Collaborative Literature

June 1, 2006
Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad. © Bettmann / CORBIS

Ford Madox Ford

Ford Madox Ford. © E.O. Hoppè / CORBIS

Poets sharing rhymes, novelists drafting fiction together--projects like these actually predate the digital age and our modern culture of collaboration.

Indeed, a newly acquired collection demonstrates that literary collaboration has been a tool employed by writers for hundreds of years.

Early in the eighteenth century, Thomas Burnet and George Duckett collaboratively wrote and published a satirical story. By the end of the century, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were working in partnership, writing and collecting poems that they issued anonymously under the title Lyrical Ballads. This work, one of the most important publications of the nascent Romantic movement, is also one of the most celebrated early examples of collaborative literature.

As publishing and readership exploded in the nineteenth and early-twentieth century, so, too, did literary collaboration. A broad array of traditional literature, popular novels, and fiction intended for a juvenile audience was produced by two or more authors working together. An excellent example from the early-twentieth century is the short series of novels Joseph Conrad wrote in cooperation with Ford Madox Ford. Conrad produced these collaborative novels at the same time that he was also working independently on other publications.

The stories and methods of the collaborations are as varied as the finished works themselves. There have been collaborations between husband and wife, siblings, parents and children, and two or more established writers, as well as many other combinations. In the resulting works, numerous decisions, negotiations, and internal divisions are resolved.

The library's new collection of collaborative literature, which encompasses more than 400 works published from the eighteenth to the early-twentieth century, promises to be a rich resource for future scholarship.