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29 April 2020

Commonplacing as a Form of Self-Reflection

      The commonplacing process is one that is entirely based upon the self. The entries that are chosen for the book, the commentary that is used to enhance a reader’s understanding, and the insight that the book owner provides, are all driven by self-interest. Tom Standage explicitly states that the act of commonplacing serves “as a form of self-definition.” Therefore, the commonplace book that I have kept throughout this semester is a reflection of my “character and personality” (Standage). Through the entries I have made and the sources I have pulled from, a lot is communicated about me. The act of analyzing my commonplace book has not only consisted of learning about what defines my book, but also includes what defines me.

      My commonplace book includes an array of visual, written, and scholarly entries. I believe the best part about my commonplace book is the diversity and wide range of entries. However, this makes it somewhat harder to pinpoint and reflect on me, when there is so much to choose from. I chose to follow a similar format for each entry and for each novel; the format most often consisted of a quote from the novel in focus, a quote from the commentary found in the scholarly editions of our novel, and some sort of visual aid, most likely taken from The British Library. I have found that these venues and databases are what most clearly defines how my book is considered a reflection of me because of the way each source highlights a critical aspect of my analysis. Gravitating towards these materials reveals that I am drawn to modern and social issues, interested in literary and psychological themes, and further enhanced by raw, physical artifacts that connect to the novel. 

      One of my favorite entries communicates the fascination I find in modern and social issues. These excerpts come from my second Frankenstein entry, and my second entry in my commonplace book. The entry is pasted below, and also linked here

“While the animation scene and the developmental events that follow it invite us to compare the Creature’s experience to the trajectory of a rejected or abandoned child, after this accelerated acquisition of linguistic and other skills, the novel’s focus shifts to the question of what to do with a socially problematic and uncontrollable adult” (373).

Stoddard holmes, martha. “BORN THIS WAY: Reading frankenstein with disability.” Literature and Medicine, vol. 36, no. 2, 2018, 372-387.

This entry comments on the way in which the novel, Frankenstein, can be linked to a modern day topic of disability. The quote itself defines the creature as existing in our society as a “socially problematic and uncontrollable adult.” This reinforces that idea of “otherness” as unappealing or fearsome, seen in many of the other novels in this course. This concept was one that I used when working with other novels, in terms of recognizing this fear against something that is not “similar” to us. As we continued on reading our novels and commonplacing, I found this to be a topic that I continued to reference because of its ability to compel me to learn more. This social issue of discrimination against those with disabilities, or those that do not look or act like us, is something that intrigued me. Therefore, I made sure to include it in my book. I also chose to include the image, below, that communicates this same passion for relating the novel to a modern issue; in this case, I was looking at Genetically Modified Organisms. 

Image result for frankenfish steve greenberg"
Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Star (Calif.) 2002.

“Steve Greenberg, ‘Frankenfish’ (2009). GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or ‘Franken food’ – food either genetically modified in a lab or grown using hormones, steroids, and other scientific modifications – has been a major source of inspiration for contemporary political cartoons” (252).

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, edited by Johanna M. Smith, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1992.

I found this image to also reflect my curiosity with social or modern issues by relating the process of creating the creature to the scientific process of creating GMOs. This act of fabrication and inhumane creation peaked my interest, and compelled me to know more about the psychological, scientific, and literary themes found within these novels.

      Another entry that proved to be one of my favorites, commented on the literary and psychological themes that I was often attracted towards. This entry, found within the commentary in the scholarly edition of The Beetle, commented on this theme of narrative anxieties, not only existing within this text, but in most works in the gothic genre. The entry is pasted below, and linked here

“From all that has been said so far, it can clearly be argued that The Beetle is a novel materially engaged in an imaginative encryption of historical, cultural, and political fears emanating from and mediating particular aspects of the English psyche at the end of the nineteenth century. Such a view is supported by Roger Luckhurst, who comments of The Beetle and Stoker’s Dracula that both are ‘exemplary texts not so much of the gothic revival as the fin de siècle itself’ (Luckhurst 2000, 159). The Beetle is, moreover, exemplary of a world without a stable centre, as already intimated: it figures a site of anxiety at the dark heart of Englishness in an almost perpetually night-time London, capital of nation and empire, in which the very possibility of agency, whether individually or collectively on the part of the English, is called into question” (25). 

Introduction to The beetle: Narative Anxieties

This entry spoke to the idea of narrative anxieties as a literary, and even psychological, theme within the text and the genre. This quote is a basic culmination of my thoughts throughout this course; the idea of monsters existing as a reflection of our anxieties and fears. This entry exposed my fascination of these themes, and I often included commentary or other pieces that related to several literary or psychological themes. When thinking about this as a reflection of my personality, this is something that I have found to be true to my character throughout my life. I constantly look for overall themes, comparisons, or takeaways that can further my understanding of the topic at hand.

      Finally, the last entry in focus, taken from The British Library, a database that I tended to gravitate towards as I formed my book, presented a raw artifact that compelled my interest. Personally, I found that most of my entries, throughout the different novels, came from this source because of the physical evidence it provided. For example, in this second entry of my Jane Eyre section, I included Governess Ads from 1837. This entry, linked here, and found below, shows several governesses looking for jobs, with their qualifications found in The Morning Post. 

“Governess advertisements from the Morning Post

This entry is a reflection of my book, due to the actual content and source it exposes. The database, The British Library, reveals my natural gravitation towards sources that provide me with physical documents or pieces that can tell me more about the context of the novel or time period. As for how this relates to my “character and personality,” it shows my tendency to be drawn towards more visual and physical artifacts that can deepen my knowledge of the given novel. Viewing this artifact allows me to verify several aspects of Jane Eyre that include the literary idea of “the governess.” 

     In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed the act of commonplacing. I was new to this experience; although, I have done some journaling and scrapbooking throughout my life, which I found to relate to this process. I believe the process of commonplacing helped me to analyze what exactly peaks my interest, but also my ability to use a variety of sources and text-types to study a piece of writing. The variety of my entries spoke volumes to my character and the different ways in which I learn, reflect, and analyze. Similarly, the act of reviewing the commonplace books of my peers each week allowed me to see the ways in which I relate to my classmates. Therefore, I believe commonplace books are meant to be shared. Overall, the most important part of this process was the freedom I had when forming my entries. I was able to freely move between sources, content, and different outlets to discover what was meaningful to me. I have emerged from this act of commonplacing with a better grasp of the content in my book, but also with more knowledge of who I am and what defines me.

Works Cited
“Governess advertisements from the Morning Post.” The British Library, The British Library, 25 March 1837, 
Marsh, Richard. The Beetle, Edited by Julian Wolfreys, Broadview Press, 2004.
STANDAGE, TOM. “How Commonplace Books Were like Tumblr and Pinterest,”, May 5, 2013,