In an increasingly virtual world, especially with Coronavirus spreading all over the globe, a reader is able to search a text with a few keystrokes. From e-texts to digital surrogates, the internet is a library at your fingertips. Edith Wharton’s collection of stories Xingu is an example of this library at work. A digital surrogate “can add functionality to the way a collection has traditionally been used” or “can halt the loss of information over time.” Digital surrogates allow a reader to see a text or a piece in its original form, which enables a reader to see the author’s or the artist’s original intentions. Wharton’s Xingu and Other Stories can be found at Harvard College Library. After his death, Grenville L. Winthrop, whose mother was friends with Wharton, donated the piece.
Xingu was not his only contribution to Harvard, his alma mater, after his death in 1943. Before he died, he kept his growing collection at a “new home” crafted to house all of his art, and he even “put the Winthrop crest above the door, for he was proud of his ancestry.” This crest resurfaces in the copy of Xingu from Harvard University that Google digitized. In the front cover, Winthrop’s crest rests in the top left-hand corner. Since this is a digital surrogate, a reader is able to see the cover as well. Red with Xingu written in gold, the cover is worn on the spine. Before the title page, there is a list of other works by Wharton that are published by Charles Scribner’s Sons with the prices listed. The copyright shows that Xingu and Other Stories was published in October of 1916, and below this, there is a stamp from Harvard University Library that says the book was put into circulation in 1956.
Compared to an e-text version provided by Project Gutenberg, the digital surrogate shows the link breaks Wharton, or her publisher, intended. The reader can also see where each page starts and ends, but in the e-text, each chapter runs together with no page breaks. Instead, the reader is confronted with large blocks of text. While both the e-text and the digital surrogate are accessible on the internet, the e-text from Project Gutenberg is more user-friendly because a reader can be directed to this page by quickly typing Xingu in the search bar. The digital surrogate is sponsored by HathiTrust, so in order to find it, a reader has to be looking at databases or have previous knowledge of these search engines. The e-text also does not have all of the stories in the collection that were originally published together, so the reader does not get the full effect of the collection. Since the digital surrogate is a scanned version of the text, the reader has access to the other stories and can see the order in which they were compiled. While this e-text does not have hyperlinks, other literary works converted into e-texts can have links that connect readers with more information about details in the piece, sources about the author, and even definitions of words throughout the text. Digital surrogates do not have this affordance, but since they are linked to the internet, a reader has the world wide web within their control.
While e-texts seem more common, digital surrogates still have many affordances that make digitizing texts in this way valuable and important. For example, readers can view illustrations printed in the first edition, and if the digitized piece is an unpublished manuscript, journal entry, or letter, a reader can see the author’s edits or handwriting. Digital surrogates keep history alive. Another affordance in Xingu is found at the end of the book. “Bunner Sisters,” the last story in the book, comes to close, and it is followed by a series of advertisements for Wharton’s other books that were published by Charles Scribner’s Sons. Expanding on the concise advertisement in in the front of the book, each title is listed with a description of the work and a price, which reflects the prices of 1916, the year the book was published. At the very end, there is a stamp from Harvard with some check-out stamps. The ability of the reader to see the Winthrop’s crest and then the stamps from Harvard shows how the book has been touched by time.
Note, Margot. “Digital Surrogate: Digital Image Basics.” Digital Surrogate – an Overview, ScienceDirect, 2011, www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/digital-surrogate.
Reed, Christopher. “Unveiled.” Harvard Magazine, 1 Mar. 2003, harvardmagazine.com/2003/03/unveiled.html.
Tack, Augustus Vincent. “Grenville Lindall Winthrop (1864-1943).” Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/311401.
Wharton, Edith. Xingu and Other Stories. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916. Hathitrust, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044090094442&view=1up&seq=1.
Wharton, Edith. Xingu. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/24131/24131-h/24131-h.htm.