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NMSU English professor edits 200-year-old manuscript

After multiple cross-Atlantic trips, hundreds of hours spent pouring over thousands of handwritten pages and six years of dedication, a New Mexico State University professor is making sure an 18th century poet gets the attention she deserves.

Headshot of Harriet Linkin
Harriet Linkin, a professor and director of undergraduate studies in the English department at New Mexico State University, has published 'Selena,' a book by Mary Tighe, an 18th-century poet from Ireland. (Courtesy photo)

The first-ever print edition of "Selena," written by Mary Tighe and edited by Harriet Kramer Linkin, a professor of English at NMSU, comes out in May of this year. The department is in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Linkin specializes in British Romanticism, and she says that when she was in graduate school the poets associated with the period were all male. But she quickly discovered Tighe, a female poet from the era, and has since dedicated much time and effort toward ensuring that her work is published.

"Many writers had an advocate, like me, who would say, this is someone worth studying," Linkin said. "Selena" is the second of Linkin's books on Tighe.

Some of Tighe's work was published by her family shortly after her death, but many more poems and this novel were largely ignored until Linkin became Tighe's advocate. Linkin says that during that period publication meant becoming a public person, and a woman in the public eye was often considered improper.

"Her family published the poems that presented her as the most proper, spiritual and religious person," she said. "They left out poetry about passion."

Linkin says the novel may or may not be autobiographical, but it is quite different from the poetry that Tighe's family thought fit to share.

"It's filled with sharp commentary about life in Dublin, family relationships, people wanting to commit suicide because they were thwarted in love," Linkin said. "I think this novel will open up a whole new reputation for her."

In 1996, Linkin received a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences that funded a trip to Dublin where Linkin would look at some of Tighe's surviving journals with the intent of researching her life and poetry. During that trip she went to the National Library where she saw the massive manuscript for the first time.

"I wanted to take a look at it to see if it was worth reading," she said. "For the first one hundred pages, I thought it wasn't worth reading. But after page 100, it exploded and I couldn't put it down."

Findings from Linkin's first trip turned into her first book on Tighe, "The Collected Poems and Journals of Mary Tighe." On her second trip to Ireland, Linkin got copies of the manuscript for "Selena."

The transcription process for a 2,500-page manuscript was, in Linkin's words, super challenging. The manuscript used words from six different languages, and was written in the old fashioned style where the S looks like a modern F.

"I would think, what is this word 'bafte'?" she said. "It took me a while to realize that it was an old-style S."

After six years of tirelessly reading through and transcribing the manuscript multiple times, Linkin is excited that Tighe's writing will finally be recognized.

"It's taken 200 years, but she's finally gotten to be where she needs to be," Linkin said.

"Selena" will be available to the public on May 28, and is published by Ashgate Publishing Company. The book can be purchased on their website, www.ashgate.com.