work for a more general bibliography

I can find as well plenty of annotated bibliographies on Jane Austen, but they tend to be bibliographies of works about Austen's work, rather than an annotated bibliography of her work, if that makes sense.

If I were writing an annotated bibliography of Jane Austen's six completed novels, I might write something like this for Northanger Abbey:
A parody of the Gothic novel popular at the time, Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine Morland, a naive and imaginative girl who matures (and falls in love) after she is invited for an extended visit to a friend's estate during a stay in Bath. It is shorter than Austen's other works, and most similar in style to her humorous juvenilia. The first novel Austen completed, it was purchased by a publisher in 1802, but, like Persuasion, did not appear until after her death in 1817, when her brother Henry arranged its publication.
That's 94 words. I would, of course, double-check my facts, and fix that first sentence, which is trying to do too much.

I divided this between a very brief mention of the book's plot—Austen is so well-known detailed plot descriptions are unlikely to be necessary—-and a bit of information about its publication history. You might also want to use some space for the impact of the book's publication, as jessamyn mentions. If one were doing an entry on Leaves of Grass, one might mention that its greatest success came after Whitman's death, and/or might talk about the profound influence it had on American (and international) poetry, which continues to this day.

With eight entries, you can also organize details so that they build on each other, and this can save some words. For instance, I mentioned in my quick draft of the entry on Northanger Abbey that it and Persuasion are both posthumously published, so I probably don't need to say that again in the entry on Persuasion. I might mention instead, for instance, that Austen wrote two endings to Persuasion, which reflects a more general challenge she had with wrapping up her works, or, in other words, reflected her own ambivalence about "the marriage plot."
posted by Well I never at 10:23 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Off the top of my head, here are some questions you might consider answering, depending on what is most relevant and/or interesting. This might also help you choose which works to focus on since you can't do an entry for every one of their books:

1. What is the book about?
2. When in the writer's life was it written?
3. What works influenced it? What works did it influence?
4. How was it received, immediately and long term ("A popular writer during his lifetime, so-and-so is not widely known today." "This book was seized by customs and only released after a lengthy court battle determined that it was not merely obscene but had literary merit.")
5. How does it relate to the writer's other works? Do characters appear in multiple works? Are there sequels or prequels? Is this book typical of the writer's work in style, tone, plot, or does it diverge from their more typical work? Does it represent a stage in the writer's development?
6. What were the circumstances of its writing? ("This book was written during a long stay at a friend's farm in upstate New York." "The author wrote this book in the early mornings before their work in a manufacturing plant.")
posted by Well I never at 10:33 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Well I never's example is great. To break it down a bit, key things that they include are the work's

a) relationship to genre
b) publication history
c) position within the author's overall body of work
d) relationship to prevailing literary trends (e.g. the marriage plot)

Broadly, I would say the goal of an annotation is to speak to notable qualities of the work, specifically emphasizing things that might make it of interest to scholars. One question to think about answer is: why is this book one of the eight you've chosen to annotate? Plot and setting should be at least gestured to, but are of secondary importance to the things noted above. If the book is likely of interest to scholars of race, sexuality, gender, class, etc, I would find a way to signal that as well--this can often be done with strategic use of keywords (if an annotation has "queer" or "feminist" in it, for example, I perk up).
posted by dizziest at 10:37 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

does a standard bibliography for this author already exist? If so, mention it; if not, be aware that desperate people will treat your work as the standard until another appears. accurate publication information will be very welcome if you have it even if that is not your main focus. if there is any space for a complete chronological list of the works you aren't fully describing, that too will be appreciated.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:43 AM on August 29

Response by poster: Thank you - this is all extremely helpful and makes it seem a lot more do-able.
posted by paduasoy at 12:15 PM on August 31 [1 favorite]

« Older Was pulled over, got a warning but it’s a bit...   |   Free Budgeting Software Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments