Editing--Collating Editions

I wrote with some embarrassment over my unwillingness to donate one of multiple copies of a book. This week, I find myself wishing that libraries worldwide had shared my caution.

I’m at work on a textual edition of Mrs. Dalloway. The first phase of that work, as I’m learning (this process being new to me), involves collating all the changes amongst the editions of the novel published in Woolf’s lifetime. (This means checking all the spelling and punctuation variants across editions.) (I will also be checking the first English edition against the two surviving proofs as well as consulting extant drafts of the novel).

As I embark on this collation, then, imagine my surprise in finding that the New York Public Library, home to most of Woolf’s papers, does not own the Hogarth “Universal Edition” of Woolf’s novels. This universal edition, with blue jackets, was a repackaging of her books for completists, readers who wanted the pleasure and prestige of a lovely block of identical blue-jacketed novels in their library. (I have never seen these books in person.)

In fact, according to WorldCat, there are only 23 copies of this edition in libraries worldwide, none in New York City. It’s a good thing, I suppose that my brief does not extend to the second universal edition which came out in 1942. Only four libraries have that book--and one, Princeton, shows up as owning it on WorldCat but it’s not listed in Princeton’s own database. That database, rather alarmingly, lists their copy of the first edition (1925) as missing.

Why does all this matter? Well, in the short term it matters to me immensely because I’ve contracted to do this work and I intend to do it properly, thoroughly, and even, although it is unnatural to me, meticulously.

But, beyond that, why does it matter to know that the first edition has “silver-flashing plumes” while the first American edition has “silver flashing--plumes”?

I don’t think it’s too heretical of me to say that I accepted this project in part to come to my own answer to that question. I’m not seeking a piety about sacred texts, but a real, earned knowledge.

Stay tuned.