1. Gezelle’s Letters

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The enormous collection of Gezelle’s letters constitutes a fundamental part of the Guido Gezelle Archives of the Public Library Bruges. The collection consists of about 7000 letters addressed to Gezelle and about 600 written by the poet himself. Outside this collection, a number of letters are in private possession or located in other institutions. Yet other letters, whose location is unknown, are only available in the form of a publication or a copy. The edition will include all these letters.

Gezelle often considered these letters as mere tools. He used the texts for articles in his magazines, wrote poetry on them, or cut them up into index cards for linguistic notes. Based on the handwriting, contents, paper, ink, and watermark of these fragments, a number of letters were reconstructed by the Gezelle Archives, the University of Antwerp, and within this edition project. This has uncovered some hitherto unknown materials.

The letters give an insight into the life and work of one of the most important writers in the canon of Dutch literature. Moreover, the correspondence is of great value for the study of 19th-century religious life, education, press, linguistics, folklore, and mentality history.

Find out more about Gezelle’s letters at gezelle.be.

2. Subprojects

The digital edition project of the entire Gezelle correspondence is divided over several subprojects.

College of Saint Louis (April 2017 - December 2020)
The first subproject concerns the letters written between Gezelle and the teachers at the College of Saint Louis in Bruges. This corpus consists of 498 letters. The college of Saint Louis was an important catholic school in 19th-century Bruges. Prominent people such as Leonard De Bo and Hugo Verriest figured among its teachers. Some of these teachers kept corresponding with Gezelle all their lives.
Find out more about this subproject and these correspondents at gezelle.be.
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The members of the Royal Flemish Academy of Linguistics and Literature (January 2021 - September 2022)
In March 2020, another subproject of the digital edition of the Guido Gezelle correspondence started. An expanded group of volunteers set out to edit the letters between Gezelle and the members of the Royal Flemish Academy of Linguistics and Literature in Ghent, including corresponding and foreign members. The Academy had been founded on July 8th, 1886, with Guido Gezelle among its founding members. This resulted in an intensive correspondence with his fellow KANTL members, consisting of about 1.000 letters in all, and involving prominent figures of literary life in Flanders, Northern France, the Netherlands, and Friesland in those days. In general, the tone of the letters is more business-like when literary and linguistic items are concerned. During the monthly meetings, a warm friendship arose with some of the members in particular. As Gezelle kept up a lively correspondence with many members of the Academy, this corpus contains extensive collections of letters exchanged with Edward Gailliard, Johan Winkler, Alfons Janssens, en Jan Bols, etc.
Find out more about this subproject and these correspondents at gezelle.be.
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Women of paper (October 2022 – present)
In October 2022, a third subproject called "Women of Paper", subsidized by the Flemish government, commenced. During his lifetime, Gezelle corresponded with over 200 women, ranging from baroness to factory girl, from confessor to family member. In other words, these female letter writers came from different layers of society. They not only wrote from Flanders, but also from France, Germany, Ireland and England. The women contributed to Gezelle’s literary work or sought advice on personal issues. Their letters form an unexplored cultural heritage, with a distinctive style and theme. Often candid, the ego documents provide a cross-section of 19th-century society. They offer a unique insight into the poet and his work.
Find out more about this subproject and these correspondents at gezelle.be.
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3. Participation Project

Scholars from different backgrounds are sharing their knowledge for this project. Four partners have joined forces:

  • Volunteers of the Guido Gezelle Society work on Guido Gezelle’s correspondence;
  • The Guido Gezelle Archives (Public Library of Bruges) coaches the volunteers, supplies the digitized letters, and is responsible for the final editing;
  • The work of the volunteers is an expansion and continuation of an earlier inventorying and editing project of the Gezelle Research Centre (Antwerp University – Prof. Couttenier);
  • The Centre of Scholarly Editing and Document Studies (CTB) of the Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature is responsible for the development of the digital edition, and provides technical support for the project.

Find out more about the participation project at gezelle.be.

Meet the volunteers at gezelle.be.

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For letters kept in other repositories, the following partner institutions kindly offered support or provided digital facsimiles:

  • Bruges Culture Library
  • State Archives Kortrijk
  • Westflandrica, Trezoor Kortrijk
  • English Convent Bruges
  • Bruges City Archives
  • De Bethune Foundation
  • Ghent University Library
  • Ghent Archives
  • KANTL Archives
  • Regional Archives Nijmegen & Catholic Documentation Center, Radbout University Nijmegen
  • Leiden University Library
  • House of Literature Antwerp
  • FelixArchief, Antwerp City Archive
  • Jean van Caloen Loppem Foundation

4. Letter Title and Dating

Within the digital edition, every letter is a consultable document of its own. The title line at the top of each letter shows the date and place of sending, and names of the sender and recipient. These data are found in the catalogue of the Guido Gezelle Archives.

5. Transcription

In order to preserve the source’s historical character, the letters were transcribed diplomatically, without line breaks or hyphenation marks and without the addition of corrections or normalizations. Illegible characters are being transcribed with “x”.

A diplomatic transcription can disturb the searchability of a digital correspondence edition. Therefore, normalizations and corrections were inserted into a separate encoding layer, allowing the edition to be searched for the normalized text. For the same reason, abbreviations were expanded in this encoding layer, too.

6. Annotations

The transcriptions of the letters have been enriched with annotations, concerning:

  • persons
  • institutions
  • places
  • titles of works and poems by Gezelle
  • events in Gezelle’s life

Where necessary, annotations have been added, with bibliographical explanations and contents clarifications. We also clarify double use of letters (e.g., a letter with a hand-written poem on it).

7. Metadata

In the underlying encoding of the letters the following metadata have been documented:

  • Colophon with information such as editor and project data.
  • Letter and document description from the catalogue of the Guido Gezelle Archives, including sender, recipient, place and date of writing, holding institution, description of physical characteristics.
  • A summary of the encoding principles.

8. Method

The volunteers are assigned various correspondents, whose letters they transcribe in a Word document. In order to reduce the risk of version conflicts, the transcriptions are being edited online and saved in the cloud (using the Microsoft OneDrive service). The editing process consists of three phases :

1. Transcription
The text of the letters is transcribed by volunteers following a diacritical notation system. Title information is formalized referring to the record number in the catalogue of the Guido Gezelle Archives. The text structure of the letters is marked with custom Word styles.
2. Edition
Editorial clarifications are added in footnotes. Within the text of the letters, names of persons, institutions, places, titles of works or poems by Gezelle, and events in Gezelle’s life are identified and linked to external registers containing extensive information.
3. Registers
Parallel to the letter transcriptions, registers are kept, containing structured information about persons, institutions, places, titles of works or poems by Gezelle, and events in Gezelle’s life identified in the letters. These registers are kept in spreadsheets in the cloud, which makes them accessible and editable for all project volunteers. Each entity identified is given a unique identification code that can be referred to in the letters.

Subsequently, the Word transcriptions are being converted automatically into an XML format adhering to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standard. The diacritical notation system is parsed and transformed into the corresponding TEI elements. In the process, the metadata are collected from the library catalogue and added to the letters. Each letter is thus transformed into a separate TEI document, including both a complete meta-description and the edited transcription. Also, the spreadsheets containing the register information are transformed into separate TEI documents.

Finally, the structured TEI documents are being indexed in an XML database that uses this internal structure for detailed search queries in the edition. In the edition, the different text layers in the transcription are presented in different styles (see sectie 9).

9. Presentation

The letters in the digital edition are being presented using global style sheets. The rich XML encoding allows for the definition of different rendition styles. The characteristics of these different styles will be summarized first. Next, a detailed overview is given for the different textual phenomena that have been marked in the transcription, and their presentation in the different rendition styles.

reading text
The “reading text” style shows the intended text layer of a letter. In a reading text, deletions by the writer of the letter are suppressed; text that had been added by the writer of the letter is displayed silently. Later “editorial” interventions by readers of the letters are excluded. Editorial interventions by the editors of the Gezelle correspondence are being included, as italic text between square brackets. This includes expansions of abbreviations, reconstructions of missing text, and the indication of uncertain transcriptions and omitted text.
clean reding text
The “clean reading text” style shows the intended text layer of a letter. Similar to the reading text view, deletions by the writer of the letter, and editorial interventions by later readers are being omitted. Additions by the letter writer are being shown silently. Editorial interventions by the editors of the Gezelle correspondence are being included silently (as regular text without square brackets).
The “diplomatic” style shows the base layer of a letter, including all interventions by the writer of the letter (additions and deletions), and editorial interventions and linguistic annotations by later readers. These interventions are being shown, with visual highlighting. Editorial interventions by the editors of the Gezelle correspondence are excluded from this view: abbreviations aren’t being expanded, missing text isn’t being reconstructed. Uncertain transcriptions aren’t being marked visually. Omitted text is being indicated, without square brackets and non-italicized.
The “diacritical” style shows the notation system that has been used to indicate all authorial and editorial interventions in the transcription of the letters in Word.
text encoding
The “text encoding” style shows the TEI XML encoding into which the Word transcriptions have been transformed automatically.

9.1. Authorial Interventions

textual phenomena reading text clean reading text diplomatic diacritical text encoding
authorial addition
(“a” added by the writer of the letter)
a a a <+a>
authorial deletions
(“a” deleted by the writer of the letter)
a <-a>
editorial addition
(“a” added by a later reader, identified with code ID)
a <+#ID#a>
<add hand="#ID">a</add>
editorial deletion
(“a” deleted by a later reader, identified with code ID)
a a a <-#ID#a>
<del hand="#ID">a</del>
linguistic annotation
(“a” added as linguistic annotation by a later reader, identified with code ID)
[Taalkundige notitie] a <*+#ID#a>
<note type="annotation" hand="#ID">
<add hand="#ID" type="annotation">a</add>
(“a” deleted and replaced with “b” by the writer of the letter)
b b a b {<-a><+b>}
line break [1] (s) [2] (s) (s) //

9.2. Editorial Interventions

textual phenomena reading text clean reading text diplomatic diacritical text encoding
illegible text [3] Xxxx Xxxx [Xxxx]
<gap reason="illegible" n="Xxxx"/>
line-spanning illegible text xxx...xxx xxx...xxx [xxx...xxx]
<gap reason="illegible" n="xxx​...xxx"/>
uncertain transcription
(“a” is unclear to the editor)
a a a [?a]
hesitation between uncertain readings
(the editor is uncertain whether the text reads “a” or “b”)
a/b a a {[?a][?b]}
fragment […]
<gap reason="fragment" n=""/>
damaged fragment x x [:x]
<gap reason="damage" n=""/>
editorial addition
(“a” added by the editor)
a a [+a]
uncertain editorial addition
(“a” added by the editor, who is indicating uncertainty)
a a [?+a]
<supplied cert="low">a</supplied>
editorial addition of missing text
(missing text reconstructed by the editor as “a”)
a a [:+a]
<supplied reason="damage">a</supplied>
uncertain editorial addition of missing text
(missing text reconstructed by the editor as “a”, with indication of uncertainty)
a a [:?+a]
<supplied reason="damage" cert="low">a</supplied>
editorial correction
(“a” in the original, corrected as “b” by the editor)
b b a {[-a][+b]}
expansion of abbreviation
(“a” in the original, expanded as “abc” by the editor)
abc abc a {<=a>[=abc]}


[1] only indicated if this can justify an editorial intervention
[2] silently
[3] illegible text: one “x” per estimated character, (“X” = capital letter)