English Department Hosts “Textual Conditions” Conference

Posted on: April 5th, 2014 by Matthew Clarke

On March 29, the Department of English hosted Textual Conditions: Lawrence, Conrad, and Woolf, a day conference held in Cuneo Hall on Loyola’s Lakeshore campus. The conference, which was co-sponsored by the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities and the Martin J. Svaglic Chair in Textual Studies, featured four speakers—Dr. Peter Shillingsburg, Dr. Alexandre Fachard, Dr. Joyce Wexler, and Dr. Paul Eggert—each of whose papers dealt with the textual complexities of modernist works.

Peter Shillingsburg, Professor Emeritus at Loyola, presented the conference’s first paper, “Long Distance Revision: Who is Responsible for Textual Conditions?” Drawing on the examples of William Thackeray’s The Newcomes and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Dr. Shillingsburg argued that, at least in some cases, the indeterminacy of textual authority produces a condition in which multiple texts of the same work may be equally authorized. In the case of The Newcomes, Thackeray gave explicit approval to a fellow Punch contributor, Percival Leigh, to fill out the final pages of its 32-page sixth installment after three pages went missing in the mail. Leigh succeeded in doing so by inserting prepositions, making changes in format, and adding an illustration to fill extra space, but during the process he also made substantive verbal alterations to the text constituting the installment. Similarly, in proofing copies of To the Lighthouse for two different first editions—one British and the other American—Woolf was forced by the formatting requirements of the British (but not the American) edition to cut two pages from the text of the proof. However, she ultimately cut the pages from both British and American proofs, while also making a number of other minor textual alterations in the process. According to Dr. Shillingsburg, such cases exemplify the indeterminacies about textual authority that frequently make it impossible for an editor to “just give us the text.”

Next to speak was the Université de Lausanne’s Alexandre Fachard, who argued in his paper “Conrad and his Typists” that editorial attentiveness to type technologies and individual typists themselves can help resolve textual questions in modernist works, like those of Joseph Conrad. After detailing the social position of the typist in late nineteenth-century Britain, Dr. Fachard illustrated the ways in which knowledge about Conrad’s typists and their machines could potentially help resolve certain textual questions. In general, Conrad relied on two typists—his wife, Jessie Conrad, and his secretary, Lillian Hellowes—with markedly different backgrounds and typographic styles: Jessie Conrad tended to produce typed texts with variable margin sizes, untidy corrections, inconsistent punctuation, and numerous misspellings, while Ms. Hellowes’s texts were distinguished by their predictable margins sizes, erasures and inter-linear additions, consistent punctuation, and correct spellings. According to Fachard, a close attention to such differences can facilitate textual decision making, help date documents, and aid in the determination of textual authority.

Following Dr. Fachard, Loyola’s English Department Chair Dr. Joyce Wexler presented her paper, “Conrad’s The Rescue in Its Time and Ours,” which argued that interpretations of Conrad’s text have been shaped by the unstable interplay between its documentary instantiations and the cultural contexts in which they appeared. Dr. Wexler’s paper focused on three contexts in particular: 1919, when The Rescue was read as a comment on World War 1; 1950, when it was rejected by the New Critics as an artistic failure; and the contemporary critical climate, which tends to praise the novel as an indictment of British colonialism. According to Dr. Wexler, such readings have been encouraged not only by shifting historical contexts but also by varying bibliographic properties. For example, when it was first issued in installments under the name “Land and Water” in 1919, the novel included on its title page a cartoon of a whip-bearing German officer and a caption that served to fix the recent war as its subtext. However, the novel’s reception soon began to change, as new bibliographic material became available and old aesthetic standards were jettisoned. By mid-century, the New Critics had dismissed The Rescue as an aesthetic failure, basing their judgement especially on those studies of Conrad’s revisions that had been made possible by access to MS versions of the work. Against the New Critics, contemporary scholars have praised the novel, arguing in particular that its illustrations exemplify the manner in which Conrad used romance to destabilize gender and colonial ideologies.

The conference’s final paper—“Editing Versions or Editing Works: Which Should It Be for D. H. Lawrence and Joseph Conrad?”—was delivered by Paul Eggert, of the University of New South Wales. Using examples from the work of Lawrence and Conrad, Dr. Eggert argued that the “textual condition”—loosely speaking, the condition of indeterminate textual authority—is inescapable and thus necessitates a turn from the project of editing editions of works to that of editing editions of versions of works. According to Dr. Eggert, an edition of a version of a given work should be understood as an “argument” about, or a “transaction” with, the documentary manifestations of a work, rather than its definitive editorial representation, thus allowing for the possibility of multiple and equally valid editions. An edition of a version of a work can draw on multiple documents, but instead of encapsulating a work, such an edition  itself becomes part of that work by documenting a new—but not authoritative—intervention between an editor and a set of readers.

The conference concluded with a roundtable discussion chaired by Dr. Pamela Caughie, during which five graduate students—Missy Coleman, Sarah Eilefson, Andrew Welch, Jason Kolkey, and Matthew Clarke—offered general remarks on the conference’s major themes.

A reception followed in the Mundelein Center’s Sky Lounge.

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