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The works of Joseph Conrad (b. 1857) and D. H. Lawrence (b. 1885) came from deeper sources than Boldrewood’s (see Chapter 7) and are far more ambitious in scope and thematic concern. In such cases the biographical sources and initiating phases of the work’s existence generally repay intent study.
The tortured genesis and revision of Conrad’s Under Western Eyes (1911) is clarified by reference to MSS materials. The work–version relationship is put under productive stress, the implications for editing are pursued, and a book-historically informed avenue for literary study is demonstrated.
The marvellous new world of widespread literacy and the ready availability of print, complemented by the effects of the US Chace Act of 1891, the rise of literary agents and upmarket literary publishers such as Seltzer and Secker mediated the forms of Lawrence’s idiosyncratic writings. Since every act of writing presupposes a reading, even in Lawrence’s case, literary study needs to be informed by this conditioning context. The versionality of his writings uncovered by the Cambridge Works editors argues the need for a digital critical archive of his writings organised on a temporal principle.
Bibliography, as defined by W. W. Greg in 1932, excluded meaning; it was to deal only with documentary inscriptions as physical things. This excluded the reader from the editorial equation. A recent series of essays by Hans Walter Gabler repeats the mistake but in a new language.
He proposes that text is based on the fundamental fact of textual variance, and that text is a function of documents. He thus rules out appeal to the biographical author’s intentions. Editorial discourse (emendation, commentary) arises instead, he contends, from the need to explain textual variation.
In contrast, the work model offered in the present book incorporates the reader into text considered as a dimension of experienced meaning. This step requires the meaning of ‘document’ to expand. The two are cast as being in a negative dialectic relationship, dependent on one another to secure their own identities. The embodied work emerges as a regulative concept that embraces the successive iterations of the dialectic over time, around which a new literary studies could be organised. It is argued that Gabler’s binary synchronic needs replacing with a diachronic semiotics such as C. S. Peirce’s.
Chapter 2 is a meditation on the general conditions of our intercourse with the past, especially as engaged by its material forms, whether in buildings, artworks, literary works or musical works. Distinctions between the forms are of course necessary but, it is argued, continuities remain: the mute testimony of the material object concerning the agents of its creation; the role of the viewer or reader in realising the work; the hand of the editor-conservator; and the role of time in its successive forms of existence.
Lydia Goehr’s history of the work-concept in music is pushed further and the dilemma of conservation, witnessed by the restored Teatro La Fenice (Phoenix Theatre) in Venice, is explored. The work-concept emerges as a regulative idea rather than a transcendent ideal form.
The distinction between document and text – the material and meaningful dimensions that give definition to one another – builds the agency of readers into the work-concept. Readers lend the work power. They give it renewed life. There is no transcendence for the work in this model but there is a phenomenology of it available.
This position affects literary studies. Bibliography and book history can usher us towards a long view of the life of works, in which our own readerly role in the present is affirmed. Our moment is now and we want to grasp the work, to internalise it and to assess it.
Given the trajectory of works across time, access to versions of works is necessary. Chapter 6 argues that, contrary to scholarly editors’ usual belief, all work-editing is versional, whether based on intention, social-reception or documentary principles. This is because emendation is inevitable.
A practical testing of this understanding in a digital project that puts archival–editorial and work–version relationships into play is then described: the Charles Harpur Critical Archive (charles-harpur.org).
‘Archive’ and ‘scholarly edition’ are not securely differentiated categories. As readers we inhabit the same textual field as the documents and texts we seek to define. To record is to read and analyse sufficiently for the archival purpose; to interpret, for the editorial purpose: i.e. to mount an argument about the archival materials directed at a readership. The archival impulse anticipates the editorial, and the editorial rests on the archival. They are not separate or objective categories. Their relationship may be figured as a horizontal slider running from archive on the left to edition on the right.
Every position on the slider involves interpretative judgement, but the archival impulse is more document-facing and the editorial is, relatively speaking, more audience-facing. Each depends upon or anticipates the need for its co-dependent Other. The archival impulse aims to satisfy the shared need for a reliable record of the documentary evidence; the editorial impulse to further interpret it for known or envisaged audiences by taking their anticipated needs into account.
The sliding scroll-bar model dispenses with recent anxiety about archives replacing editions.
Chapter 4 argues that calls for crowdsourcing digital scholarly editions have misconceived the nature of the scholarly edition and its changing relationship to its readers. The relationship is argued to be essential. A survey of post-war scholarly editions reveals a shifting understanding amongst editors of the needs and capacities of readers. However, an increasing tolerance for the reporting of variant readings has come at the cost of shrinking print runs (some figures are provided). The digital environment is argued to offer a solution by putting into operation a distinction between the archival and editorial functions of the scholarly edition. The latter should henceforth be understood as an argument directed at the reader about the archive. This conception is shown to open the way for editors to transgress those literary-historical and literary-critical domains where, because of the 100-year horizons of print editions, editors have traditionally been reluctant to tread.
Adaptation study reached a new high in the mid-2000s with Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Adaptations. She generates categories of adaptation to organise the scores of examples she discusses, but her book fails to develop a theory to underpin the study.
She finds hints of one in metaphors of ‘transcoding’, in Katherine Hayles’s use of the ‘rhizome’ model and in John Bryant’s idea of ‘reception-generated changes’. Only Bryant offers a viable lead, allowing her to propose a reception ‘continuum’. That is not enough.
Chapter 9 argues, rather, that adaptation depends upon the concept of the work. An adaptation becomes part of the original work’s after-life, just as the original work may be considered part of the adaptation’s prehistory. The adaptation establishes a new production–reception continuum or slider of its own, which either stops there because the new work is ignored or itself endows a newer adaptation. The latter takes on its own textual and cultural trajectory while remaining substantively linked to the first by virtue of its transformation of at least some subject matter.
Adaptations of the Ned Kelly bushranger story in folklore, stage, novel and screen serve as a test case.
From the 1980s a pincer movement on editorial prerogatives came into play. The post-structuralist movement gradually undermined the assumption that works required a single reading text based on final authorial intention. Texts were also revealed to have a social dimension, as the meanings of their versional, redesigned and reprinted forms are ‘realised’ by successive readerships. The inherited but rarely inspected work-concept was thrown into doubt.
Conscientious editors who nevertheless felt the need to intervene on behalf of a new readership seemed to be left with no ground to stand on.
This chapter argues that a failure to theorise the work-concept is at the root of the problem. It shows that we need a broader concept of textual agency and an emphasis on the role of the reader in the functioning of what may now be cast as the embodied or living work. The role of the reader applies also for the scholarly edition, which emerges as a form of argument, aimed at the reader, about the archival materials it deploys.
Other possible work-models are considered, especially those implied in the writings of Franco Moretti and Rita Felski, based on the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour.
Learning how to use a printed scholarly edition of a literary work does not come naturally to digital natives. Chapter 3 dramatises the learning curve of coming to grips with scholarly editions of Hamlet, of appreciating the argument that each one mounts about the surviving textual and other materials, and of learning how to appreciate the internal architecture and cross-referencing of editions without hyperlinks.
Different modes of scholarly editing are described, especially the competing methodologies and limits of the necessarily non-definitive Anglo-American critical edition. It professes to present a reading text of the work; the German historical-critical edition represents the work in a more archival fashion.
A case-study of recent attempts to solve the editorial problem of Hamlet is offered via an analysis of the Arden 3, Norton 3 and New Oxford’s editorial rationales. Their common abandonment of belief in bibliographic analysis is questioned. Confusion about the nature of the work-concept as applied to Shakespearean drama is revealed as held in common.
From the 1980s book history has insisted on the material object (rather than the work) as the object of study, together with the collecting and reading of it. Lacking so far has been a strong theoretical underpinning: conceptually tying materiality to the role of readers in a way that would simultaneously answer the central question for literary study broached in Chapter 1: What is the thing read?
Close reading – still the practical basis of literary training – offers no obvious answer. Since the New Criticism no viable defence of it has emerged. Caroline Levine’s 2015 book Forms offers an aesthetic-political formalism but fails to answer the central question.
A fresh definition of the work as regulative idea is put forward. By recognising the dialectically linked dimensions of document and textual meaning at every stage from genesis to production to reception, it incorporates the work’s versions and material forms together with their readers.
Stages of reception (and aesthetic reception in the present) may be studied as indices of the cultural shifts with which the work’s manifestations engage. Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms (1882–3) provides the case study.
By the late 1980s the concept of the work had slipped out of sight, consigned to its last refuge in the library catalogue as concepts of discourse and text took its place. Scholarly editors, who depended on it, found no grounding in literary theory for their practice. But fundamental ideas do not go away, and the work is proving to be one of them. New interest in the activity of the reader in the work has broadened the concept, extending it historically and sweeping away its once-supposed aesthetic objecthood. Concurrently, the advent of digital scholarly editions is recasting the editorial endeavour. The Work and The Reader in Literary Studies tests its argument against a range of book-historically inflected case-studies from Hamlet editions to Romantic poetry archives to the writing practices of Joseph Conrad and D. H. Lawrence. It newly justifies the practice of close reading in the digital age.