Session 2B: New Texts and Textual Scholarship

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2B. New Texts and Textual Scholarship

Special Session: Anthony Harding (Saskatchewan)
Paul Magnuson (New York): "Reading paratextually: Coleridge's 'Monody on the Death of Chatterton'"
David Fuller (Durham): "Modernizing Blake: the 'Longman Annotated Texts' Blake"
David Baulch (West Florida): "Multiple Plurality: Hypertext and William Blake's The Four Zoas Manuscript"
Michael O'Neill (Durham): "Editing Shelley's Shorter Poems: The Critical Implications"

Session Overview
Anthony Harding
U of Saskatchewan

The aim is to raise the questions, "What new texts, either newly edited from manuscript or substantially re-edited, will shape discussion of British literature 1780-1830 in the first decade of the next century?" and "How will recent developments in textual scholarship alter our perception and reception of the writing of this period?"

Michael O'Neill and David Fuller examine the difficulties--and opportunities--of presenting in printed form texts of two canonical poets, William Blake and Percy Shelley: O'Neill focuses on the manuscript sources for some of Shelley's shorter poems, those appearing in the "Scrope Davies" notebook, showing how this MS version of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" for instance might challenge received readings of the poem. David Fuller discusses the problems of representing Blake's notoriously idiosyncratic scribal habits in a form that the modern reader can interpret. A related paper, David Baulch's, suggests the problems of "editing" Blake's The Four Zoas are such that only a "hypertext" version might represent and approach the fertile complexities of reading the original.
Paul Magnuson's paper on Coleridge's Chatterton ode, like Michael O'Neill's on the Scrope Davies MS, explains how information only to be obtained from manuscript sources can enrich and multiply the possibilities for reading a supposedly well-known text. Nicholas Halmi's paper, an account of the editing of the Norton Critical Coleridge, returns to the problem of selecting and representing the well-known and less-known work of a canonical writer.

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Modernizing Blake - the Longman Annotated Texts Blake.
David Fuller

I will consider first problems of various 'purist' approaches. (1) Facsimiles: destroyed text, which cannot be shown up by photolithography and can only be recovered by editors who can examine its residual indentations; misprinted text in any individual copy which has to be recovered from copies with different inking or printing failures; unreadable text that has been masked by paint or subject to other accidents; how as material objects facsimiles differ from originals, and how originals as now preserved differ from what Blake sold. (2) Letterpress. The standard scholarly editions (Erdman and Bentley) don't reproduce the text exactly as Blake engraved and printed it: they don't reproduce Blake's spacing, though some critics regard this as important in some cases; and letterpress has no normal equivalents of Blake's punctuation marks - his colons which merge into exclamation marks, his full stops that merge into commas, his irregular spacings (which can imply irregular meanings) for all punctuation marks, etc. I'll give examples here from Erdman and Bentley of the same copy text (The Book of Los, which exists only in a single copy) represented differently in letterpress equivalents, largely because editors tend to see Blake's equivocal punctuation in terms that fit their sense of the most suitable modern equivalents. Editing can, therefore, with Blake have elements which are peculiarly subjective. Such reservations about both facsimile and letterpress have consequences for editing and criticism - for example, for New Historicism, with its stress on the material nature of the book; for Deconstruction, which encourages the reader to play with every element of the text's articulation. Also, there are peculiar problems with the notion of copy text with Blake: these can be illustrated at their most extreme - though no atypically - by The Book of Urizen among the seven extant versions of which no two have the plates in the same order, and only two even contain the full set of 28 plates. There is, therefore, no simple textual choice, even for various kinds of textual purist. Neither the 6-volume Tate/Princeton facsimile nor the single-volume Erdman text give the reader what Blake gave his readers.

With these problems in view I will consider how careful Blake himself wasabout punctuation. No repeated lines in Blake are ever punctuated in the same way in their different appearances (examples from Songs, Marriage, Visions, America and Milton). Moreover Blake's punctuation (sometimes as a result of being normalized into the nearest letterpress equivalent) can actively mislead about the apparent syntax - the full stop in the middle of a syntactic unit, the syntactic unit not marked as such by any punctuation, etc. I'll discuss examples of kinds of criticism which take such abberations from standard usage as meaningful, and argue that there are characteristic distortions in such views.

Finally, granting that certain things are lost by modernization, I will argue that there are also important gains - in clarifying problems of Blake's syntax (which a simply transcribing editor doesn't have to attend to, but which a reader does), and in clarifying his rhythms (by marking elisions for unusual syllabic values, and especially in differentiating d/'d and Ëd). I'll give some examples of passages where editors have disagreed about how they should be modernized, and examples of the same passage in different texts (facsimile, facsimile transcription, Erdman, Bentley, Keynes, Mason and Stevenson) so as to consider what is lost and gained in specific cases by different practices of modernization.

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Editing Shelley's Shorter Poems: The Critical Implications'.
Michael O'Neill

This paper will build on the work I did with Donald H. Reiman in editing volume 8 of the Shelley series in the 'Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics' volumes, published by Garland in 1997. That volume entitled 'Fair-Copy Manuscripts of Shelley's Poems in European and American Libraries' involved me in taking primary responsibility for the transcribing and editing of Shelley manuscripts in European libraries other than the Bodleian Library, Oxford. In a long Introduction to the volume I wrote about the critical implications for a reading of Shelley's poetry, especially his lyrical poetry, of new or revisited manuscript evidence. What I propose to offer in my paper is a look at the critical implications of the editorial work done by me and other scholars for a number of shorter poems by Shelley. In particular, I propose to look in some detail at the Scrope Davies Notebook which I edited for the Garland volume, to bring out the nuanced differences of emphasis that are apparent in the wording of this Notebook's versions of 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty' and 'Mont Blanc', versions that are significantly different from the received texts. The existence of these different versions has been known about since their discovery in 1976, but, surprisingly, little has been offered in the way of critical commentary about the implications of these different versions. My paper will summarise some of the main critical implications, and will point out, for instance, how the Examiner text of the 'Hymn' makes the 'presence' described at the start more august, more apparently transcendent than does the Scrope Davies text. It will discuss, too, the fact that the Scrope Davies version is more overt than the Examiner version about the fear-tinged feelings of need and fugitiveness of perception in the important passage from lines 32-36. A major emphasis of the paper will be that studying manuscript evidence of 'versions' of poems is a way of sharpening awareness of the formal and aesthetic achievements embodied in texts of the period. Here I shall be amplifying emphases in my recent book 'Romanticism and the Self-Conscious Poem', to suggest that one arena where formalist self-consciousness shows itself is the process of textual revision (an argument made, too, by Susan Wolfson in her recent study 'Formalist Charges', coupled with my own study in a TLS review of my book). Other poems on which I shall draw include the letter version of 'A Devil's Walk' (which differs fascinatingly from the later Broadsheet version); the Eton College Library version of 'Remembrance'; the Bibliotheca Bodmeriana's version of 'On a dead violet'; and the different versions of 'When the lamp is shattered' in the University of Glasgow and the British Library'. One important fact about the manuscript of 'On a dead violet' is that the poem, like a number of Shelleyan lyrics, is accompanied by or part of a note; the result is to contextualise the poem in a way that places us in a difficult, intriguing border zone between the experiencing man and the creative mind. My paper will, thus, explore the imaginative and aesthetic implications of revisions, seeing different versions of a work less as ammunition for an attack on the autonomy of a text and more as an opportunity for celebrating the creative energy and commitment to process characteristic of Shelley's work.

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Last updated May 24, 1999
by Kathleen McConnell