Wednesday, June 30, 2010
How important is a detail?
I finally finished collating all the editions of Mrs. Dalloway that were produced in Woolf’s lifetime and I have charts to show you where each of the over 300 differences between the first British and first American edition lie.
Now, I’m going through that list and writing the textual notes. The finished edition will have a complete list, but it will also have a more discursive section of textual notes, where I will take the time to explain and clarify some of the differences among editions. Not every change needs an explanation: if a comma gets added or goes missing, the textual apparatus notes that. But if that comma change creates a problematic reading or if there a phrase moves from the beginning to the end of a paragraph, the textual notes will explain what I know about how that came to happen.
These notes are not meant to be an interpretation, mind you, but to present the facts as I know them. The edition is for everyone; my personality will come through, but it’s meant to be subtle.
When I was working with the American proofs of Mrs. Dalloway at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, I tried to note as much as I possibly could. That leaves me, today, looking at a note from 2007. If I make it a textual note, the phrase “in fact,” added to the first American edition, but not the first British, would be annotated as follows: “Her handwriting on AP is a bit difficult to decipher here: the dot that would seem to need to be over the “i” is over the “n.””
Really? Could the phrase “in fact” wherever that dot occurs, be anything other than “in fact”? Do I need to record that for posterity? Will anyone every be able to make anything of that?
And yet, trivial as it seems, when I deleted it a moment ago, I immediately hit “undo.” For now, it stands. A silly, unneeded note that may not make the cut and yet, also, somehow a momentarily interesting human touch: Woolf’s handwriting was sloppy while she was correcting proofs.