Hypertext novels have formed a genre of literature that is rapidly attaining parity with the written novel. Like other forms of digital technology, the hypertext novel requires human interaction with the text as it appears on the computer screen. It requires the reader to, in essence, create his or her own ending by clicking on certain links that dictate the direction the story can take. These storylines may be composed in different sequences, and with different elements as their focus. While at times this can get confusing for the reader, it actually gives the reader authority over the novel, and allows the reader to form various storylines within the general premise.
As one of the more popular hypertext novels, Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl tells the story of a female Frankenstein monster who is pieced together in patches. Although this hypertext is used as a classroom vehicle by which students are introduced to the genre, this novel extends beyond instructional classroom purposes. Published by Eastgate Systems in 1995, this novel fuses together words and images to create a novel that truly exemplifies the genre of postmodernism.
What is interesting about both the text and its author is that nothing about the text or its components are entirely unique, except the concept of the text itself. The Patchwork Girl, as a character, is an amalgamation of different words and images — she is actually the personification of the hypertext form. Thus, by combining text and photography, Shelley forms a character that is distinctly “hypertext” — a fragmented body compiled of various people from the past assembled into one person with universal application. Shelley Jackson, also becomes fragmented in that she adopts the concepts of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, into her own persona as the author.
Like the identity of the Patchwork Girl as a character, the entire text is compartmentalized. Although the text is composed in an ordered manner, it can be decomposed in a disorderly way. Focusing on the concepts of fragmentation, femininity, and the self, the novel explores these frames within the larger framework of the “patchwork.” The text combines these frames, or themes, within each part of the text. Nevertheless, through the reader’s choice of which links he or she wants to explore, the text can concentrate on one theme more than another.
Writing and sewing become interchangeable concepts throughout the text; the written word holds parts of the rather discursive narrative together, and sewing actually holds the body of the Patchwork Girl in form. Thus, the author puts herself into the text and interchanges her process of writing the work with the Patchwork Girl’s process of trying to stay put together. Throughout the text, the Patchwork Girl constantly falls asunder, and must recombine her parts to become a unified being.
As a contemporary feminist work, Shelley leaves the Patchwork Girl’s identity somewhat contradictory within itself. She is thus a woman, yet she is a hybrid character who is structured through various pieces of other beings. Through fragmentation and unconventionality, she rebels against the preconceived notions of femininity. While the form breaks down the elements of traditional linear narration, the text itself breaks down stereotypical notions until they disintegrate.
As the defining characteristic of hypertext works, the different parts of the text are linked together and can be interchanged with other parts to alter the storyline. Within the work itself, Jackson writes that “assembling these patched pieces in an electronic space, I feel half-blind, as if the entire text is within reach, but because of some myopic condition I am only familiar with from dreams, I can see only that part most immediately before me, and have no sense of how that part relates to the rest.” In the same way that Jackson feels disoriented, at times the reader feels as though one part of the story may not relate to the previous one. Nevertheless, the reader can customize the storyline through choosing links he or she deems appropriate.
Although this hypertext is not necessarily the most recent work in the genre, it is a precursor for many other hypertexts in that both its form and content deal with the concept of putting things together from pieces. At the Web site, www.eastgate.com/catalog/PatchworkGirl.html, you can learn anything and everything about the hypertext genre, particularly how this text was created. In addition, Patchwork Girl can be ordered directly from the site, as can other texts in the fiction, nonfiction, critical, poetic, and theoretical categories. Thus, the hypertext novel offers the reader an interactive medium of entertainment that is both stimulating and allows for audience participation.
Likewise, in the hypertext form, technology, literature, and art create a narrative of postmodern structure with the concepts of deconstruction and reconstruction at its core. Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl is an easily traversed hypertext that has become a representation of the hypertext medium at its best. Perhaps because the Patchwork Girl is herself a hypertextualized amalgamation of various mediums, this novel exemplifies the characteristic elements of this literary genre. Imparting a sense of control over the narrative, the reader can create various pathways in which the novel can follow; thus, creating his or her own “patchwork” of text. Likewise, in the hypertext form, technology, literature, and art create a narrative of postmodern structure with the concepts of deconstruction and reconstruction at its core. Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl is an easily traversed hypertext that has become a representation of the hypertext medium at its best. Perhaps because the Patchwork Girl is herself a hypertextualized amalgamation of various mediums, this novel exemplifies the characteristic elements of this literary genre. Imparting a sense of control over the narrative, the reader can create various pathways in which the novel can follow; thus, creating his or her own “patchwork” of text.
Archived article by Barbara Seigel