(Conference paper delivered at Univ. of Pittsburgh, March 2016. Many of the illustrations are well-known already; some I have used in other presentations. Together here, I hope to illustrate my comments on the functions of archives.)
A key distinction needed for my argument is not always made by students of literature today. It distinguishes works (which are verbal mind constructs created in acts of reading) from books (which are material objects created by authors, publishers, and printers). Literary critics confront literary works (verbal mind abstractions) by looking through the printed page. Textual critics confront archival books (textual material objects) by looking at the printed page. The physical copy of the book, which the critic holds, represents the literary work, verbal art, created in the reader's mind as a reading experience. It is interesting to note that the book the critic holds is just a copy; it is not the original nor "the thing itself". It might be interesting to ask, "From which previous copy was the present copy copied?" That is different from asking, "Of what is my copy a copy?"
If I hold the Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick edited by Hayford and Parker, the answer to the first question (what was my copy copied from?) would be "It is a slightly altered copy of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition, edited by Hayford, Parker, and Tanselle, which itself was copied eclectically from a combination of [Slide] the first American and first British editions, with additional editorial emendations thrown in."
The answer to the second question (what is my Norton Critical Edition a copy of?) would be, "This is a copy of the novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville." (I'm sorry, there is no image of the novel itself , whatever that is when it is experienced in the minds of readers.) It is rather important to distinguish, therefore, the work as a verbal art experienced in reading from its representation in any given physical copy. This distinction is subtle and problematic when one observes that the manuscript of Moby-Dick was (it no longer exists)--was just the first copy of the work. What are we to do with the facts that, first, every copy of the work differs from every other copy? and, second, no copy of the work is the work itself? and, third, every copy of the work represents the work in some sense? The first step in sorting out this tangle is, I think, to say that a literary work is a cognitive construct, a mental construct or abstraction created by reading, while the book is a physical object. The science/ art of exploring the relationship between the physical book and the verbal work is called textual criticism. Literary critics who prefer soft swampy fields of play or foundations in shifting sand do well to avoid textual criticism.
There is a sense, however, in which we are all both literary and textual critics, and we are best when we are both. The more I know about each field the more their supporting evidence, methods, and goals invade each other's territory. I've come to think that separating literary from textual criticism is murdering to dissect. Yet, it is common for critics and students to treat the copy in hand as if it were the work, untroubled by the evidence from the archive.
What are the questions that literary / textual critics can ask when confronted by the archive. (Wouldn't it be nice if the archive came to us and confronted us?) I have made a list of seven questions from FAQs to SAQs (Frequently asked to Seldom asked). As for which questions are the most important or the most interesting--each of us is likely to choose a different order for the list.
Probably the most frequently asked question when confronted by the fact that early copies of a work (indeed all copies) differ in wording and punctuation is:
1. Which is correct? The assumption is that one reading is the correct one and all the rest are errors. Sometimes this is so. This question reflects a simple desire: Give me the right text please, and don't bother me with the boring details of textual comma counting. Of course, sometimes nobody knows which is right or which is wrong. Fredson Bowers called these situations "indifferent" not because he did not care but in allusion to the center of indifference--that point between the poles of a magnet where the pull in each direction is equal. Nevertheless, errors have been made and some can be identified. We divide them into innocent and sophisticated errors. An innocent error is an inadvertent error which usually strikes the reader as an error and can usually be fixed in one's mind while reading. We often call them typos. It is surprising how easily readers auto-correct innocent errors.
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Sophisticated errors, by contrast, create readings that are real words. Sometimes, like an innocent mistake, the error is obvious but the correction is not. An example comes from William Thackeray's Vanity Fair. At the sale of the bankrupt Sedley household, the auctioneer offers for sale the picture Becky Sharp had drawn of Jos Sedley riding an elephant.
William Dobbin, remembering the occasion of the drawing, reacts in a way that the auctioneer takes to be a bid. Dobbin immediately blushes and looks confused, at which the text says, "the auctioneer repeated his discomposure." No critic is on record with a successful interpretation of "the auctioneer repeated his discomposure." It is obviously an error. But the manuscript has disappeared, there is no surviving proof page, and so the only record of what Thackeray meant to write is in this botched physical survivor. We want a correct text but we can't have one. We can guess that the auctioneer respected his discomposure, which would be a bit odd, given Thackeray's own drawing of the scene, but at least "respected" makes sense. Nobody claims that it is correct.
Unfortunately sophisticated errors do not always strike the reader as an error; they are plausible, sensible, and therefore invisible or even attractive. I won't mention the wicked Bible in which we are commanded to commit adultery--though most editors insist that the word NOT was inadvertently left out. Another example of a sophisticated error is the change in Herman Melville's White Jacket (1850) where the sailor, having fallen overboard and sunk into the sea has just about given up the will to live when a "coiled" fish of the sea brushes against him, reviving him with fear and love of life.
brushed by a coiled fish of the sea 1850
Melville died in 1891
A compositor for the Constable edition of 1922, mistakenly set "soiled" instead of "coiled", which not only made plausible sense, but led F. O. Matthiessen to exclaim that the metaphorical resonances among the soiled white jacket, the sailor's soiled soul, and the sea's soiled fish could hardly have been produced by anyone but Melville. It wasn't. Matthiessen didn't know he had mistaken an error in the Constable edition for a bon mot; but some other critics have opined that if Melville did not write "soiled" he should have. So, perhaps after all we don't care if we have a correct text.
Which leads to the second question a literary critic can ask of the archive:
2. When was the textual variant introduced? This might be a variation of the first question--an attempt to determine which reading was first or older and therefore perhaps the most authentic one. If, however, we are looking for progression in the author's thinking or revision or adaptation for new audiences, we are beginning to seek facts about the textual history and potentially interesting explanations for textual difference instead of just dismissing that which we consider wrong. In the case of White Jacket, Melville died in 1891 and "soiled" made its first appearance in 1922, created by a compositor who had sophisticated the text--purposely or not.
The third question may be yet another variation of the first two questions, asked in an attempt to determine the correct text so we can ignore all the incorrect ones--unless they appear to be attractive sophistications.
3. Who made the change? The likely suspects include the author, the secretary, the publisher's copy-editor, the compositor, a censor, someone from the marketing department hoping for more sensation, or someone from the liability department hoping for less. If we can pin the textual change on one of these suspects, will we then be able to value one reading over the other? Are we still stuck in the first question, trying to find out which text is the one and only one we have to deal with and which ones we should avoid--now, perhaps not because they are incorrect, but because they are "less authentic"? Or, perhaps better, are we now asking interesting questions about the voices in the text and the effects of who said what?
In the case of White Jacket, it is difficult to argue that the 1922 compositor had the "authority" to introduce changes, though, of course, he had the power. [Slide]What about the case of Shakespeare's Hamlet in which Hamlet laments either his "too sullied flesh" (Q1 1603), his "too sallied flesh" (Q2 1604), or his "too solid flesh" (Folio 1623). Who did it is hard to say, for though Shakespeare was alive for Q1 and Q2, he is not known to have had anything to do with those publications, and he was dead by the Folio. And yet, might the copies the editors of the folio used have been seen by Shakespeare? We do not know.
What about an aspect of the book that is not textual but is significant? Lord Byron's Don Juan was first published in a large, expensive edition[Slide] with large margins and elegant type.
It was, therefore, literary art--although the publisher, John Murray, did not identify his publishing house on the title page or anywhere else in the book. But the millions of copies of pirated editions that followed almost immediately were small things, on cheap paper, at cheap prices.
Were they, therefore, soft porn instead of high art? Who did it? In both cases, the decisions about format, and therefore the impact that the material presence had on readers, was more likely to have been made by a publisher than an author. Should the question be "Which is the correct form?" or should it be "What impact does a book's physical form have on a reader's creation of the literary work, the verbal mind object, represented by the book?"
Or take the case of two poems by the Tasmanian poet Gwen Harwood, ``Eloisa to Abelard" and ``Abelard to Eloisa," under the pseudonym Walter Lehmann, published in and then immediately suppressed by The Bulletin (a Sydney literary magazine).
Several years ago an Australian friend gave me a photocopy of these poems and told the following story: the author had already published under the same male pseudonym in The Bulletin and had written a bitter complaint to the editor that her poems were distorted in publication by having all lines pushed over flush left, destroying, thereby, significant levels of indentation. The editor replied that the magazine's column format influenced the policy, which was applied indiscriminately to all Bulletin poetry. According to my informant, Harwood then wrote and submitted the two poems reproduced here. She submitted them, it was said, with varying degrees of indentation, and the editors predictably and indiscriminately ``suppressed" the author's intentions by printing all lines flush left---creating, thereby, the ``inadvertent" acrostic message, readable vertically down the left column: `` Fuck all editors. So long Bulletin." From that story I concluded that it is important to ask "Who did this?"
Facsimile of The Bulletin, 5 August 1961, p. 33.
I subsequently found that no one, including the author, Gwen Harwood, remembers the sequence of events in the way I have described them. In fact, no one has the same story to tell. Another Australian acquaintance actually asked Ms Harwood if the account I have given here was true, and she denied it, albeit forty years after the fact. Regardless of the accuracy of the explanations for the physical poems, my point is that a sense of agency (whether the historically correct one or not) is a determining factor in every reader's interpretation of the text.
The questions prompted by the first, probably erroneous, tale remain the important ones: Whose intentions are fulfilled? Is this the social contract at work? Has cultural materialism expressed the mind of society? Has language spoken the author? Every interpretation of the poems implies or states answers to these questions. A biographer's, a literary critic's, and an editor's question's all converge: is this an innocent pair of poems with a structural element of bad taste and bitter recrimination? or are there other interpretive matters at work here? When Eloisa says to Abelard ``Solace and hope depart" is that the author's explanation for her decision to say So Long to the Bulletin? When Eloisa calls Abelard ``the faint ghost of a remembered dream" and concludes that she ``reap[s] the harvest of my own desire," is the author really referring to this act of bibliographical revenge? Is the final line a warning to the editors of the Bulletin that ``No heart escapes the torment of its choice"---in this case the choice to ram all lines flush left? These examples demonstrate that we frequently take poems, and probably novels and short stories and plays, to be hermetically sealed art objects, isolated from their context of origination, perhaps because we do not have enough training in confronting and reading the clues in the archive.
4. Why was the change made? Of course, it will help in determining why a change was made if we know who did it, but that is not always necessary. Corrections in spelling, punctuation, and grammar are sometimes thought to have self-evident motivations. That works okay unless on is reading or editing Finnegans Wake, or The Sound and the Fury, and such. But when one perfectly good word is changed to another perfectly good word, or when one sentence or phrase is dropped from or added to the text, the critic in us, one hopes, starts by searching for answers. If we don't know who made the change, when it was made, or why it was made, we might be tempted to make up explanations that pass a plausibility test, not a test verified by the archive. Given the archive, we are not always thrown upon the resources of our own imaginations to answer the question: Why was the change made?
For example, in Thackeray’s The History of Henry Esmond (1852) there is a scene near the end of volume one of this “three-decker novel” depicting Henry coming home on holiday from the university and being greeted with joy by his foster mother, Rachel Esmond, and her two children, all of whom soon troop up to see Henry’s room, freshly gotten up by Rachel. In every edition from 1852 to 1989, we read that Henry and Rachel go up “hand in hand.” The phrase is not unusual, but Rachel is in a difficult marriage; Henry is only a few years younger than his foster mother; she soon becomes a widow; and in volume three, they marry. So, a careful reader might be justified in seeing this hand-holding as an early indication of things to come. In the manuscript that served as setting copy, however, the first word in the phrase “hand in hand” is squeezed in, almost illegibly, at the margin and in fact says “hat”—Henry goes up “hat in hand.” As a significant phrase about the relationship between Rachel and Henry, “hand in hand” comes far too early and the material evidence of the extant manuscript points strongly to the conclusion that the compositor created an adventitious reading—or let’s just say it: an error. That is to say, the reason the change was made is that the compositor did not have time to decipher a cramped word squeezed into a tight corner and instead set the first thing that came to mind as a potential reading. Needless to say, he got away with it for well over a century.
On the other hand, in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, the surviving manuscript says of Becky Sharp that "Ill-natured persons say that her birth preceded the lawful celebration of her excellent parents' marriage." This hand-written indication that Becky is, what at the time would have been thought of as a natural born bastard, not just a self-made one, is deleted and replaced by the comment: "And it was curious to note how as time passed this young lady’s ancestors advanced in rank and splendour"—a comment referring to Becky's ability to enhance her past as needed. There is little question about who made the change (Thackeray) or when it was made (during proofreading); and the reason for the change is not a wild speculation, just a mild one--that it is a case of self-censorship, appropriate for a mid-Victorian mainstream novel. I think, however, we are happy to know what Thackeray's first thought about Becky was.
5. What do I do if both (or all three or four) variants make sense and I cannot pin any of them on a nefarious interloper? Here, on a grand scale, we have an "indifferent variant"--one where our search for evidence leaves us with an unguided choice. A E Housman describes the situation memorably of the reader/editor caught between two equally attractive textual possibilities by comparing him to an ass equidistant from two bales of hay. Such critics think, Housman said, that by arbitrarily choosing one hay bale or variant over the other their ears will get shorter.
Emily Dickinson's F1460A is an untitled poem [Slide] which illustrates her way of trying alternative words without, in the end, choosing a "correct" version. One could be frustrated by such an indecisive poet, as if she couldn't finish. Or one could learn to read as she wrote. We could perhaps read her poem as if it were a bit richer than conventional poems.
We can explore together.
A chilly peace infests the Grass
maybe that does not quite get it right, so let's try
A lonesome peace infests the Grass
and then let's try
A warming peace
These three alternative forms are not resolved. Let us revel in all three without actually making the poem longer; it is either a chilly Peace, a lonesome Peace, or a warming Peace or a bit of all three. One's mind can easily grasp the suggestive complexity.
The Sun respectful lies -- Not any Trance of Industry
These shadow scrutinize--
Or is it: The shadows? Why, having written These Shadows did ED think that The shadows might be closer to the mark? or is it? She does not say. But we sense the difference between These and The and the ambivalence that distinguishes the specificity or generality of shadows.
Whose Allies go no more astray
or wait, perhaps astray is a bit strong, let's try Whose Allies go no more abroad
For service or for Glee --
But wait again, perhaps not for service, perhaps for Honor, or wait again, perhaps for welcome.
Is it astray or abroad? Is it for service, honor or welcome -- which is the best or most evocative or most appropriate contrasting alternative to Glee?
But all mankind deliver here from whatsoever Sea
Or should that be Though all mankind deliver here?
No, perhaps mankind cruise softly here from whatsoever Sea--
Or once again, perhaps they row softly or sail softly
or finally perhaps mankind do anchor here from whatsoever Sea.
I do not see any mistakes. I see no errors. I see variant readings that each have or had an appeal to the author. The temptation for many editors has been to do the choosing for ED and end up with one continuous text to be read linearly. My point here is that the choices are indifferent--held motionless between the poles of the magnet, pulled equally by the surviving evidence. Any choice made by any editor will be arbitrary--based on personal predilection, not on archival evidence. The choice will have no shortening effect on the editor's ears; but it will shorten and impoverish the poem for readers.
Before moving to the sixth question to ask the archive, can we just let go of the notion that there is always a correct or even a preferable text that is the one we wish to represent the work, world without end, amen. You do not need to let go of the notion that some texts are wrong. Some texts are wrong. Many texts are wrong. But it does not follow that one text is right or even that, with enough diligence we can create one text that will be the right one. Error we abhor, so, off with its head--that is, if you are sure it is an error--or that it is not an interesting and useful error. But, can we just learn to live with viable alternative texts and ask some decent questions when we confront the archive? Can we not, in full textual awareness, just say which text of the work am I talking about? and also say, here are some reasons I've chosen to talk about this text rather than that other one? or even to say, actually I want to talk about both or several texts and show how knowledge of the alternative texts has helped me as a critic. These seem to me better than pretending that there is one correct text, the well-wrought urn.
6. What effect on my reading is had by each viable alternative text? This question is similar to but crucially different from the question: What motivated this change in the first place? --which is a question about authorial intention, to which you do not have access. But the question you can answer, both accurately and in a variety of ways, is: What effect on my reading is had by each viable alternative text? Perhaps it will coincide with what motivated the author, perhaps not. Perhaps you will contemplate the effect, not of each reading in turn, but of each reading held in tension against its alternative. In any case, it will have caused you to think deeply about a passage of text which had also troubled the author.
The poem we've just looked at, to illustrate the situation when we have alternatives that all make sense, also illustrates the richness of seeing alternatives. Read in a way that holds the alternatives as pending choices can make the poem speak more eloquently in their ambivalence than any one of them would have spoken in marble-smooth singularity. I do not think I want a correct text of this poem. I think rather that this complex dialogue between author and paper is very clearly written already--correct in its multiple ambiguities.
7. If I scrutinize each variant, including errors and nefarious interferences, and if I try to see where some of the work's locutions came from, as in allusions to, or phrases quoted (or misquoted) from other sources, and if I try to trace the genetic progression of the text, would I be able to see an authors mind a work? would I be able to see the birth and growth of a work? would I be able to watch as trial passages were replaced by new efforts? would I be able to participate both intellectually and emotionally in the momentum of creation? might I also get the sense that when the archive gives out, and the librarian says there are no further forms of this work to look at, might I feel that the author has abandoned, rather than finished, the work--all the copies amounting to a series of efforts pursued until exhaustion or distraction interfered? What then would you say to the critic who just wanted the correct text and please do not bother me with the details?
Of course, authors do not always hold choices pending and unresolved. They cancel (that is, they reject unequivocally) manuscript passages short and long for many reasons. Were they errors? were they less felicitous locutions? did the author change her mind? did a new creative surge wash out a previously interesting but perhaps less interesting effort? How can we answer such questions without seeing the archive as a rich resource for critical thinking on our part and not just as a way to resolve textual cruxes? And if the author on a death bed requests that manuscripts be burned, are we willing to comply? Or do we register the request and hold it as one of the lights by which we examine the manuscripts?
The scholar for whom the chair in Textual Studies I held at Loyola University Chicago gives us a brief example of how an author's mind mulls a word over time. Of the changes Martin J. Svaglic traced in the textual history of John Henry Cardinal Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua, perhaps the smallest and most interesting is the triad of variants revealing Newman's developing attempt to make the doctrine of eternal punishment seem less terrible.
In 1864 he wrote that the doctrine could be "less terrible to the 'reason'"; the next year he changed it to "less terrible to the 'intellect'"; and, finally, in 1886 he wrote, "less terrible to the 'imagination.'" None of these readings is incorrect; each was the word Newman chose for each publication. If one tries to trace the possible motives for these changes or, with more confidence, the differences they make upon our understanding of what part of our being engages with a doctrine of eternal punishment (reason, intellect, or imagination), it should be much clearer why an interest in textual histories is not focused primarily or only on which is the correct text.
For a far more detailed and convincing example, I will just refer you to a new book about to be published call How Borges Wrote by Daniel Balderston. There is a huge problem with confronting the Borges archive. His manuscripts are scattered to the winds and found in bits and pieces here and there. Daniel has spent forty years on what is a bit like a global Easter Egg hunt and has created a surrogate archive of Borges manuscripts, complete with hovering guidance helping readers look at the myriad photos he has produced. He has exposed so much richness there that other books could / should be written to tease out the joys of his archiving work.
Confronting the archive is not boring or trivial; it is not just a duty or responsibility; it is not just for the bibliographers, collectors, and textual critics; it is exciting and critically rewarding--for those who have eyes to see and at least seven questions to ask. If you doubt that, take a look at
Dirk Van Hulle ,Manuscript Genetics, Joyce's Know-How, Beckett's Nohow . University Press of Florida, 2008.
Daniel Balderston. How Borges Wrote. University of Virginia Press. Forthcoming, 2017.
Paul Eggert. Biography of a Book: Henry Lawson's While the Billy Boils. Penn State Univ. Press, 2013.
Luca Crispi. Joyce's Creative Process and the Construction of Characters in Ulysses: Becoming the Blooms. Oxford Univ. Press, 2015.