Tuesday, April 12, 2016

12 april 2016

Hannah Sullivan's book The Work of Revision (did I mention how generally excellent it is?) captured a long-held desire of mine to think about and perhaps theorize the process of revision. I'm certainly planning on mining its bibliography.

But thinking about revision sent me to an alas as-yet-not-properly examined shopping bag of books I picked up over the New Year's holiday in Sarasota and Sanibel, and digging out a collection edited by Judith Kennedy, Victorian Authors and Their Works: Revision Motivations and Modes (Ohio University Press, 1991). It has essays—unfortunately brief ones—on a variety of important writers of the period, from Carlyle to Conrad. So I read Kennedy's introduction, and a couple of the essays.

Or I should say Kennedy's "Preface," for it's not really long enough or searching enough to be a proper introduction. She nods towards what she calls a "recent surge of interest" in textual scholarship, then gives a too-hasty overview of the shift from Greg-Bowers methodology to the "social text" thought of McGann and Shillingsburg. It's way too hasty—undigested even—and pales beside the careful, scrupulous, and inventive way Sullivan dovetails an account of that same shift with a description of attitudes towards revision in her own first chapter.

Only two chapters of Kennedy's collection actually read. Susan Shatto provides a quick-n-nasty overview of how Tennyson composed Maud (desultorily, for himself, then finishing when there was the prospect of a publication contract and money). Fred Kaplan tells again the story of John Stuart Mill's maid accidentally burning the manuscript of Part I of Carlyle's French Revolution, and of Carlyle having to compose the whole thing over again. What's striking is that a very few scraps (all burnt around the edges) of that first manuscript have survived, and their words seems to be pretty much precisely duplicated in the book as Carlyle actually (re)wrote it. Did he treasure up those scraps of prose, incorporating them into his new text when he got to the right place? Or Carlyle (as Kaplan tends to think) simply have such a retentive and capacious memory that he was able to largely reconstruct the whole book as he originally wrote it?


Peter O'Leary's The Sampo, now read (slowly, with feeling), is magnificent. It makes me wonder if there isn't (or shouldn't be) some movement back towards outright narrative among the few poets I follow and value.


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