The Alfa and the Avant-texte:  Transcribing Virginia Woolf’s Manuscripts

in Editing and Interpreting Virginia Woolf. Ed. James Haule (Palgrave, 2002)

“Forms effect meanings”

– D. M. McKenzie

The black Alfa Romeo snarled out of the parking garage and headed toward the East River, weaving through the 5 o’clock surge of yellow cabs. At Second Avenue the driver snapped the gearshift down into second gear, whipped the car left across two airport buses and headed uptown through Harlem. 

“The Duty of the Editor is to Edit,” she declared, taking up my question about manuscript transcriptions.

“Yes but . . .” I said, nervously watching the tach spin toward the red line.

            “You have to make decisions,” she said, slicing across three lanes of traffic to hit Harlem River Drive, “cut extraneous material.” She cut off two gentlemen in a coupe de ville – the passenger gave us the finger and the driver seemed to be mouthing something about his mother.

“Readers want a clean text,” she said. “They don’t want to have to read through all those squiggles, or figure out flying brackets, square brackets – shit!” the Italian air horns blared at some poor station wagon that had dared to slow for the exit ramp, “or any of those symbols.” 

She swung round the wagon, geared down, and flung the Alfa into the tightening curve. My stomach was tightening too – we hit third gear, 60 mph, and the deck of the George Washington Bridge all at the same moment.

“But a manuscript is . . .” I started.

            “Exactly. The original manuscripts are accessible. So why reproduce them?”

            We were heading west now, into the spitting rain, across to New Jersey. I held fast to the grab handle, and tried to hang on to my position. 

            I tried again. “The manuscripts are ‘accessible’ if you live in New Jersey or Manhattan but what about scholars further afield?” 

The Pirellis were singing in the rain and the not-so-muted roar of the big Alfa six made conversation difficult.

            “Look,” said Louise, raising her voice (for it was Louise DeSalvo, editor of “Melymbrosia”), “I consulted the MLA committee on editing and they said CLEAN TEXT.” 

We were going 80 now and she seemed to have a grudge against some semi-trailer who wanted into our lane. We were wheel to wheel like in the Ben Hur chariot race – except that the semi’s wheels were bigger than our whole car.

            “Ok ok,” I conceded. MLA, semis, what the hell. I didn’t expect to reach Jersey alive anyway.

But I did, and now I want to re-open that argument, having produced a holograph edition of  the Jacob’s Room manuscript, and no longer trapped in a speeding Alfa.[i]  I begin with an anecdote because, as the vignettes in Woolf’s own essays remind us, whether it is a beadle barring the way to an archive or a young man sedulously extracting nuggets of ore in the British Library reading room, personal dynamics impinge upon scholarship. My own encounter raises issues of ownership and power, access and appropriation, mastery and privilege, issues that materially affect the texts we reproduce, yet that are always disavowed. For instance, De Salvo’s argument about the manuscripts being accessible was based not only on proximity (a New Jersey-centric conception of the world in which you needed only to hop across the river to consult the originals), but also upon a presumption of access to the privileged space of the Berg Collection, a room guarded and aloof from the rabble of the main reading room. Too often we treat manuscript work as if it were value-neutral: you discover the document, you reproduce it accurately, and you keep the scholar out of the text. But the scholar is in the text whether she or he wants to be or not, and we are wrong to pretend that this is not so. In this essay I will examine the three principal transcription models –  the “clear text” of Melymbrosia;  the edited and annotated text of Pointz Hall; and the facsimile transcription of The Waves, which I used for Jacob’s Room – not to provide readings of  particular passages in the texts, but to explore the mediations of the form, to consider the implications of format and annotation styles. My argument is that we must “read” the page: for page design, ostensibly innocent, has designs on us.

To contextualize this discussion briefly, in the quarter-century since Graham produced his edition of The Waves there has been a revolution in the status of drafts, as genetic criticism and French editorial theory have influenced Anglo-American critical practices. In the introduction to “DRAFTS,” the 1996 special issue of Yale French Studies, the editors declared, “Today we tend  to be fond of works that have managed to retain something of the aura of their potentialities.… The classical notion of the monumental and stable work is now being contested by a growing interest in that part of the work that is movement, action, creative gesture, solidified ephemera” (1, 4). What this means is that where “in the past, editors aimed to establish a text in what they hoped would be a definite edition [now] genetic critics have put the text back into motion” (2). This shift in attitude has given rise to the term avant-texte.[ii] Where “draft” carries associations of “rough draft,” something to move beyond, to cast off,  avant-texte (like avant-garde) implies something forward looking, if incomplete and fragmentary, something with intrinsic value (De Biasi 26; Robinson-Valéry 59).[iii] Further, as Christine Froula says in one of her indispensable articles on modernism and genetic criticism, “Genetic texts not only document the evolution of literary works through the stages of their compositional history but … emphasize their interdependence with historical conditions ” (“Portraits” 513).

Woolf herself was one of those intrigued by the idea of texts in motion. In A Room of One’s Own she notes how it shocked Charles Lamb to think “Lycidas” could have been different. In a footnote to his 1820 essay “Oxford on Vacation” Lamb raged against the instability of the avant-texte: “There is something to me repugnant, at any time, in written hand,” he said,

The text never seems determinate. Print settles it. I had thought of the Lycidas as of a full-grown beauty—as springing up with all its parts absolute—till, in evil hour, I was shown the original written copy of it…. How it staggered me to see the fine things in their ore! interlined, corrected! as if their words were mortal, alterable, displaceable at pleasure! as if they might have been otherwise, and just as good! as if inspirations were made up of parts, and those fluctuating, successive, indifferent!  I will never go into the work-shop of any great artist again.[iv] 

Woolf (or her persona), on the other hand, has already decided as she walks across the quadrangle, to “amuse myself with wondering what could have been bettered, where Milton had thought twice” (8). 

            As recent critics have noted, in the Modern period a delight in possibilities replaced Lamb’s terror of textual instability, not only in writing but in other art forms as well. Francis Marmande argues that the valorization of perpetual becoming is best exemplified in that quintessential modernist form, jazz: “The best improvisations have never been ‘takes,’ they are played elsewhere, tomorrow, on a night when nobody was there, among musicians, on a smoky dreamlike night in a world that leaves no trace and there’s no second take.” (156). In Modernist sculpture, Judith Robinson-Valéry cites Rodin as one who, by including unworked or half-worked stone in pieces such as Les Bourgeois de Calais, Danaïde, and La Pensée, suggested “the necessary part played by the ‘rough’ in making the ‘polished’ possible – no longer as a negation or correction of the ‘rough’ but rather as its completion” (64). Thus the draft and the final work mutually define one another, and are in fact ultimately inseparable. Vincent Kaufmann, in “Valéry’s Garbage Can,” contends that genetic theory “is an effect of modernism: it systematizes the modernist promotion of the ‘work’ of writing” (70), and he cites Valéry as one for whom the published book is always circumstantial, and often the result of a commercial order. Lacan calls publication poubellication: the creation of garbage, and for Valéry “the published work is an accident,” it represents a discontinuity in its own genesis (80). Similarly, though Woolf declares in “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” that as she is forced to “make a dizzy and dangerous leap” from one line of  The Waste Land to the next, she cries out “for the old decorums,” she is already taking us beyond those decorums. As  Froula points out, when Woolf’s narrator in Women and Fiction compares her first chapter to a “bucket of splinters” we immediately think of Jacob’s Room  (“Portraits” 520, 525). Indeed, Froula argues, drafts and fragments “become modernity’s quintessential forms…the major epistemological shift of the modern period [is] the dissolving of the object as such into action, process, a history in which ghostly traces of what is not there can resonate almost as palpably as what is” (“Villanelle”113, 117).[v] In tracing that action, that process, that history we must rely on transcriptions, for the original manuscripts are even less accessible than they were in the mid-1980s. Yet though these transcriptions can provoke heated debates about the accuracy of the linguistic text, the iconic aspects of the transcription are often ignored. 

Figure 1: Jacob’s Room manuscript, Notebook 2, p. 215

Viewing the page of the Jacob’s Room manuscript the reader can see how Woolf has worked it, with interlineations, four sections of marginalia down the left, big sweeping loops encircling material to be moved, horizontal strikeouts through portions of lines, and, in the centre of the page – though these are harder to see – lazy vertical squiggles deleting four lines of text. What strikes the reader first is not any particular passage but the page itself, the activity and energy displayed there. In short, we read the page as well as the text.

Figure 2: Melymbrosia, p. 10

In the De Salvo Melymbrosia we read the text. As Louise said to me in the Alfa, “It looks like a book. Graduate students like it because they can read it.” This is true: the variants are tucked away at the back (on page 273) allowing us to consult them if we want them, but encouraging us to read the text unimpeded. But as George Bornstein points out in discussing the protocols of reading variorum editions, “the paradoxical effect … is to enshrine whatever version the edition uses as its base text … and cause the reader to skip over the very apparatus that would allow reconstruction of alternate versions” (“Modernist Poetry” 164). Elsewhere he quotes Jo Ann Boydston’s blunt description in her presidential address to the Society for Textual Scholarship of such apparatus: the “dreary lists that no one uses at the back of critical editions” (“Yeats” 246).

The title-page defines the audience for this text: it is a Scholar’s Edition, published by the New York Public Library. Further, the copyright page has the MLA seal of approval: “Center for Scholarly editions / AN APPROVED TEXT/ Modern Language Association of America.”[vi]  This emblem has a history. Peter  Shillingsburg notes that “the roots of modern textual criticism lie in classical and biblical scholarship which generally speaking assumes an ur-text,” usually conceived to have been single and completed, and this idea of an archetype or ideal text was carried over into modern textual criticism (“Inquiry” 55). The governing assumption was that the author’s intentions were paramount, and that the editor’s job was to serve the author. The one concession to serving the reader in American scholarly editing was the “clear reading text, uninterrupted by footnotes or note indicators.”  More than anything else, Shillingsburg argues, “this principle reflects…[a] belief in the established definitive text, the recovery of Pure Virgin Text” (“Inquiry” 56), and he draws attention to the implications of format: “English editions have tended to use notes at the foot of the text page, indicating, tacitly, a greater modesty about the ‘established’ text and drawing attention more forcibly to at least some of the alternative forms of the text” (“Inquiry” 76, n.8).[vii] This, then is the trade-off: clear text militates against an awareness of alternatives.

Figure 3: Pointz Hall, p. 56

Unlike DeSalvo’s edition, Mitchell Leaska’s transcription of the Pointz Hall typescript  gives a great deal of intertextual information on the page: the first bracketed insertion tells us that this is page 38 of the Early Typescript, draft 1, scene 5, and that it corresponds to the Hogarth Press edition, pages 22-34, and the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich edition pages 16-26. I mention this first because that is what my eye is drawn to first on the page. John Graham in his transcription of  The Waves puts an asterisk in the margin and uses a footnote to mark the corresponding published texts – Leaska’s reference slices across the page. Having noted the page correspondences with other texts, I start reading, and learn in the second line that Woolf first wrote “peal” and then “chime.” At least that is what I think she did, so I reconsult the list of abbreviations, and am reminded that angle brackets indicate a word inserted, either above or below the line, or in the margin. But reading in a linear mode I read ‘peal’ first, and I find the first term takes precedence for me, whether it is in angle or square brackets; and I wonder if it is in the margin or not. I am also made uneasy by the note that “Editor’s insertions are not indicated. A missing a or the or some such comparable minor oversight has simply been filled in”: the language sounds to me paternalistic – Woolf’s “oversight” has “simply been filled in” (22).

            Further, this edition includes a section called “Notes and References” that is in fact extensive commentary. Note in the middle of the page the line about fishing, leading into the rape of the young girl:

 Every year the same chime followed the same chime; it seemed impossible that any thing should change the chimes; or change the picture; of children fifty years ago, fishing in the stream that ran through the meadow. But she changed; it changed – the thing that was behind : today <“it” was> “the girl screamed; and hit him about the face; they dragged her to the bedroom in the barrack and held her down.”

Leaska glosses this as follows:

Lucy and Bart “fishing in the stream,” so carefully placed beside the girl’s rape in the barrack room, assumes added possibilities of interpretation as Lucy’s memory of that childhood experience begins to multiply in steadily changing contexts. Moreover, Lucy’s fascination with taking the fish off the hook and the blood-filled gills (ETS 37) has a much subtler meaning because of the way V.W. uses “hook” in this passage. Chaucer’s Prioress wore a pendant containing the words “Amor vincit omnia” (cf. Virgil's “Omnia vincit Amor”: “Love conquers all” Eclogues, X, 69). It is not hard to see how “Amor” (love) could easily be confused with “Amus” (hook); and how “vincere” (to conquer) somehow got associated with “vincire” (to bind). So that the hook, in the scene with Lucy and Bartholomew, resonates with sexual implications. The “hook” is used explicitly in Jacob’s Room where Jacob’s childish love for Mrs. Sandra Wentworth Williams is described as “this hook dragging in his side” (HP: 146, HBJ: 147). (203)

This is a close and subtle reading. Yet the effect, for this reader at least, is to draw attention away from Virginia Woolf’s “flight of the mind” and to direct it toward the flight of Mitchell Leaska’s mind. The usual ascendancy of text over commentary becomes reversed. As Tribble says, we “necessarily use citation form as a demonstration of mastery” (163), but there are degrees of assertiveness.[viii] The style of annotation reflects the mise en page of the transcription itself. The Leaska text reminds us every few lines that there is an editor here, shaping the text, and it raises questions about power and authority, about who owns the text. But its function is clear: it encourages what McGann calls “radial reading” – the text is like the hub of a wheel and the spokes lead out to other versions and to other texts.[ix]  Pointz Hall is a work we consult, with other texts close at hand.

In his facsimile edition of The Waves John Graham reproduces the holograph draft page-for-page and line-for-line, with interlineations, marginalia, and squiggles. This format produces not only a linear reading (as with the DeSalvo text) or a radial reading (as with the Leaska text) but an iconic reading.[x] The passage here, reproduced as in the transcription, is one of the most famous from The Waves, not only a characterizing device for Bernard, but a self-referential commentary on the text itself, and on Woolf’s struggle with language:

            I have never found the phrase. I

            need a little language such as

            lovers use. I need some simpler

            language, when the storm comes over

            the marshes & passes over me

            where I lie in the ditch, minute,

            unseen. Nothing neat. Nothing

            that comes down on the page

on all fours. None of those

resonances & lovely

echoes, that break their

chimes in our blood & beat in

our brains: I have done with


If we read it aloud we find that the text, formatted like an imagist poem, becomes a “little language.”

This particular page is clean, but in her notebooks Woolf constantly uses her margins. The use of angle brackets to indicate insertions has profound implications for the text. The material in brackets may have been above the line, may have been in the margin, so now it is in spatial limbo, it has no material site. It makes it impossible for us to reconstruct the page in the mind’s eye, and thus privileges a purely linguistic theory of text, one that not only ignores but banishes the iconic dimension. In Margins and Marginality Evelyn Tribble speaks eloquently of how, with marginalia, the page becomes a “territory of contestation” (55). Because the margin is in a fluid relationship to the text proper, margins allow us to see the competing claims of internal authority and plural, external authorities in the margins of  the text. Tribble is speaking of the Bible and its marginal gloss by commentators, but she notes how Derrida in The Margins of Philosophy uses the margins to disturb illusion of univocality of the text, and she cites Spivak who remarks in an interview that she is beginning to think of margins as, “the place for the argument, the place for the critical moment, the place of interests for assertions rather than a shifting of the center” (103). The dynamic between margin and text is pointed up forcibly if we ask how the Rime of the Ancient Mariner would read if all the glosses were in footnotes. Imagine the “moon gloss” at the foot of the page, or at the end of the poem, or enclosed in angle brackets and placed after the stanza.

Figure 4: Jacob’s Room, p. 240

The Jacob’s Room transcription, like those of John Graham and Susan Dick of To the Lighthouse, is a facsimile transcription. What may strike us first are the words, “doesn’t know how to come into a room yet” – yet in a bracketed transcription the phrase would come in a set of angle brackets after “and yet such a bumpkin.” If in editing the draft you erase the distinction between interlinear additions and marginalia, you destroy the dynamic of the page, the multivocal quality of the manuscript, the tensions between text and emendation. Marginalia are not, in the colloquial sense of the term, marginalized, but foregrounded; whereas interlineations are  buried. Yet with brackets both are turned into a species of strikeout: both parentheticalized, embedded in the line and second-classed. But the marginal is something Woolf is coming back to, augmenting, giving a second look, not something she is eliminating or emending on the fly in the middle of the line. If we are going to read the drafts as drafts we have to be alert to the choreography of the page. And these readings are crucial to our readings of the text as a whole. To quote Louis Hay, manuscripts “give a new power to literary critics.…The ways in which the text is laid out on the page, with marginal notations, additions, cross-references, deletions, alterations, in different handwriting styles, and with drawings and symbols, texture the discourse, increase the significations and multiply the possible readings” (“Text” 69).[xi]  What is at issue here is a sense of textual life and activity that conventional printed documents deny.

I felt strongly enough about the interlineations and marginalia to invest my own research money in paying a designer to work the page. She adjusted each individually, changing the spacing so the interlineations would fit the text block, changing the type size so that the lines would fit as Woolf wrote them, without wraparounds. I then added the scribbles using a fountain pen with an italic nib. These marks serve two functions: (1) they display the movements of Woolf’s creation, but (2) they function in the transcription as a rupture of the holographic into the typographic, a textual scar that draws attention to the metamorphosis going on in this published text. They shatter the smooth surface of the typographic text, where they merely disrupt the original holograph, but they serve here as a reminder of the actual labour of Woolf’s writing. And for Woolf it was a struggle: some of the strikeouts look like the lazy motion of a paddle in water, and suggest a reflective decision to delete; others are sharp slashes that call up the shower scene in Psycho.

Marta Werner writes passionately about graphic markings. In her introduction to Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios she declares, “Against an editorial and a critical tradition that has ‘normalized text’ and focused primarily on its signs, I have introduced facsimiles to ‘abnormalize readers’ and to emphasize the iconicity of the manuscript pages themselves” (50). Werner reproduces even the backs of pages with the merest squiggle on them, putting in dashes and underlinings by hand because, “the regularizing effect of type utterly eras[es] their instantaneousness and force” (50). Indeed, Woolf scholars have observed how the printed ampersand transforms the character of her drafts: what is a quick flick in the manuscript becomes something as elaborate as a treble clef in the published version – “&”.

As Brenda Silver notes, Susan Stanford Friedman associates Woolf’s drafts with repression and suppression,[xii] and she herself argues that Woolf  “illustrates the process of condensing, displacing, or erasing an anger that is culturally forbidden from the ‘final,’ public, published versions” (208). Whether we agree with Friedman or not, the markings on the text provide evidence of different kinds of cancellation.[xiii]  Louis Hay points out that “from the first jottings in a notebook to the final manuscript, we are following a process of socialization of the writing, leading from the most brusquely individual notations to interference by cultural codes and the regulated contours of the text” (“History” 207). If we are to be sensitive to this “process of socialization of the writing,” the material embodiments of the texts must, while they cannot duplicate the original, at least allow room for an imaginative engagement with the earlier stages of the work. 

We are bound by technology, but we can incorporate signs of resistance within the published text. Helen Wussow’s The Hours and S. P. Rosenbaum’s Women in Fiction bracket the interlineations and replace squiggles and slashes with conventional strikeouts, but they do give us marginalia. In producing camera-ready copy these editors have been bound (as I was) by the strictures of the 7 ½” text block; thus economics determine the shade of the page, and the draft looks much denser than in Woolf’s notebooks. Not only are the material conditions of production written on the text, but in some cases the publishing history is as well. Stuart Nelson Clarke’s self-published edition of the holograph draft of Orlando began life in the early 1980s as a project intended for publication by University of Toronto Press (as in fact did Jacob’s Room), but the press lost interest in the series and in 1993 Clarke published it himself. Clarke’s loss is our gain. One of the attractive features of his edition is that for the draft itself he uses a typeface that mimics his early typed transcription of the draft, while for the front matter and notes he uses a modern typeface with proportional spacing. Thus the pages of Woolf’s text, paler in spindly type and laid out double space on generously-sized sheets, are set apart visually from the commentary. We almost feel we are dealing with one of Woolf’s corrected typescripts. Clarke’s edition invites us not just to consult a particular passage but to read the work, and to read it as an avant-texte.

As Jean Bellemin-Noel says, “The difference between The Text (finished, in other words: published) and the pre-text is that the former offers itself as an entity spellbound in its destiny, whereas the latter holds and reveals its own history” (quoted in Hay, “Text” 71). “History” is doubly important here because in fact the manuscript transcription, the avant-texte, has become an après-texte: we come back to the draft not in a circle but in a spiral, reading it (in most cases) after reading the published text, and indeed after studying the published text. We can never read De Salvo’s text as Clive Bell read early chapters of Melymbrosia, long before The Voyage Out was published. De Salvo’s title-page calls attention to this fact by calling it “a Scholar’s text.”  In transcribing the avant-texte we have not “recovered” it: out of the manuscript we have created a completely new work. And reading in this circular or spiral way we move beyond the notion of a text as a finite entity. We are all sophisticated enough to avow the fluidity of the text, to agree with Roland Barthes that it is a methodological field, but in practice it is hard to break free of the notion that texts are closed, fissures are faults, and unity the goal, to be imposed if not discovered. I would argue it is this kind of reading that the clear text of Melymbrosia, or in a different way, the edited text of Pointz Hall invites. To oversimplify, with DeSalvo we read as scholars, appraising an already-edited work; with Leaska we read more as students, commentary keeping us on a tight leash; with Graham and Dick we read as genetic critics, tracing the process, and consciously or not, Graham and Dick promote a post-structuralist notion of text.[xiv]

Draft transcriptions should be messy; they should convey the mood of creation. Reading the end of The Waves in Graham’s edition, watching the pages get shorter, the lines get shorter, strikeouts and marginalia all left behind as Woolf’s pen moves swiftly across the page is, for me, a thrilling experience. A thrill inseparable from the contrast between the sure slender lines, and the anguished, clotted pages that precede them.[xv]  Drafts should also convey the contingency of the process. At the end of Jacob’s Room we have the ending Woolf wrote and then partially deleted:

“What is one to do with these, Mr. Bonamy?”

She held out a pair of Jacob’s old shoes.

They both laughed.

The room waved behind her tears. (275)


We also have the ending of the manuscript itself. The last passage of  Jacob’s Room in Berg Notebook 3 is the image of the thorn tree at midnight, and Mrs. Flanders going to bed:

But at midnight when it is perfectly still & no one

                                                     the thorn tree is perfectly still,

speaks or gallops, & from nothing stirs, & the


clock strikes twelve [& the rectory lamp is


extinguished & the Mrs. Flanders lies down:]


then it would be foolish espe to vex the moor with


questions, or to say anything now that   It makes no


reply.     The church clock strikes twelve. (293)


A page that takes us to the subtext of the mother’s love. Having read these endings we will always read with at least two other possibilities in mind when we re-read the published ending. We still seem to be groping for an adequate metaphor for what goes on here. Louis Hay says, “Perhaps we should consider the text as a necessary possibility, as one manifestation of a process which is always virtually present in the background, a kind of third dimension of the written work” (75). Brenda Silver invokes Hans Zeller’s image of the textual history of a work as a three-dimensional cylinder (205). Pierre-Marc De Biasi goes one further and insists we need a conception of textuality that “fills out the text with a dimension that had been sorely lacking: the fourth dimension, that of time, where the text of the work reclaims possession of its history” (57). And we need different reading practices. Over ten years ago Susan Stanford Friedman insisted on “the necessity of reading ‘both ways’ instead of regarding the ‘final’ texts as the endpoint” (146). More recently Hans Walter Gabler has argued for “circularity,” and Michael Groden envisions “the reader oscillating between…the deep background” and the text (185, 196). What underlies all of these images is a dynamic conception of text. McGann puts it dramatically: “Every text has variants of itself screaming to get out” (10). One thinks immediately of the possibilities of hyper-text: a photo-reproduction of the actual holograph; a facsimile transcription like Graham’s to facilitate working with the manuscript; a clear text like De Salvo’s to appreciate the linguistic text of the draft; a full set of annotations linking the draft to published versions, such as Leaska provides; and the published versions of the novel, with reproductions of the dust-jackets, blurbs, and other paratextual features.[xvi]

However, the basic issue remains. The most important effect of the avant-texte, says Genette, is that it “confronts what the text is with what it was, with what it could have been, with what it almost became” (402). In reading Virginia Woolf’s manuscripts and typescripts we want to preserve that sense of becoming. Editorial interpretation or clarity of representation should be subordinated to the dance, the struggle, of the page. Marta Werner poses the essential question in her epigraph from Cixous’ Readings: “Writing is already something finished.…What does it mean to work on texts that are ‘near to the wild heart’?”  If we are to engage with Woolf’s pre-publication texts we need transcriptions that preserve their wildness. 

[i]             This essay began as a paper delivered at the Virginia Woolf Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, in June of 1998, where Mark Hussey provided invaluable assistance with the visuals. I would like to thank Jo-Ann Wallace for her suggestions, Jim Haule for his constructive comments on the expanded version, and John Stape for his sharp editorial eye.

To clarify the often-confused terms holograph, manuscript, and autograph, holograph derives from the Greek holos and graphos and for “wholly written.”  It is an adjective, not a noun, and it means written entirely in the hand of the author. Manuscript of course applies to documents written by hand, but unlike holograph it need not be the author’s hand. Autograph is applied to writings in the author’s hand, but the term usually refers to letters, inscriptions, notes, etc. Holograph, on the other hand, is reserved for literary manuscripts. So in editing Woolf we might encounter her manuscript notes on other authors for her essays, her autograph letters, and her holograph drafts. See Carter, p. 121.

[ii] Louis Hay credits Jean Bellemin-Noël with creating the term avant-texte in 1974 (“Text” 71). Pierre-Marc De Biasi has prepared an exhaustive typology of the avant-texte, distinguishing among six different stages and the different kinds of work associated with each (see his chart, 34-35), but I use the term here as most critics do, to indicate the whole range of pre-publication documents.

[iii] In French it is worse: brouillon (rough draft) as an adjective also means careless and untidy, and the term is associated with brouillard, brouille, brouiller, and brouillé: mist, muddle, quarrel, and scrambled, as in scrambled eggs.

[iv] Collected Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, 2: 311; cited in Rosenbaum, 204. See Froula, “Portraits,” 513.

[v] See Bornstein’s “Once and Future Texts”: “Most modernist poems exist in multiple forms, more like a process than a product, with each form carrying its own authorization and validity” (164). See also Rabaté on Modernism and the production of the “Ideal Genetic Reader.”

[vi] Moreover, the Preface thanks the  MLA’s Committee on Scholarly Editions, especially W. Speed Hill and G. Thomas Tanselle, for providing advice. These are names to conjure with in editorial theory; their presence in the preface is akin to having a deconstructive work endorsed by Jacques Derrida  or a post-colonial study by  Homi Bhabha. 

[vii] Although the CEAA emphasized that the emblem of approval read “An Approved Text” rather than “The Approved Text,” and the MLA modified this emblem to read “An Approved Edition” rather than “An Approved Text” (thus emphasizing that the editing was definitive, though the text itself not necessarily so) this was merely, says Shillingsburg, an acknowledgement that “editors attempting to produce a text that best represented the author’s intentions were confronted from time to time with inconclusive evidence” (57). The concept of recovering Pure Virgin Text still held sway. See also his “Text as Matter, Concept, and Action.”

[viii] See pp. 16-22 of Anthony Grafton’s brilliant history of the footnote for an account of how scholars skewer each other and attempt to master texts through notes.

[ix] “The elementary sign of a radial reading is probably illustrated by a person who rises from reading a book in order to look up the meaning of a word in a dictionary or to check some historical or geographical reference” (116).

[x] See Bornstein and Tinkle’s introduction to The Iconic Page for a discussion of the “semantics of the page” (1)

[xi] As McGann points out, “to read Blake, or any newspaper, is to be reminded of the crucial importance of spatial relations; physical space calls out different modes of reading” (113). We need only think of the difference between the New York Times and USA Today, or the London Times and the Daily Mail to feel the force of this. Groden re-animates the dead metaphor “the body of text” to observe of Joyce’s notebooks,  “the avant-texte documents have the appearance of a textual body with appendages jutting out in many different directions” (189).

[xii] “Read intertextually, ‘drafts’ are potentially the ‘textual unconscious’ of the ‘final’ text.… In political terms, the repression of what is forbidden in the change from ‘draft’ to ‘final’ text may reflect the role of ideology as an internalized censor” (“Return” 145). Our relationship to pre-publication materials is tricky. Further, where the published text is presented to the reader, drafts, on the other hand, are overheard writing. We are not face to face with the author, we are looking over her shoulder from the side (half-acknowledged) or behind (uninvited and unknown). Or is this true? Genette points out when a writer wants the manuscripts to disappear she or he knows enough to attend to it in person, “The pre-texts retained by posterity are all, therefore, pre-texts passed on by their authors”; the message is  “’Here is what the author was willing to let us know about the way he wrote his book’” (396). A good point: how many years did Woolf hang on to, and move the 1,000-page typescript of Melymbrosia?

[xiii] In his catalogue to an exhibition of notebooks in St. Louis, Kevin Ray sees struggle in the very etymology of the term: “Just as the notebook is a place of memory and memorialization… so too it is a place of conflict and of struggle. Latin notebooks, pugillares, “little writing tablets”, are empty spaces, objects and loci … interpolated into a place between words derived from pugio (boxer or pugilist) and those derived from pugio (dagger or poinard), which gives way to pugna (fight, battle, combat), pugnacitas (desire of fighting), and, as if to link page to pen, pugneus (pertaining to the fist).” He goes on to point out a central irony of the notebook: it is “a physical place where-in the fluid is fixed in its fluidity…. Even the writer discovers a difference… once it is located on the page, a place of revising, of re-reading” (2).

[xiv] But see Brenda Silver, who argues that Graham echoes Tanselle’s notions of  “authorial intent” and the primacy of the organic work of art in his “Editing a Manuscript: Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.”

[xv] Read the final two pages, 742-43, and then go back and work through, say, the start-and-stop composition of page 684. Or compare the tentative final page of the Lighthouse holograph (366).

[xvi] No one likes reading extended texts on a screen, though as Alan Burdick suggests in a recent article, electronic “ink” (blue and white particles in microscopic ink capsules move around and make new letters in response to a radio signal) may give us the properties of electronic text in a book with actual pages. More problematic, however, are the protocols of reading engendered by hypertext in any form. In “The Places of Books in the Age of Electronic Reproduction,” Geoffrey Nunberg points out that up to now electronic texts have been mainly resource documents like encyclopedias, which are relatively nonlinear; meantime, he argues, “it’s likely that the printed book will remain the preferred medium for sustained, serious reading of the kinds of texts associated with literary culture” (19). I confess that for me the blue links are like the doors in Bluebeard’s castle, impossible to resist. They induce an extreme of radial reading: I can never hold back for more than three blue words before I click and catapult myself into a new text.