George Eliot’s Victorian novel Middlemarch is no stranger to remediation: first published in serial form in 1871-2, it appeared in a single volume in 1874. BBC adapted Middlemarch twice for a television series of the same name that aired in 1968 and again in 1994.
The goal of the Digital Middlemarch Project is to take this remediation process another step forward in order to produce an object that is as representative of the novel as it is informative and comprehensive. The Project aims to create a digital version of the extensive character relationships in the novel, spatially and quantitatively mapping the social networks that Eliot creates in the novel, which takes A Study of Provincial Life as its subtitle. Not only will the final object visually demonstrate the links between the novel’s characters, but it will also define the types of relationships that characters share as well as their relative strengths of bond.
The creation of this digital object asks the question, “Why?”. Why create a digital version of something when a literary version already exists? What have we to gain by analyzing George Eliot’s original and brilliant (and massive) text and trying to present that data in a visual model? The answer lies somewhere in between two other questions: “Why not?” and “What does it really mean to read?” The first question is as unsatisfying an answer as it is seems perhaps tongue-in-cheek, but it is nonetheless relevant. The tools for creating digital objects of literature already exist and can be applied to a wide range of projects, and until we utilize these tools for projects, we won’t know their full capacities and limitations. On the other end of the spectrum, the Digital Middlemarch Project is an experiment in reading. The digital model only represents objective data, but that data was gathered from reading the novel. In determining how to assign numerical values to the social relationships in Middlemarch, our group had to create rules, which shaped our rereading of the novel. We read to find particular relationships, and we read to determine the strengths of those relationships. Reading is the original source of the Digital Middlemarch Project, but analyzing the project’s final object will also involve a kind of reading.
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