Friday, May 11, 2007

What counts as a Minor Difference?

Reading around amongst articles on textual editing, most of them include some sentence along the lines of “there are twenty differences between the first and second British editions, most of them minor.” A minor difference is taken to be a change in capitalization, an added comma, a semi-colon that becomes a period. But are these differences always minor? In comparing the American proofs of Mrs. Dalloway against the first British edition, I found some instances in which an apparently minor change is part of a significant and interesting pattern.

Thus, for example, Woolf made the following corrections to the American proofs on page 96 (The ~ symbol indicates a repeated word.):
96.6 she] She UP ]
96.7 island; ] ~... UP ]
96.7 she] She UP ]
96.8 hen;] ~... UP ]
96.8 she] She UP ]
96.8 laughed;] ~. UP ]
96.8 she ] She UP ]

All of which looks dull as a list until you look at the actual paragraphs side by side. Look at the 4 changes to “she”: each time, Woolf is changing from a capital “S” to a lower case one. Thus, what were five separate sentences in the proofs become, in the novel, one long clause linked by semi-colons. Then, she erases a phrase modifying the island and one modifying the hen.

So, what might this mean in the larger context of the novel? Well, this is a paragraph in which Peter Walsh is thinking back to the night when he watched, to his great distress, Clarissa fall in love with Richard Dalloway. “She” is the focus of this paragraph: he thinks this is the night that changed his life forever. This is certainly the night when Clarissa was finally lost to him forever.

And, in the end, this is one of three times in the novel when Peter is thinking about a woman--Clarissa, Daisy (his child-fiancee), and finally, Sally, and Woolf changes sentences to clauses. So, a long string of seemingly insignificant changes (period to semi-colon, upper- to lower-case) actually indicates an overall significant change to the pacing of the paragraph.


Dorothy W. said...

This does sound like fun -- I mean, really -- finding meaning in these tiny (not so tiny) details must be hugely satisfying.

billo said...

Dear Fernham (Anne), just came across your blog looking for a review of Delillo. I don't know what that says about the problem of time since I didn't read your post when it was originally written and so, unlike the falling man, there is nothing to remember..

Thanks. Liked the review.