More on Textual Editing, More from the Lilly

One of the articles I read last week in Indiana was Morris Beja’s account of his experience preparing a textual edition of Mrs. Dalloway. It’s a witty, dapper piece about coming to textual editing as an outsider and finding himself seduced by the interest of working so closely with such a great book. It certainly accords with my experience.

Beja is skeptical. At one point he wonders how much textual editing matters. Can textual editing be made to matter to general readers? Can it matter even to scholars of the novel? Or does it really just matter to other textual editors?

This has been my question from the beginning. And my quest has been to figure out a way to do an excellent editing job and also to explain to common readers why it matters that scholars have access to such texts. (After all, if you’re sitting down to read Mrs. Dalloway, you’re probably going to opt for the paperback, not an expensive and big hardback full of appendices such as the one I’m working on.)

I was surprised, then, to find a headline--a real headline--in my work in the archives.

In all of the proofs, there is only one page where Woolf crosses out a whole paragraph and substitutes a (significantly longer) typed page. That single instance is the paragraph in which Septimus kills himself. Seventeen lines in proofs have been crossed out and two typed pages have been added, making the paragraph now twenty-eight lines long. In addition to many small changes, the chief addition here comes toward the beginning of the paragraph, with the addition of Septimus scanning the room for possible means of suicide before deciding to throw himself out the window.

That, it seems to me, gives everyone a lot to think about. To know that, at the very last minute, Woolf was rethinking the book’s climax, giving it greater depth and a slower pace, is to know something about the centrality of Septimus to the novel.