Archive for November 2011
EdRLS office at the University of Edinburgh is opened
by Lena Wånggren
Although we have been working diligently in our new office for a few months already, we finally thought it was time for a more celebratory opening of the new SWINC (Scottish Writing in the Nineteenth Century) and EdRLS office. Accompanied by fizzy wine and EdRLS cakes, and supervised by general editor Penny Fielding, we officially inaugurated our new workplace on Wednesday 5th October.
Lena and Marina
Since September, I have taken up the post of Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Fellow on the edition, working on both administrative and research-related matters, and also engaging with issues of knowledge transfer. And since October, we have been joined by our lovely Erasmus intern Marina Held, who is from University of Mainz, Germany. Marina will be working with us until March, digitising texts and working on note matters. Needless to say, we are very pleased to have her here!
What we do here
The Edinburgh office is where we collect and produce texts, and also work on the critical apparatuses, for many of the Stevenson volumes. At the moment we are busy with Prince Otto, Dynamiter, St Ives, Amateur Emigrant, Weir of Hermiston, and Memories and Portraits. Much of our work involves textual digitisation, that is, converting scans and other documents into digitally readable text files, and also digital collations, from which the editors can work more easily. The office is also where we manage our general file-keeping, including the progress of all the volumes, and from where we run various literary events around Edinburgh and Scotland.
Rest of the team
In addition to Marina and myself, we have two research assistants Sarah Ames and Kirsten Banks, who are both PhD candidates here at the English Literature department. They are both working with the editors of specific volumes, to make sure that digitised texts and notes are coming along. We are also very happy to have some of the volume editors Robert Irvine (Prince Otto), Alex Thomson (Memories and Portraits), and Andrew Taylor (The Wrecker), at the university – and of course also general editor Penny Fielding.
We were also joined by our undergraduate helper Colin Bramwell for the opening festivities and are hoping to add further undergraduates to the team for short internships to give experience of working on an international research project.
Stevenson and the semicolon
It was Barry Menikoff who first studied Stevenson’s interest in the semicolon (in his ground-breaking 1984 edition of The Beach of Falesá, pp. 43-46). He remarked on how his use of the semicolon creates uncertainty and ambiguity; how the semicolon juxtaposes and accumulates but does not promise a causal link (especially true when followed by “and”); and how it can also “set up contrast within a sentence”. He also reveals a tendency of compositors to change these semicolons to commas.
Following on from this, in my edition of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (EUP, 2002), I remarked on how
RLS typically places a semicolon before a conjunction, perhaps to render problematic the link between the two parts of the sentence. Early examples of this are: “No doubt the feat was easy to Mr. Utterson; for he was undemonstrative at the best” […], “And then there is a chimney which is generally smoking; so somebody must live there” […]. The conjunction following the semicolon is frequently “and“: there are no fewer than 203 examples of this in the text. Nabokov seems to have noticed this, as in his teaching copy of the book he rings both semicolon and following “and” in three examples in the first two chapters.
I had studied Nabokov’s teaching copy of the book in the New York Public Library (Berg Collection, Nabokov 00-21) and in my edition I noted the most significant annotations that I found there. One annotation, however, I did not record—not because I found it insignificant, but because I couldn’t make head or tail of it. The first occurrence of a ringed semicolon followed by ‘and’ is accompanied by a marginal comment:
What on earth could that mean?
It comes in the last sentence of an early paragraph:
An inkling of a solution
Nabokov’s lectures on literature that he gave at Wellesley College and Cornell University in the 1940s and 50s. were reconstructed from notes and typescripts by Fredson Bowers and published in 1980. I had consulted it for the chapter on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but hadn’t read the rest. Now I find that
1. The lecture on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary starts with “I want to draw attention first of all to Flaubert’s use of the word and preceded by a semicolon.” He sees this as “peculiar feature of Flaubert’s style”, used at the end of “an enumeration of actions or states or objects […] to introduce a culminating image, or a vivid detail” (Bowers p. 171).
2. The artistic use of the semicolon was also a feature of Nabokov’s own style. Rereading his father’s work on The Butterflies and Moths of the Russian Empire (1912), he says he was struck at the similarity of the style to his own, including
my father’s predilection for the semicolon (often preceding a conjunction — something one does find in the language of his university tutors: “that scholarly pause,” an echo of unhurried English logic — but at the same time related to Montaigne whom he regarded so highly); and I doubt that the development of these traits under my frequently willful pen was a conscious act. (‘Father’s Butterflies‘, Atlantic Monthly 285.4 (2000)
(‘Doubt’ here seems to be used with the French sense of ‘suspect’.) Here’s a typically Nabokovian reference to outdoors sex from Lolita
Now we know that Nabokov was interested in the stylistic effect of the semicolon followed by the word and, his ringing of this sequence in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is more understandable. But what does that enigmatic annotation mean? Well, you tell me. Could it be “the word and evokes a mysterious second author” (is that possible?).
But perhaps I copied the note wrongly, leaving out a semicolon, or—a hypothesis that I prefer—perhaps Nabokov’s “and” stands anyway for “semicolon followed by ‘and'”; in this case, the annotation could mean “I wonder who is the originator of this stylistic feature?”, or “Did he get this from Flaubert?” Any ideas?
The Oxford History of the Novel in English, or It’s OK to Like Reading Stevenson
A graduate student stopped me in the hall the other day to say she’d recently been reading Stevenson. Her pleasure was great, her surprise even greater. A budding scholar of sixteenth-century poetry, she had read Treasure Island as a child but nothing since. She was delighted to discover that Stevenson was, as she put it, “a real writer.” Not entirely trusting her own response, however, she typed “Is it OK to like reading Robert Louis Stevenson?” into Google. (After all, one doesn’t want to be caught approving of writers one’s peers and mentors disparage.) The results evidently reassured her.
Stevenson’s long academic rehabilitation took a couple of big steps forward this year with the appearance of The Reinvention of the British and Irish Novel 1880-1940, the first of the twelve projected volumes of The Oxford History of the Novel in English to be published. Edited by Patrick Parrinder and Andrzej Gasiorek, and checking in at 36 chapters and just over 600 pages, The Reinvention of the British and Irish Novel maps with admirable thoroughness the terrain of the novel during a period of often exhilarating transformation. Among the volume’s welcome features is its commitment to inclusivity. Borders are widened to take in what earlier critics exiled as subliterary, while internal boundaries are kept permeable. The landscape is shown to be diverse but not segregated. Ley lines traverse the literary field, connecting high to low, center to margin. An entire section of the volume—seven chapters—is given over to what is rather clunkily termed “Sub-generic and Specialized Fictional Forms” in the period 1880-1914, but the whole book is committed to taking the wide view, refusing to quarantine high culture figures such as James and Woolf from their more popular contemporaries.
Stevenson appears in 19 of the volume’s 36 chapters. Some are mere cameos, but taken all in all those 19 chapters show him in a wider array of guises than has usually been the case. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is, appropriately and unsurprisingly, featured in David Punter’s chapter on Gothic and supernatural fiction. Just as appropriately, just as unsurprisingly, Treasure Island is woven into the discussions of no fewer than three chapters: David Glover’s on the male romance, Nicholas Daly’s on fin de siecle adventure fiction, and Norma Clarke’s on the children’s novel. The two chapters that take up Scottish writing, by David Goldie and Cairns Craig, provide ample evidence of Stevenson’s importance and of his influence on both contemporaries and successors.
Stevenson the theorist of fiction is likewise a touchstone in multiple chapters. Glover devotes some astute paragraphs to Stevenson’s theorizing of romance in opposition not just to Jamesian realism but to the more florid stylizings of Walter Scott. For Craig, Stevenson’s “refusal of the art of representation” in “A Humble Remonstrance” “underlines the impact of scientific ideas that put in question the nature of the real and therefore of . . . realism.” Following a similar line, Jesse Matz sees Stevenson attempting “to replace empirical experience altogether” as the basis of narrative art, “making the artist’s imagination everything.”
Thanks to Andrew Nash (whose essay on “The Production of the Novel, 1880-1940, is among the strongest and most informative in the volume), Stevenson even appears on the dust jacket of The Reinvention of the British and Irish Novel. The dust jacket features the covers of five novels of the period. In the bottom left corner, the 1935 Oydssey Press edition of Ulysses is paired with 1907 Cassell edition of The Black Arrow, photo courtesy of Nash. Stevenson and Joyce make an interesting pairing. Food for thought.
Davie enters the kitchen of the House of Shaws and sees a bxxxk
In Chapter 3 of Kidnapped, David Balfour is reluctantly admitted by his uncle to the kitchen of the House of Shaws, and looks around him. In the 1886 Young Folks text and in the first book edition (Cassells, 1886), he sees:
Half a dozen dishes stood upon the shelves…
In Barry Menikoffs transcription of the manuscript in the Huntington Library, the sentence begins
Half a dozen dishes stood upon the brick…
Looking at the manuscript, the last word seemed more like ‘brink’:
I thought that was a bit better, but neither word mades any obvious sense. I looked in the SND and OED, to no avail. I asked various experts, thinking that we might find a traditional feature of Scottish kitchens called ‘brick’ or ‘brink’, in a use that (I persuaded myself) hadn’t made it to the SND. Then Jeremy Hodges solved the problem, at a stroke:
the Scots word for a shelf is a ‘bink’. The Chambers Concise English-Scots Dictionary (p226) has the following:
shelf see also ledge, shelving; skelf, dale; (eg on a wall, for plates etc) bink; (by an old fireplace, for pots etc) bink, hud.
Of course! once you start seeing that second letter as ‘r’ it’s difficult to ‘unsee’ it and re-sort the marks in any other way. So many thanks to Jeremy. I see from the Concise Scots Dictionary (meaning 2) that ‘bink’ is also, more specifically, ‘a wall rack or shelf for dishes; a kitchen dresser’ (late 18-early 20 cent), also (meaning 3) ‘a hob on a freplace; a shelf, ledge etc. at the side of such’. (Perhaps we should see it as a dresser, since RLS replaces it with ‘shelves’.)
Jeremy thinks that the change was an example of Colvin ‘bowlderizing’, but actually we have no evidence of Colvin substituting one word for another off his own bat (punctuation and spelling was another matter), and anyway RLS was in full control of the proofs in 1886: this must be a change that RLS decided when going over the Young Folk proofs.
Textual Editing in Principle and Practice: What Are You Reading? Lecture 2
Dr Alison Lumsden (University of Aberdeen) and Dr Anthony Mandal (Cardiff University)
National Library of Scotland, 9 November 2011, 6pm (free)
Why should you buy a book for £6.99 when you might have the same title for 1.99? Is it just the price? The quality of the paper and cover? Or might the text itself—the words you’ll be reading—be different?
Why does a research library like the NLS hold so many copies of the same title? What difference does it make to read one copy rather than another? Why are so many books even needed?
The books that we buy in bookshops or read in libraries may have the same titles, but they are often very different—they may contain different words; sometimes a crucial scene or even the ending may vary. Some editions will alert the reader to these differences—others will just print the most easily available text. In this series we will look at some famous examples of texts which have more than one version, and guide you through the choices editors make in order to produce a text for the informed reader.
In this lecture, the second of the series, scholars working on major editions of key Scottish authors will explore how modern editors set about producing an edited text. What are the principles we adhere to? What is the evidence that counts in valuing one state of the text over another? Should we prefer the author’s first or last version? How should we treat the author’s original manuscript? In the second part of the talk we will demonstrate the process of editing, in particular how we can benefit from the latest technological advances.
- Why we edit books. Dr Alison Lumsden (Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels)
- How we edit books. Dr Anthony Mandal (New Edinburgh Edition of Robert Louis Stevenson)
Part of the ‘What Are You Reading’ series of lectures and workshops. For more information download the ‘What Are You Reading’ information sheet PDF (122 KB, 2 pages).
Please book your tickets online or call the NLS directly on 0131 623 3918.
Ernest James Mehew, editor of the Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson
23 September 1923 – 24 October 2011
by Roger G. Swearingen
Ernest James Mehew, the world’s pre-eminent authority on the nineteenth-century Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, died peacefully in his sleep on 24 October 2011, a month after his eighty-eighth birthday. For approximately the last year, he had resided with his wife of more than fifty years, Joyce, in an Edgware, Middlesex, nursing home to provide her with support and companionship in her progressive and losing struggle with advanced-age dementia. She survives him; the Mehews had no children.
Ernest Mehew was born on 23 September 1923 at Bluntisham, Huntingdon and educated at Huntingdon Grammar School. In June 1942, at the age of eighteen, he joined the British Army and served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in the UK, France, Belgium, and India. Already fond of Stevenson from his school days, it was Janet Adam Smith’s 1938 biographical study, Mehew later recalled, that in 1942 made him a serious student of the author. After his time in the army, Mehew joined the Civil Service in 1947 and served in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Food, and (for most of his distinguished thirty-year career) the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food. He retired in 1983 at the level of Principal (G7).
He took advantage of his hour-long commute on the Bakerloo Line of the London Underground to and from his home in Stanmore to read not only everything that Stevenson himself wrote but practically everything that Stevenson himself had read and everything that had been written about him or about his family, his friends, and his times – whenever possible, from primary sources. Mehew’s knowledge was, as a result, encyclopaedic, not narrow, and besides frequent visits to second-hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road, he and his wife Joyce (herself a keen student of the period, and of the English author Maurice Baring) spent many a weekend searching bookshops for still more about Stevenson – notably in Peter Eaton’s sprawling establishment at Lilies near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and, later, in the many bookshops in Hay-on-Wye. The collection of books, periodical versions, reminiscences, and much else, soon filled every available corner of the house and attic.
From the early 1950s, in part from his letters to the Times Literary Supplement correcting errors and omissions and setting the record straight, often for the first time, Mehew became recognized not only for his knowledge of Stevenson but of the late nineteenth-century literary scene generally. Forming life-long friendships in the process, he helped with Janet Adam Smith’s editions of Stevenson’s Collected Poems (1950, 1971), with the British edition of J. C. Furnas’s biography of Stevenson, Voyage to Windward (1952), and with Rupert Hart-Davis’s major edition of Oscar Wilde’s letters (1962). ‘Mr. Mehew has unearthed several dozen letters unknown to me’, Hart-Davis wrote in his introduction, ‘besides doing the most acute detective work on behalf of the footnotes: any of them that seem particularly ingenious, amusing or recondite can safely be attributed to him, while Mrs Joyce Mehew’s extensive knowledge of the Bible has proved invaluable’. He was a mentor, too, to a younger generation of scholars, notably the Stevenson bibliographer Roger G. Swearingen, whom he first met in 1969 when Swearingen was in graduate school and with whom he maintained an active friendship and correspondence for more than forty years, practically to the day of his death.
In 1966, Mehew was asked by Yale University Press to comment on an edition of Stevenson’s letters then in preparation by Professor Bradford A. Booth. Mehew submitted a commentary so lengthy, useful, authoritative, and detailed that he was asked to become assistant editor of the Yale letters – a task which became his alone when Professor Booth died suddenly on 1 December 1968.
The eight volumes of The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, published twenty-five years later in 1994 and 1995, included more than 2,800 letters, almost two-thirds of them never before published. Mehew’s careful transcriptions, dating, and detailed and incisive annotations, together with his introduction and linking commentaries, not only placed the study of Stevenson upon a whole new foundation of fact, but also set a standard for the scholarly editing and accessible presentation of such material that will never be surpassed. It is a testimony to the thoroughness and completeness of Mehew’s work that in the fifteen years since the publication of the Yale Letters fewer than a dozen new letters have come to light, none of them of any great importance, and that the physical locations of only a dozen or so other letters, then untraced, have now become known.
Mehew’s Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (1997) is an engaging and balanced selection illuminated throughout by Mehew’s introduction, annotations, and linking commentary. The result, in effect, is an authoritative and highly readable short biography. Another masterpiece of compression and detail is Mehew’s entry on Stevenson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
In addition to his work on Stevenson’s letters, Mehew also – somehow – found time to respond positively and in detail in the TLS, 13 November 1970, to Graham Greene’s observation that Stevenson’s comic novel written in collaboration with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, The Wrong Box (1889), had never been published correctly. This was indeed the case, and the book was a special favourite of Mehew’s. He was an enthusiastic, contributing member of The Wrong Box Club that dined annually in London for some years in the 1960s – and his definitive edition of The Wrong Box appeared in 1989.
Mehew’s thoroughness and passionate commitment to accuracy earned him, at times, an undeserved reputation for irascibility. All he ever wanted was that people get things right. He was disappointed when they did not, and took great pains to correct errors wherever he found them. A striking example was his meticulous, detailed riposte to Frank McLynn’s biography of Stevenson in an article, 2 July 1993, and subsequent correspondence in the TLS. Like Stevenson himself, Mehew had an unlimited respect and thirst for knowledge – and no patience at all with prejudice, errors or with what RLS called ‘Bummkopfery’, whether in the form of laboured pedantry or its flourishing modern counterpart, academic ingenuity. Scholars worldwide benefited from Mehew’s never-failing willingness to answer questions and to suggest improvements, however disconcerting to one’s self-esteem his helpful comments might occasionally have been at first. The only goal was to get things right.
In recognition of his life’s work, in July 1997 the University of Edinburgh awarded Mehew an Honorary Doctor of Letters, noting in the citation that with no academic affiliation Ernest Mehew ‘has achieved . . . a contribution to literary studies which would be the envy of many a university-based academic, and has done so with a generosity to others and a self-effacing modesty which are the marks of a true scholar’. In 1999, Dr Mehew was elected as one of the 500 Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature.
Scholars and friends worldwide mourn his loss while celebrating his lasting and extraordinary achievements.