News from the volume editors: Prince Otto
by Robert Irvine
Editing a Stevenson novel can involve some very small matters as well as some big questions. Robert Irvine describes how one of the smallest points of all—the hyphen—raises questions about historical usage.
I have been working recently to establish a ‘copy text’ of Stevenson’s 1885 novel Prince Otto. A ‘copy text’ is a particular instance of a text which is taken as a base-line by the editor, against which variations in other versions of the text can be listed, and variations from which in the final published version must be justified. We have chosen the first book edition to perform this function for the New Edinburgh Edition. So my first task as editor is to ensure that the electronic copy text on my screen conforms in all aspects to the text published by Chatto and Windus in 1885. In principle, no editorial decisions are to be made at this stage: where there are mistakes, even an obvious printing error like the omission of a quotation mark, those remain in the copy text, to be corrected when the text is edited and the correction noted.
That pesky hyphen
No editorial decisions to be made in principle at this stage: but one set of editorial decisions is, in fact, unavoidable. In transcribing prose, we pay no attention to line-endings in the text from which we are transcribing, line-endings in prose being dictated by space available on the page, and nothing more. To preserve the line-endings in the transcription of a prose text irrespective of the size of your new page would be to turn it from prose into verse. But to make the most efficient use of the length of line available to him the type-setter of the printed text will sometimes split words at the end of a line with a hyphen. Usually the transcriber of the copy text can ignore these hyphens and restore the complete word. The problem comes when the word that has been split across two lines might have been hyphenated to start with. Deciding whether or not to preserve the hyphen in the copy text in such cases is no longer a case of simply preserving what is on the page in front of you, but requires reference to other sources of information: requires, that is, an editorial decision.
For example, towards the end of book II chapter vii, Princess Seraphina complains of Otto’s unusual interference in his government, ‘To-/ morrow, you will be once more about your/ pleasures’ (p. 144; line endings marked by obliques). So that first word should be transcribed as ‘Tomorrow’, yes? But no: because by the time the reader has reached p. 144 they will know that Stevenson, or perhaps Chatto’s typesetter, always use ‘to-morrow’, ‘to-day’ and ‘to-night’, so this hyphen needs to be preserved in the copy text. Reference to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) reveals why this is the case: this is the normal nineteenth-century way of writing these words.
In many cases, the decision is made easy in this way by the presence elsewhere in the text of the same word, not split across a line-ending, which we can take as our model. Stevenson, at the end of Book I, describes Otto’s palace: ‘The modern pillared front, the ball-/ room, the great library’ and so on (p.57). Is a room for dancing a ‘ball-room’ or a ‘ballroom’? The latter form is usual for us. But on the following page, Otto hears music ‘from the ball-room’, so this is clearly the intended form. Once again, OED confirms that this was the usual form in the nineteenth century; as with ‘to-morrow’, the hyphen was dropped in the twentieth.
In the two examples I have given so far, I have called on the OED as a reassuring presence, explaining Stevenson’s (or Chatto’s) forms with reference to nineteenth-century norms. But we might be unwise to rely on OED to legitimate editorial decisions. Near the start of the novel we are told that across Otto’s dominions ‘the imperial high-/road ran straight sunward, an artery of travel’ (p.6). All examples in OED give either ‘high-road’ or two separate words, ‘high road’, suggesting the hyphen should stay. But early in the next chapter we have ‘highroad’ (p.10), and again a few pages later, and consistently throughout the rest of the novel. So in our copy text the hyphen goes from the instance on p.6.
Casting the net wider
The real problem arises when there is no other use of the word in Prince Otto for us to take as our guide. In this case the editor has no choice but to look at other versions of the text, anticipating what ought to be the next stage of the editing process, while taking scrupulous note that s/he is doing so. Earlier in 1885, Prince Otto was published in seven episodes in Longman’s Magazine; the different format means that line-breaks occur in different places, allowing the same instance of a particular word to appear undisturbed. Using Longman’s we can decide on ‘milkpail’ (Chapter xii, p.202) and ‘lamplight’ (Book II, Chapter ii, p.271), although all of OED’s examples are either hyphenated or two separate words; on ‘farmhouse’, although the hyphenated from seems the normal nineteenth-century one in OED; and ‘mile-stone’ (Book III, Chapter i, p.255) although OED’s last hyphenated example is from 1746. Near the start of the second chapter of the book, that same highroad ‘lay down-/ hill’ from Otto. This is odd, because elsewhere in the novel we only have ‘down hill’ as two separate words, the only model which we are prevented from following by that hyphen. But we do have ‘uphill’ (Book III, Chapter i, p.254), with no hyphen; and Longman’s confirms a decision to take this as a precedent by giving us the second chapter ‘downhill’ as one word.
A final case: near the end of the second chapter, Otto is visibly shaken by what he has heard about himself from an old peasant, ‘re-/ waking’ his host to hospitable thoughts (p.23). ‘Rewake’ seems an odd word to twenty-first century ears, and while OED offers it without a hyphen, it also notes that it is ‘chiefly poet. in modern use.’ The prefix ‘re’ is followed by a hyphen throughout the text where the verb to which it is attached begins with a vowel, even where OED suggests it is not necessary, as in ‘re-awoke’ (p.160); but also in ‘re-enter’, ‘re-echoed’, ‘re-enacted’, and ‘re-arranged’. We are also given ‘re-read’ (p.155). But perhaps that is a special case, as, at the end of the first chapter, Kuno and his companion ‘rejoin their comrades’, and Otto does so at the beginning of Chapter x; in Chapter vi Otto offers to ‘reconduct’ Seraphina back to the court, and asks Gondremark to do so on the next page; Seraphina’s courage ‘rekindled’ in Book III, Chapter I; and so on. These examples set a general pattern where a hyphen is not used where the following verb begins with a consonant, and we only need to refer to Longman’s for a final reassurance that ‘rewaking’ is the form required in the second chapter.