Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Cambridge D. H. Lawrence scholars

In my reading of 40 or so books on biography, many of them collections based on speeches at conferences, I have gotten round to John Batchelor's 1995 THE ART OF LITERARY BIOGRAPHY. The best thing in it I think is John Worthen's "The Necessary Ignorance of a Biography." I found myself in such strong agreement with Worthen that I dug up THE D. H. LAWRENCE REVIEW 20.3 (Fall 1988), my copy received 15 Sept. 1989, and Read Irised it to post here. I also dug out the Charles L. Ross and Dennis Jackson, EDITING D. H. LAWRENCE: NEW VERSIONS OF A MODERN AUTHOR. I wish Worthen had read my FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS before writing his "Facts in Fiction" for this collection rather than focusing only on Tanselle as representative of the Northwestern-Newberry editorial thinking. If I had endless time, I would steep myself in these Cambridge Lawrence scholars as the nearest to my way of thinking about textual and biographical matters. I see a faded page from the 11 September 1992 TLS with David Trotter's review of two Cambridge editions of SONS AND LOVERS. I see that I circled the last 16 or so lines of the first column and wrote at the bottom: "Why can they say this & not be crucified," for I had done what they did and I was still bleeding. Then I read on and said, "Ah--he DOES crucify them." And I see despairing comments about the competence or incompetence of David Trotter. Well, I also see a note from Edward Nickerson about my review in the Fall 1988 D. H. LAWRENCE REVIEW: "Your review . . . was a delight. I am talking not so much about content (although I have no quarrel with that) as about style. It has been a long time since I red anything in academia that was fun. Thank you."

For the enjoyment of the Cambridge Lawrence crowd and anyone else:

Some people thought all scholarly textual editing would soon follow W. W. Greg as applied by Fredson Bowers, but not so. Anyone who has observed the campaign to foist upon the world a truncated, regularized text of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "The Gentle Boy" and a titivated version of the 1896 expurgated text of Stephen Crane's MAGGIE, then has witnessed the subsequent crusade to rid the world of the reconstructed THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane's and the restoration of Theodore Dreiser 's SISTER CARRIE will be amazed at the editors of AARON’S ROD.

This Cambridge edition of AARON’S ROD Rod shows that the volume editor, Mara Kalnins, and the general editors (James T. Boulton and Warren Roberts) are going their way as if Greg, Bowers, the Center for Editions of American Authors, and the Center for Scholarly Editions had never existed. The "General Editors' Preface" succinctly sketches Lawrence as a great writer whose published texts were corrupt, a careful writer whose methods of composition led him to ignore minor changes introduced by typists and copyists, an unconventional writer who had to choose between being unpublished and allowing publishing houses to restyle and often expurgate his texts. The preface puts the editors on record as aiming "to provide texts which are as close as can now be determined" to those Lawrence "would have wished to see printed." The Cambridge texts therefore will "restore the words, sentences, even whole pages omitted or falsified by editors or compositors" and will free texts from publishers' house-styling. The editors cheerfully face up to the ramifications of their policy: "Paradoxical as it may seem, the outcome of this recension will be texts which differ, often radically and certainly frequently, from those seen by the author himself."

Bowerseans can only regard this Cambridge policy as heretical, and anyone persuaded by Jerome J. McGann's revival of James Thorpe's notion that the best text is the text that got into print (the authentic social-compact product of author, helpful friends, and a publisher embodying the spirit of the times) will also be aghast at the Cantabrigians, for the editors are not concerned with preserving evidences of the literary tastes and social antennae of Thomas Seltzer in New York and Martin Seeker in London. What revolution in textual thinking has turned these Lawrenceans away from fascination with the comma policy followed by typists and the delicacy of Seltzer's semicolons and the subtleties of Seeker's paragraphing? What has deflected them from the intricate moral and philosophical problem of what it meant for Lawrence to "delegate" his authority to a typist or to tacitly "accept" anything a publisher did, whether imposing a house-style or deleting long sections? What strange kink of the brain caused them to focus on the author and his intentions?

This heresy is not cloaked in high philosophical debate, for I see no reference to Greg, Bowers, or lesser authorities on textual theories and textual procedures. Rather than fighting their way through to a justification of their position, the editors proceed as if any reasonable person would be more concerned with what Lawrence wrote than with what got into print. Not once do they stop to wring their hands over the fact that the text they print is not precisely the text which first appeared and was reviewed and then passed into literary history. Not once do they stop to analyze the scruples they overcame in deciding to thrust upon the world a text which is not the text that Joseph Wood Krutch and Rebecca West read. They seem unperturbed by the fact that now anyone writing on Lawrence's reception and later reputation will have to puzzle out exactly what reviewers or critics were reading when they wrote about the work titled AARON’S ROD. One can only be thankful if it turns out that no reviewers or literary historians have seized AARON’S ROD as a crucial text in the rise of literary modernism, as many literary historians seized upon the 1895 RED BADGE and the 1900 CARRIE as major documents of literary naturalism: had that happened, a Lawrencean counterpart of Donald Pizer might soon be mobilizing to crush the new (original) text.

From the 1960s into the 1980s it seemed that British editors as well as Americans were ignoring or shunting aside the textual issues that interest these Lawrence scholars. Back then editors typically mired themselves in minutiae, fussing over perfectly acceptable spelling variants and standard old-fashioned punctuational practices, then regularizing spelling and punctuation in violation of their own claim to be printing unmodernized texts. And while textual editors and their reviewers alike seemed confused or flippant or merely ponderous when they touched on most of the textual-editorial issues, both of theory and procedure, they seemed almost unaware of the much more important area, that ambiguous terrain where textual and biographical evidence has aesthetic implications. They kept at bay cognitive psychology with its rich new discoveries about human memory (a factor that might possibly be relevant to the consideration of late revisions). They routinely kept biography away from editorial theory. They followed a rationale of copy-text that (although perfect in some very simple situations) was incompatible with what is known of the creative process, since, denying that the process is a process, it assumes that an author's aesthetic control over anything he writes lasts as long as he lives. They could hardly have done otherwise, since they rigorously kept creative theory and studies of the creative process away from editorial theory. Editors, in short, did not rethink Greg's theory and did not examine Bowers's practice.

Throughout the heyday of Greg-Bowers it seemed that scholarly generations might come and go before editors discussed their authors' creative processes with wonder and awe, or at least with respect. How astonishing to find the Lawrence editors going calmly about their author's business, determining what he wrote and putting it into print for new readers (including readers already familiar with a reduced text titled AARON’S ROD). It is as if all the ferocious pedantry, the editorial self-will run riot, had never taken place. It is as if we had all always been most concerned with what was unique about what the authors wrote, not what society countenanced as printable. Will these editors of Lawrence accept the blessings of a much-buffeted Melvillean who to his mild surprise and bemusement seems to have survived into a quiet, sane aftermath of the New Bibliography?

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