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

Manuscript transcription: volunteer helpers

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With a little help from our friends

Preparing a scholarly edition, you obviously need to study any manuscripts of the text or those associated with it in some way (drafts, chapter outlines etc). Sometimes you may just need to consult the manuscript and take notes, but in many cases you will need to transcribe it, so you can study it later or include a transcript in an appendix or shorter quotations in notes.

As long as you’re a single editor this can be done any way you choose, but in a project like ours transcriptions need to be standardized. If publication is going to be digital, then you need to use the conventions of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), or anyway (as in our case) a system that can be easily changed to this by find-and-replace. (The methodology will be tested and maybe adjusted with the publication of the first volumes.)

Transcribing and then proofing (we have three proofing stages) goes at the speed of the formation of a coral reef, i.e. slowly. As a result we are very grateful to our volunteers for all their help with transcription and proofing. Obviously the volume editors are involved in at least half of the work as this is how you become familiar with the manuscript’s contents, but with such a lot of work to do, every little helps. The team that is helping with the Essays includes Elaine Grieg, Neil Brown, Geraldine McGowan, Mafalda Cipollone and Olive Classe. From time to time we’ll be introducing them to the readers of this blog.

Olive Classe

Born 1924 in London. After taking my B.A.and B.Litt. at Oxford, I lectured in French Language and Literature in the University of Glasgow, special interests translation and C17 and C19 French Literature.  Pradon: Phedre et Hippolyte [1677], Édition critique par O. Classe (Exeter: Exeter University Publications, 1987). During the spring of 1955 I assisted my late husband in fieldwork in La Gomera, Canary Islands, on the local whistled language, the silbo gomero.  I retired from teaching in 1990 and moved back to London.

Since then I have freelanced as a writer, editor and translator. From 1997 to 2003 I was on the Society of Authors judging panel for the Valle-Inclán Prize for Translation from Spanish into English.  Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English, edited by Olive Classe (London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2.vols, 2000).   Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen and Rebel, translated by Olive Classe (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), from Jean Flori, Aliénor d’Aquitaine: la reine insoumise (Paris: Payot, 2004).

As my acquaintance with RLS’s literary and other written allusions in his early letters grows, so does admiration for the breadth and warmth of his interests, knowledge and sympathies, for the scrupulous self-discipline he applies to his craft, and for the stoical determination with which he manages poor health.  Attention has to spread to the essays and fiction, and so starting to help with the transcription of his MSS with their hesitations and corrections allows the beginning of some insights into the tactics and strategies of his writing procedures.

Supposition plays a considerable part in the interpretation of uncertain readings, but the editoral system of successive proofings produces enlightening and constructive consultations on fine points. In time sound evidence will surely accumulate, giving a basis for suggesting tentatively how the writer’s processes evolve into the products, revealing on the way the existence of transitory or characteristic themes, patterns and stylistic preferences.


Mafalda Cipollone

I was born in 1954 and live and work in Perugia. In 1978 I took a degree in Lettere e Filosofia at Perugia University with a thesis in Archaeology (on Roman sculpture). Since 1986 I’ve been working at the Museo Archeologico dell’Umbria in Perugia, where I look after stored materials, collaborate on exhibitions and assist students and scholars visiting our museum.

In 2008 I obtained my diploma in “Archival and Paleographic Science” , and I’m now researching into early collections of antique artefacts in Perugia and Umbria. As a result I’m getting used to reading and transcribing old handwriting.

I first met RLS when I was a little girl: I read the Italian translation of Treasure Island, but I did’t like it very much. Then I discovered that my father had a book of  Racconti e favole (short stories and fables — I have since discovered that they were translated by Aldo Camerino while hiding from the Nazis on Murano in 1943) — that made me change my mind… Once grown-up, I read many other works and loved them more and more. In 2005 I came across the Letters, on the net, on archive.org, I began to translate them into Italian, just for pleasure. The author’s personality revealed itself more and more and I found that it was quite different from the usually outlined picture.

Transcription is a sort of  voyage inside the author, his psyche, his time, his culture, and — most fascinating — his human nature. A sort of voyage in the past. I felt the same feeling excavating a Roman necropolis in Gubbio, years ago!


One Response

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  1. “work for wind” = travailler pour du vent. French expression meaning “to work for nothing”


    18/01/2012 at 6:55 pm

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