Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Alexander Dyce (2)

Biography: edit

Alexander Dyce, born on June 30th, 1789, was a Scottish editor who took interest a number of writers works, most notably William Shakespeare. Throughout Dyce’s time analysing and editing the works of prominent individuals of his time, his work is described to be extremely honest and detailed, considered in the eyes of scholars to contain immense integrity[1]. Alexander Dyce was born in Edinburgh where he spent majority of his childhood and received his high school education. Dyce later moved to London to receive his higher education, becoming a student at the University of Oxford in which he studied a Bachelor of Arts and immersed himself deeply in the world of literature. This point in Dyce’s life holds extreme significance as it provided him the knowledge to further improve his literary skills making him a credible writer and allowing him to interpret texts of prominent figures of this period. During his time as an undergraduate Dyce edited a dictionary of the language of Shakespeare, acting as his first notable piece of work in the world of literature. For a short period of time after graduating from the University of Oxford, Dyce served as a curate in Cornwall and Suffolk, this was seen as common from a number of figures within this context of 19th century England due to the influence religious factors had upon individuals of the public. After serving in religious duties Dyce then settled in London where he devoted himself to literature and published majority of his works. Dyce then died on May 15th, 1869, living to the age of 80 and dying in London, the region in which he spent majority of his lifetime as an editor and writer.

Works: edit

Throughout Alexander Dyce’s lifetime he was responsible for publishing a plethora of texts ranging from poetic analysis, editorial texts as well as a number of his own personal play writes. The National Art Library, located in London England possesses ‘The Dyce Collection’,[2] a text that withholds a vast array of Alexander Dyce’s work. This collection holds literacy from a number of topics and authors of the period in which Dyce was undertaking study in literature. The text contains an abundance of classic secular scholarly works that Dyce closely analysed during his time of writing. Although this collection is not original writings from Dyce himself it still acts as a reflection of his character and the works that he considered significant during his time devoting himself to writing in London. Upon the multitude of works created by Dyce, his most notable piece of writing was his six-volume edition of the works of Shakespeare [3](1857; rev. 1864-67) which was seen as a significant contribution to 19th century Shakespearean scholarship. Chronologically speaking Dyce’s first books were that of translations of the following texts including,’ Quintus Smyrnaeus’ (1821), and ‘Specimens of British Poetesses ‘(1825), establishing himself in the world of poetic analysis. Additionally, other aspects of Dyce’s work that was critically acclaimed was his annotated editions of works from a multitude of authors. This includes the works of significant figures such as George Peele, Robert Greene, John Webster, Thomas Middleton, Marlowe and Beaumont and Fletcher. In the later years of his career Dyce published an edition of the works of John Skelton (1843), a British born satirical poet and in doing this revived his interest in this particular 16th century poet[4]. Through his close ties with a number of literary societies Dyce was also able to undertake the publishing of a number plays from this specific period. Due to his presence within literary societies Dyce was able to publish ‘Kemp’s Nine Days’ Wonder for the Camden Society, a writing that depicts the rather odd actions of one of the individuals who had resigned from Shakespeare’s company. Other notable works that links Dyce to Shakespeare was his publication of the old plays including ‘Timon of Athens’ (1842), and ‘Sir Thomas More’ both published by him for the Shakespeare society. Alexander Dyce’s career depicts that of an individual who took care and integrity while analysing a number of works from a number of writers, ensuring that his texts were viewed through a lens of approval from fellow scholars. His close ties to a number of literary societies made him a valuable figure to a number of the cultures active during 19th century English literature.

Reputation/Legacy: edit

Through the eyes of modern-day scholars, Alexander Dyce is viewed as a writer who has produced a number of highly credible pieces of literature. It is also stated that he contributed to the works of women’s writers during the time which is often overlooked due to his other works associated with Shakespeare to have claimed more fame. It is stated Dyce “published a remarkable anthology of poetry by women writers from Juliana Berners to L.E. Landon”[5], (Salzman, 2018). He was also viewed as a credible source in depicting his context and the texts within it with Salzman writing “Dyce’s volume not only exemplifies the remarkably catholic taste of the nineteenth century editor, but it also serves as a paradigm for how the transmission of texts by the early modern women continued into the nineteenth century”. This further solidifies the overall positive reputation and legacy that Alexander Dyce’s writings hold due to the fact it touches on a multitude of components of early modern literature, ranging from renaissance poetry and extending into the women’s writings that was prominent throughout his career as a writer. These comments made by a modern-day scholar as well as the republication of his works of ‘Will Kemp’s 9 Days Wonder’, illustrates that his works are viewed to have attained textual integrity, still resonating with modern day readers and has solidified himself as a prominent writer of the 19th century.  

[1] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2022), ‘Alexander Dyce’.

[2] Victoria and Albert Museum (2022), ‘National Art Library Dyce Collection’.

[3] The Editors of Good Reads (2016), ‘The Poetical Works of William Collins, Alexander Dyce’.

[4] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2022), ‘John Skelton’.

[5] Paul Salzman (2018), ‘How Alexander Dyce Assembled Specimens of British Poetesses: A Key Moment in the Transmission of Early Modern Women’s Writing.