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What is New Modernist Editing?

New Modernist Editing Research Network

Inaugural event: What is the New Modernist editing?

Elizabeth Gaskell House, 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, M13 9LW

28th October, 9.30 am-4.30pm.

Session 1: Orientating Conversations

A warm welcome was given by Bryony Randall to mark the beginning of the Network and its first workshop. BR provided an overview of the objectives of the Network.  She explained that her work as coeditor of the Collected Short Fiction for the new Cambridge University Press edition of Virginia Woolf, and then on the Dorothy Richardson Editions Project, led her to consider how many other modernist editions were underway, and the need for a forum for sharing this expertise which would bring together experts from different fields. This was demonstrated perfectly as everyone introduced themselves and their work, revealing a truly diverse range of interests and perspectives. BR outlined the three questions that will orientate our discussion:

  • What is New Modernist Editing? – for today’s meeting
  • What are the NME’s current and potential audiences? – for the February meeting
  • How does the NME respond to the new conditions of cultural production? – for the April meeting

The aim will be to articulate shared problems in the editing of new modernist texts, and to consider the importance of genetic criticism.

BR began the orientating conversations by sharing a very specific editorial challenge. She showed images from the manuscript of Virginia Woolf’s very early short story ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’ (1906), pointing out the inconsistent use of punctuation, and presence of unusually long gaps between some sentences.  The question of how to treat these editorially led to more general discussion about approaches to a draft text, particularly a ‘juvenile’ one.

The next speaker, Jason Harding, introduced his work on an edition of T.S. Eliot’s Prose. Despite the vast amount of work on Eliot, ninety percent of Eliot’s prose had not been printed when the new edition of Eliot’s work launched in 2007.  JH explained some of the inevitable challenges in editing such a vast body of work, including (for example) the question of how to deal with Eliot’s public lectures which were truncated for The Listener, rather than by Eliot himself. The subsequent discussion ranged over the opportunities offered by online editions for extensive annotation, and the potential attendant risks of inconsistent or excessive commentary; the challenge presented by the variety of printed editions of The Waste Land; and the various sociological factors involved in editing modernist texts.

Scott McCracken then presented an introduction to his work as the General Editor of the forthcoming new editions of Dorothy Richardson and mentioned that the three workshops scheduled by the Network will build up to the Remaking the New: Modernism and Textual Scholarship conference in July at Queen Mary University of London. He suggested that one focus for the Network might be the question of experiment as a distinctive part of modernist editing. SM proceeded to outline the problems of editing experimental text in relation to Richardson’s use of montage: the shifting and sliding sections within Pilgrimage and her various use of numbers or gaps to mark these sections. SM made reference to Richardson’s essay ‘Conditions for Work’ in which Richardson discusses the ideal conditions for work – which she felt were rarely met – and offers a highly gendered account of these conditions, focusing on interruptions experienced especially by women. Concluding that one can posit women’s art as a textual practice displaying these interruptions, SM suggested all of that Richardson’s might be approached as a ‘work in progress’, rather than a process leading to a final draft.

Next, Matthew Creasy introduced his edition of Arthur Symons’ The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899, 1919), noting its significant influence on the young T.S. Eliot. MC showed slides of surviving editions of Symons, which pose the problem of whether an editor ought to return to its initial periodical publication, or to use a method focusing on the final edition, which was revised by Symons. MC suggested that all editing is new in that we are always changing the way we think about a text. He also referred to readership as a possible connection with SM’s presentation: as scholars we all have a degree of interest in texts which differs from that of the general readers.

In the discussion, the group returned to problems of periodization. Perhaps this is a central issue in the ‘new modernist editing’ because the term ‘modernist’ is still so constantly contested. Scholars have to look back to antecedents to modernism as well as considering the extent to which modernist experimentation consisted of a decisive break and rupture with the past.

In the next short presentation, Jane Goldman introduced us to images of the ideal scholarly activity required by a textual editor. These included two images by Albrecht Durer, one of Saint Jerome in his study, and the famous print entitled Melancholia. JG contrasted the calm image of Saint Jerome engaged in tranquil scholarly research, to the overawed and exhausted dog cowering in Melancholia, exhausted by the demands made by an inexhaustible search for knowledge. JG contended that melancholia was a necessary state for the scholar engaged in textual editing. The work of the late David Bradshaw was given as an example of the kind of exhaustive scholarship required by a textual editor, who chose to continue this research in his last days. JG suggested that editors need a relentless dedication to explanatory notes and exegetic research since there is in principle no end to the factual details that might be offered. Despite there being a limit to the value of facts, it is the job of general editors to push editors as far as the work demands, particularly where the final text is intended to be an edition of record to last generations. JG posed the question of whether a limited interpretation of ‘facts’ could lead to a risible editorial practice – illustrated by the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore ‘Bo Dudley’ sketch.

Finally, Nathan Waddell introduced his work on the new edition of Wyndham Lewis from Oxford University press, and its associated conference Benign Fiesta: Wyndham Lewis’s Texts, Contexts, and Aesthetics scheduled to take place 11th -13th September 2017. NW informed us that most scholars working on the edition had no previous experience as editors and explained that most of the challenges of the project derive from the huge volume of Lewis’s work. Lewis also wrote in many different forms, from novels to critical prose, and was also a painter, posing a methodological problem of how to approach his different outputs. NW admitted some of Lewis’ texts are very rarely read, partly due to their problematic political content, but also due to rarity.

This was followed by a wide-ranging discussion covering the editor’s responsibility to maintain the original and playful quality of many modernist texts; a return to the question of periodisation; the censorship experienced by many modernist authors; the opportunities and limitations provided to the editor in writing an editorial introduction; and the fundamental difference between modern, particularly digital, and more traditional editorial techniques, where the former are more often devised by a whole team.

Session 2

Tribute to David Bradshaw

This session began with a tribute to Professor David Bradshaw, whose contribution to numerous editorial projects over many years had been immeasurable. Nathan Waddell invoked Professor Laura Marcus’s term ‘Bradshavian’, coined to express David’s ability to take familiar concepts and turn them on their head in the shortest essays. Nathan recalled his own personal experience of David’s generosity in academic life and then handed over to Jane Goldman and Anna Snaith to pay tribute to David.

Jane read from one of her favourite of David’s essays ‘Vanished, like Leaves’ in which he stressed the need to pay attention to the minute details of Woolf’s texts. She then read from the opening of Jacob’s Room, a choice made to affirm the persistence of her personal and professional debt to David whose words come back to her upon each re-reading of the novel.

Anna Snaith echoed Nathan’s introduction by remembering David’s vital advice as a scholar and a friend, and recalled with special fondness David’s passionate generosity and enthusiasm in providing encouragement and help to editors on the CUP edition of Virginia Woolf, even while himself preparing editions of Woolf for other presses. Anna added that David’s involvement in a vast range of editorial editions by different authors, from Huxley and Waugh to Woolf, attested to his firm belief in a democracy of reading. Concluding the tribute. Anna then read selected passages from David’s introduction to his own edition of The Waves.

Rebecca Bowler: Editing May Sinclair

Rebecca Bowler introduced the forthcoming scholarly editions of the novels and philosophical writing of May Sinclair. RB introduced the philosophical density of Sinclair’s work and shared the difficulty of dealing with this material as an editor. In the examples RB gave, it was not clear from research which of three philosophers were being alluded to in the space of a page; the passage included apparent errors in citation from philosophical works. Questions arising included the significance or otherwise of whether these errors might be deliberate; and the extent of the annotation or explanation required in densely allusive texts, including the extent to which editors ought to be familiar with key philosophical texts. In order to navigate these questions, RB pointed out that dialogue between editors, particularly those philosophers involved in the edition, has been crucial.

There followed a lively debate on the degree to which an editor can claim authority in areas outside their immediate field of expertise. Members deliberated on whether textual notes ought to refer a reader to other authorities or whether the editor must force themselves to become an expert in the interests of a modernist author. It was pointed out that this approach might risk a monistic mode of interpretation which denies other critical readings.

Martin Stannard: Editing Evelyn Waugh

Martin Stannard began by warmly acknowledging the vital work of David Bradshaw, a fellow editor on the Evelyn Waugh edition, and in particular his sense of humour. MS opened by noting the lack of any training given to scholars of his generation dealing with typescripts, and the challenges this presented in relation to the Waugh project. MS then discussed the practical problems involved in such a huge edition which includes 43 volumes, comprising everything Waugh wrote, including all extant letters, only 15% of which have previously been published. MS acknowledged his debt to the general editor Alexander Waugh who has made it possible to quote material without the financial constraints of copyright. MS also acknowledged the significant influence of literary theory on ideas of authorial intention, with its implications for the textual editor. MS stated that the editors’ approach has been to attempt to stay out of these questions as much as possible. Unless there is an error which leads to manifest absurdity the editors have included errors and inconsistencies. In the case of a correction, a textual note is included to inform the reader of the original. However, MS gave the example of a novel with an unreliable narrator (as in, for example, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Solider) where an editor might consider maintaining a spelling error as intended by the author as part of the narrator’s unreliability.

An urgent issue arose in discussion: what does an editor do with the translations of a modernist text which may have been sidelined due to the editor’s lack of knowledge of the language? If these were printed in an author’s lifetime they may have considerable influence on the development of the modernist text, especially if the modernist author revised their text alongside, and in response to, the publication of these translations.

MS acknowledged that the edition currently being produced need not have absolute authority, sparking a lively discussion about the question of editorial ‘authority,’ including whether authority might be considered extrinsic to the responsibilities of the editor. This provoked a debate on the tension between the scholar’s aim to be intellectually rigorous and the aims of a publisher’s advertising department, since publishers often want to market an edition on the basis that it is ‘authoritative’.

Session 3

Wim Van Mierlo: Editing as Mediation

In his presentation, Wim Van Mierlo returned to an issue raised earlier in the day: namely, that most editors start as literary scholars, largely because university programmes no longer offer training in historical bibliography; members of the network agreed that there is now very limited training in textual editing even at postgraduate level. WVM clarified his position that textual editing and bibliography are to be understood as separate disciplines and then outlined that a variety of terms used to define textual editing often mean the same thing, and change over time. He suggested the concept of intention could regain a central place in scholarly editing because one can argue that it is often misunderstood. It is important to focus on an author’s multiple intentions, as shown in the discussions of Sinclair and Richardson. It must however be remembered that as individuals, editors cannot reach the point of being able to second guess the author, since this would be comparable to divination. Contributions from the floor included the suggestion that any identification of intention within editorial practice is equivalent to divination.

WVM then presented the members of the network with a challenge: of two texts, Finnegans Wake and Macbeth, which would they assume poses more challenges for an editor? Intuitively a larger number of members chose Finnegans Wake, but as WVM pointed out one can argue that since there is almost no information available for the genetic critic, it is perhaps harder to edit Macbeth. Although Finnegans Wake is often a more challenging text in terms of its aesthetic quality, ninety percent of the documentation of its production is available. By contrast, there is only one surviving printed text of Macbeth and no manuscripts. This provoked a debate on whether editing is often excessively based on the identification and handling of textual error. It was suggested that faced with Macbeth we must edit one text, whereas in the case of Finnegans Wake, we must decide which text to edit.

Hans Walter Gabler: Editing ‘A Sketch of the Past’

The second presentation in this session was given by Hans Walter Gabler, who began by reminding us of the methodology employed in his edition of Joyce, a method he is now using for his work on Virginia Woolf. This method can be summed up as follows: to recognize that texts are unstable even though they strive for stability. One cause of this instability is that we destabilize a text every time we read by bringing in our own ideas. HWG contended that this is necessary since it provokes a conversation between reader and text.  This phenomenon is also true of a draft manuscript: before it is passed to a publisher, it is a text being read and altered and therefore in flux, which is one crucial reason that genetic criticism is useful.

HWG showed the network how to use new software that is still being developed which allows scholars to analyze a transcription of the different stages in the evolution of a manuscript, recording every stage of the changes Woolf herself made. The software could offer scholars the chance to visualize processes in modernist editing. It is only an approximation, but by seeing this layering one can distinguish stages of development in a text, and visualise the results of different editorial decisions. Another advantage of the software is that it allows scholars to visualize each stage as a list and to examine the stages in succession. HWG suggested that a genetic criticism of a modernist text needs a digital online edition since the two dimensional printed version is inadequate.

Issues arising in discussion included the editing of contemporary authors (who will now preserve texts in a digital age? will authors attempt to maintain track changes for future scholars); the problem of technological obsolescence (how soon will software cease to be usable?); and text recognition software (are issues and errors endemic to this technology?  would predictive text lead to more error?)

Session 4: Network outputs

In the final session, BR discussed the intended outputs of the network: a proposed special issue of a journal, and a digital edition of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Ode Written Partly in Prose on seeing the name on Seeing the name of Cutbush Above a Butcher’s shop in Pentonville’, with associated ‘practice guide’ or similar. BR explained the various possible ways in which the typography of this text could vary, contrasting Susan Dick’s edition, Woolf’s own typography on the manuscript, and an alternative version treating the line breaks differently. BR explained that the aim was to launch the edition of ‘Ode’ at the Remaking the New: Modernism and Textual Scholarship conference in London in July 2017. Finally, BR was applauded for facilitating an excellent discussion and inaugurating the ‘new modernist editing’.