- The Cambridge Woolf
These handsomely designed volumes of the writer's last two novels bear witness to the continuing academic interest in Virginia [End Page 409] Woolf's writings that first boomed during the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s and has since grown, supported by the work and conferences of The Virginia Woolf Society of Britain, The International Virginia Woolf Society, La Société d'Études Woolfiennes and The Virginia Woolf Society of Japan. Scholarly study on the writer has advanced considerably since that first flowering of interest, and the present critical editions variously benefit from it as the preface, introductory essays and explanatory and textual notes by the series' general editors evidence.
Editing a critical edition is not for the faint of heart, involving both the excitement of discovery and much necessary drudgery. As it turns out, Woolf's textual situations are not nearly as complex as those of several other modernist writers, and editing her canon mere child's play compared to editing Joyce, Henry James, or Conrad. Given that, one might be forgiven for expecting rather more from this edition than it ultimately offers, not least because Cambridge University Press has an extensive history of offering reliable critical editions of both modern and earlier writers.
The copy-texts adopted for the Cambridge Woolf—with the exception of Between the Acts, left unrevised on the writer's suicide and readied for print by Leonard Woolf—are the first English editions, a choice made on the assumption (the word requires emphasis) that these are the texts that most benefitted from Woolf's close engagement with the printing process. That is a fair first bet, the so-called "deathbed edition" having had a long run in textual scholarship, now a more subtle, diverse, and finely grained endeavor than a half century ago, reflecting both theoretical and technological advances in the field.
Critical editing still needs, however, to deal with evidence garnered, and one would have felt more secure about the current enterprise if its arguments about textual authority were based upon painstakingly assembled hard facts rather than upon suppositions. There are other problems as well. Having rapidly dismissed out of hand any contenders apart from the first English editions (in particular, the possibility that surviving proofs or even the American first editions might at least be considered as copy-texts), this edition goes on to detail in its textual apparatus a medley of compositorial changes, casual and obvious setting errors, and the Americanization of spellings. One wonders why.
If the American editions saw no involvement at all from the author, reporting of their accidental variants needs to be closely argued. Why should scholars spend hours pondering the changes made by American [End Page 410] compositors either imposing house style (for instance, changing "everyone" to "every one" or "someone" to "some one") or simply making a mistake? The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad rightly dismisses the report of spelling variants (including Americanizations) and obvious misspellings in its apparatus. (These, moreover, would stretch to the crack of doom, given that most of the writer's work was serialized on both sides of the Atlantic, and was freely altered by editors.) What occurs here, by contrast, is a mere bloating of the apparatus on the principle that everything be put upon the table with no variant too trivial to report—including for instance the misplacement of a quotation mark on this or that side of a period (or in British parlance, full stop). One wonders, moreover, what notion of authority is in operation when an edition of The Waves published in Hamburg in 1933—and dismissed in the editors' introduction—has been lovingly collated against the other historical texts. True enough, it...