- The "Twice-told Tales" of Annie Saumont
When in 1959 Fredson Bowers opined that certain American critics believed their raw material—the literary text—was "discovered under cabbage plants," he was expressing an exasperation felt by many in the fields of textual criticism and scholarly editing.1 New Criticism had legitimized explication de texte, but appeared simultaneously to outlaw the exploration of any extra-textual input from the Author whose demise Barthes would anyway report eight years later. A quarter of a century on, Hershel Parker would voice his own frustration at "the persistent tendency to treat any literary text as a verbal icon, a unique, perfect, and essentially authorless entity."2
Meanwhile Louis Hay was asking if "Text" could be said to exist3 and Jean Bellemin-Noël was exploring avant-texte.4 Drafts, notebooks, scribbled addenda—any documentation "bound up in the fabric of the text"5 became the province of various interpretative groupings. Differences in some cases were of degree: Daniel Ferrer and Michael Groden might claim that "a textual critic will tend to see a difference between two states of a work in terms of accuracy and error,"6 but textual analyst David C. Greetham in fact stresses that "Textual scholars study process (the historical stages in the production, transmission, and reception of texts), not just product."7 And John Bryant would celebrate the "fluidity" of the literary work, noting that once we know a given print-text is a trace of an earlier revision process, we "lean into that print-text more closely with a new set of worries and wonders."8
Each approach shares an interest in the temporality of literary endeavors; in tracking their various incarnations. With regard to drafts, this approach can thus only be applied, as Laurent Jenny, citing De Biasi, has it, to that period during which "manuscripts lose their communicating and distributing functions to become 'the personal trace of an individual creation'"—from [End Page 117] the late eighteenth century, then, to the time when "the widespread use of word processors relegated the draft to oblivion."9
But this is to overlook another phenomenon not restricted to the last century—one offering similar opportunities for the investigation of those "personal traces" even to scholars exploring post-1980s writers for whom corrected proofs mean consigning Track Changes to the ether. Such is the post-publication rework: the true après-texte. For where access to drafts is typically thwarted by technological advances, the modifying of a previously published piece of work is statistically more likely the longer a writer lives. Presenting French genetic criticism, Ferrer and Groden explain that it "attempts to restore a temporal dimension to texts";10 it is also possible to extend this property, pace Jenny, to exploration of the revisions of published texts.11
Literary revision of previously published texts is not necessarily common but is not new. The "allongeails" with which Montaigne's 1588 copy of his Essais is annotated constitute one famous example. George Sand's Leïla, eponym of her essai poétique, dies peacefully in a convent in the 1839 edition, but six years earlier, was murdered. In 1977 John Fowles modified The Magus (1966)—t ranslated into French by the subject of this essay—effecting "rather more than a stylistic revision."12 Nor is "genre" fiction immune; in 2009 Jeffrey Archer published a modified edition of his Kane and Abel, prompting The Times to canvass five writers on the desirability of such an undertaking. (None was tempted, novelist Kathy Lette remarking that it was "taking the idea of recycling a bit far," and concluding "It's a book, not a bottle."13)
With regard to short fiction, one might cite Katherine Mansfield, who re-worked for later collections pieces first published in journals. Or Eudora Welty, who emphasized that "when it's finally in print, you're delivered—you don't ever have to look at it again" the same year (1972) that a much-expanded version of her 1969 story "The Optimist's Daughter" was published as a novel.14
When an author does choose to emend a previously published piece, the reasons for, and degree of...