Bryony Randall

"[T]hey would have been the first to correct that sentence": Correcting Virginia Woolf's Short Fiction

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Keywords: Textual Genetics; Corrections; Error; Intentionality; Woolf.

This article considers the problem of the 'correct' or the 'correction.' Scholars working with archive material (manuscripts) in order to produce new editions of modernist work are faced with a wide variety of different drafts at varying levels of revision. As scholars have recently demonstrated, the process of revision was embraced by modernist writers in unprecedented ways, offering a particular challenge to the editor of the modernist text. In particular, the modernist inclination to resist 'correct' modes of expression, and to embrace ambiguity, offers a particular challenge to the textual editor, required as he or she is to produce a single, albeit annotated, text for each new edition. In brief, this article will ask what the editor of the modernist text ought to 'correct', and further, what he or she might make of the 'errors' to be found in those drafts found. My article takes an early short story by Virginia Woolf, given the title 'A Dialogue Upon Mount Pentelicus', as a case study through which to approach this question. Throughout, my aim is to put the editorial demand for a correct, readable text into dialogue with the modernist injunction to preserve ambiguity - this last being not only a notably Woolfian characteristic, but one that Woolf herself, among others, identified as particularly apt to be expressed in the short story genre. The article will work through a number of, increasingly complex, dilemmas that the copytext (a typescript with holograph corrections) presents the potential editor of the text, finally focussing on what appears to be no more than a typographical error but investigation of which, nevertheless, yields productive insights for the Woolf scholar. In so doing, I will reflect on the status of the error in editing modernist texts more generally, and suggest how taking 'errors' in archival material seriously might coexist with producing texts which comply with scholarly rigour and legitimately address the unavoidable question of authorial intention.

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