the Ladder is a reincarnation and gradual amplification of the erstwhile Adrian Dover’s Henry James website, formerly hosted at the University of Birmingham (UK). That site had to close down in March 2004 when the University changed its policy on hosting websites to allow only those related to employees’ “academic or administrative work”. As my job had nothing to do with Eng. Lit., being involved with library computer systems, the policy prevented me applying for space on the ‘new’ website service. Don’t ask me why the University of Birmingham was/is unable to support electronic publication of research unless they’re already paying for its creation: I only worked for them! But no wonder a 2006 ‘focus group’ exercise found that peoples’ perceptions of the University of Birmingham were that it is ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘conservative’ (how much did it cost in consultants’ fees to establish that?). At least it proved that the £250K, plus implementation, spent on a rebranding – with old fashioned logo, font etc. – about 10 years earlier achieved some effect, possibly even a desired one! After the focus group work there was another rebranding, even more expensive, but just as historic (for example the official websites didn’t use cascading style sheets, so each page had to be individually processed in the database).

The previous version of this site was started in 1998 with the intention of promoting Henry James’s tales (short stories). The first electronic text (etext) that I prepared was of one of my favourite ‘obscure’ works of James, The papers. I also compiled an index to reprints of the tales in single-author collections, that is collections containing only Henry James’s work. Subsequently, editions of many other stories were added to the site, and its aims became rather broader than focussing exclusively on tales, to include editions of some of the novels not available elsewhere. Also texts of two plays related to a particular tale were included, with parallel-text facilities. With the burgeoning amount of James text, I used my programming skills to generate a concordance to these editions. All these features have been carried forward into the current site and, having made it my starting point in 1998, The papers provided a quotation which suggested the new name for the site.

After a period of inactivity, work began in 2008 on converting all the pages of the site to XHTML 1.0 Transitional and Frameset, to ensure forwards compatibility. As you can imagine, there was a lot of work involved in this upgrade, even with the use of my custom Perl scripts to make edits on all relevant pages at the same time. In addition, I decided to add some new user-controlled features to the editions. Therefore it is only now (May 2010) that I have completed rolling out all the new pages.

In the meantime a number of smaller, new features have been implemented, such as the index to novels’ reprints – which is a summary companion to the tales’ index, showing which James text has been reprinted – and the pages of selected textual differences, which enable users to identify editions which I haven’t yet been able to examine. I have a number of other ideas lined up for future work, as well as the intention to add editions of the novels and tales listed on my editions’ menu but not yet available (for most of which I already have initial texts prepared), so don’t forget to come back to the Ladder from time to time to see what’s new.

To answer a question as to ‘why Henry James at all’, here is a little personal history : my first experience of Henry James’s work was through reading The spoils of Poynton, which was lent me by my mother after I caught the tail end of the last episode of the BBC television serialization – it was the railway scene that drew my attention! I was in my mid-teens and I cannot now claim to remember much about the impression it made on me then; however, it was obviously good enough to prompt me to buy a second-hand copy of the Penguin Modern Classics The portrait of a lady, which I read between sitting my degree finals (mathematics and music) and receiving the results (scraped a II ii, in case you wondered!). Even to a non-Eng. Lit. graduate this was a revelation and I went on, in the course of the next ten years, to read all the novels and as many of the tales as were conveniently available. At the same time my job in a university library helped me get to grips with some of the vast literature about the man and his work.

Adrian Dover – May 2010