The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

News from the volume editors: the Essays

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Stevenson, essayist
According to the essay editors:

One of our main aims is to make clear the importance of Stevenson as an essayist. In his own lifetime and in the following decades, his essays were included among his most important works. But with Modernism, the personal essay (despite its noble ancestry from Montaigne onwards) fell into disrepute—was even declared to be ‘dead’. In part this is because the essay is in an undefined position at the edge of the literary system, yet it is a focus of innovative writing in the USA today.

By providing a proper edition with notes, background information to composition, variants and an index we hope to allow both scholars and ordinary readers to take a fresh look at these works. People in the past who have read them have always been very impressed, then surprised to see so little written about them. Our edition hopes to make clear the importance of Stevenson’s essays—and even if it doesn’t, the editors are enjoying working together on the project anyway.

Coordinated production
The five volumes of essays are being produced in close collaboration between the four editors.

Robert-Louis Abrahamson (Virginibus Puerisque and part of Familiar Studies), Alex Thomson (Memories and Portraits), Richard Dury (Uncollected Essays I and part of Familiar Studies) and Lesley Graham (Uncollected Essays II) have weekly conference calls and meet up once or twice a year. They are also reading through all the essays together and commenting on them in an on-line discussion group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ReadingRLS/, which anyone can view and also apply to become a member if they think they would like to contribute to the discussion.

The five volumes needs to be coordinated because of the decision to include a General Introduction in volume 1 and an index in volume 5, but also because the explanatory notes will contain many cross-references to other essays—and we naturally want these to be to the pages of our edition!

Restoring the essays
Almost all the essays were published first in magazines and then a number of them were collected in volumes in Stevenson’s lifetime. Our choice of copy-text is the first volume edition where this exists, but often this includes interesting changes to the magazine version. These will be recorded systematically for the first time.

Where there are manuscripts, transcripts of these or interesting variants or cancellationsin them will also be noted. A small group of volunteers are lending a hand with the transcriptions. If you think you have the right skills and would like to take part in this, get in touch with richard.dury@t-r.it.

Missing manuscripts
Many Stevenson manuscripts were sold at auction following the death of his widow in 1914. Most of these are now accessible in libraries open to the public, but some have not been seen for decades. These include two famous essays published in Virginibus Puerisque: the title essay and ‘On Falling in Love’. Both of these were sold in a fund-raising sale organized by the British Red Cross in 1918. The first surfaced in a sale in New York in 1952 and then disappeared again, and the second has not been heard of since the first sale in 1918. Both are probably still in the possession of private collections. Anyone with information on their whereabouts, please get in touch!

One of the manuscripts has ended up at an isolated ranch museum in Wyoming. This is Stevenson’s essay on Walt Whitman, who was an important influence on the young writer and indeed on many late Victorians. The manuscript is a late draft and contains many interesting passages that never appeared in the final version of the essay. As far as we know, no one has ever studied this manuscript before, so we’re hoping it will give us an interesting insight into the composition process.

Another reason we have to look at the manuscripts is that RLS’s handwriting is often difficult to decipher and printers made mistakes that have remained in editions ever since. Since we have more time than the hard-pressed compositor we are usually able to solve the problem and correct the reading.


Written by rdury

18/11/2010 at 2:35 pm

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