Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Etexts and other editions of Mrs. Dalloway

A reader from Iran writes:
i … was searching to find out which version is correct-the etexts of mrs dalloway or the printed one regarding this passage and if there are other instances that you have knowledge of.

She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room.
...thrown it away while they went on living. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. But she must...

i'd really appreciate it if you tell me about it. i am writing from iran!

The e-text includes the phrase “he made her feel the beauty, made her feel the fun,” which is also included in most American editions of Mrs. Dalloway. The printed version that my reader quotes must be a British edition. Woolf’s addition of this phrase to the American proofs, but not the British ones, is probably the most striking difference between the American and English editions of Mrs. Dalloway. It’s a huge difference. This is the kind of sentence that one might pin a reading on. Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert did.

What does it mean? The “he” is Septimus Smith, of whose death Clarissa has just learned. So, Clarissa thinks that learning about Septimus’ death—or, rather, about the death of a shell-shocked soldier—makes her enjoy the party all the more.

It’s a shocking thought. And a very human one, I think. Sometimes, when we hear of a death during a celebration, we do feel a little electric jolt, an animal response that, in words would be something like “I’m alive, anyway!” It is a callous statement of the connection between Clarissa and Septimus, one that fuels readings of him as a scapegoat.

But why isn’t that thought in the British edition? There are a couple possibilities, so let me reason my way to the most plausible guess. We know that Woolf corrected three sets of proofs simultaneously. Her diary accounts of this process, regarding Mrs. Dalloway and other novels, indicate that she found the task tedious. This suggests that the inconsistencies between editions are likely as much an indicator of fatigue and error as anything. This makes it unlikely, in my opinion, that Woolf meant a change for her American audience. Thus, though the thought is hard to shake, I do not think we can read the change as evidence of Woolf’s pandering to an American readership.

I do think, however, that her failure to make this correction on either her personal proofs or the British proofs, indicates that some ambivalence about it as a correction.

This is a aesthetically consistent. Woolf typically revised explicit statements of meaning and intent out of her drafts as they approached publication, so this addition seems like a hiccup, a momentary lapse of confidence and judgment.

What do you think?


Richard said...

I would guess it's probably a result of fatigue. Correcting three sets of proofs simultaneously sounds like a horrendously boring task.

Unknown said...

but it is not just an addition, it seems to replace "while they went on living". so it can't just be out of fatigue. and it is somehow the same idea in a more explicit wording and note also the change in the placement of it in american version.

Unknown said...

Yes, Farzaneh, you're utterly right about that--and writing more carefully than I. It's the greater explicitness here in the American version that gives me a little twinge of wondering if it isn't a weensy bit intentional for an American audience.

Mostly, I'm with Richard: these variations are only to be expected when asking an artist to carry out a mind-numbingly tedious task.

Anonymous said...

It's actually the other way around. The "made her feel the beauty" etc. sentence is the earlier reading. VW got rid of it at the last minute when preparing the UK edition. (It's in the proofs for the UK edition, but not in the final printed UK text.) All this is easy to work out from any edition that includes textual notes.