Monday, November 07, 2011

Draft Textual Note of the day

Another piece of this project, other than footnotes, are the textual notes—not allusions but notes on significant changes among versions of Mrs. Dalloway. I’m hacking away at a few of those today, comparing The Hours notebooks (available, delightfully, in a fantastic transcription from Helen Wussow), against the final draft. Since the notebooks are available as a book, since I’m not trying to present a complete genetic edition, my task here is simply to highlight some key alterations during the composition and revision process.

So, as I labor to meet my deadline (January 31, my friends), I am anxiously trying to add words every day to what I think of as “my Dalloway files.” And one thing I’m adding is evidence of how right Woolf was to strip away what she did. So this is a post about the rightness of taking words away.

Take, for instance, the moment when Peter remembers the night that Clarissa fell in love with Richard Dalloway:

They sat on the ground and talked--he and Clarissa. They went in and out of each other's minds without any effort. And then in a second it was over. He said to himself as they were getting into the boat, "She will marry that man,"

In August of 1923, Woolf wrote a version of this scene:

“she liked laughing at him. Oh he talked about Ibsen. His recollection was that they had sat down on this They had sat on the ground & talked—he & Sally He & Clarissa & & Clarissa argued.” (Notebook 1 38; H 37).

It’s the Ibsen that stuck out to me here: of course Peter, trying so hard to be advanced, and Clarissa, attracted by advanced views but still sheltered, would have argued about Ibsen. It’s the 1890s. But we already know that she and Sally were reading Shelley and sneaking William Morris. Ibsen is one too many and he distracts from the emotions of the scene. So right to excise him. Right, too, to let Peter talk to Clarissa passionately here (rather than Sally—something she cannot quite decide in the notebook): it makes his loss of her love all the more profound. And it only strengthens our sense of what he loves and hates about her: her dignity and grace (as well as her maidenhood) in being able to be kind to him, to be a friend to him, even as she’s shifting her allegiance to a new man.

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