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  • Becoming Part of the Northwestern-Newberry Melville Crew
  • Alma A. MacDougall

“It’s perfect for you,” my fiancé said. “Professor Hayford needs someone with a background in literature [check—BA and MA in progress] who knows how to conduct research [worked in the Miami University library] and has editorial experience [current job].” While the fiancé was getting his PhD in English at Northwestern, I had tried working for an insurance firm and an educational journal. I felt rather left out of the exciting intellectual life he was part of, but I had not pursued a doctorate, since I knew that teaching was not for me.

And so I traded the train to downtown Chicago for the El to Evanston and embarked on a learning experience that has lasted a lifetime. Harry assigned me a green pencil (his was brown), introduced me to the Melville Room at the Newberry Library, and set me up in a third-floor office at University Hall. The task: to help him get the Melville edition back on track. This was April 1981. After six volumes had been published (the last in 1971), funding had lapsed, and Northwestern University Press was “on hiatus.” But Harry had managed to secure additional funding, the press was open for business again, and the core editorial team along with several graduate students were eager to continue.

Soon I was immersed in the world of scholarly editing, where “proofreading” wasn’t just looking for spelling errors—it meant collating copies of first editions, reading a whole novel (Israel Potter) aloud to a partner, and even reading texts backward (which helped me notice a comma missing in “Bartleby”). My initial focus was gathering all the back matter for each volume from the various contributors, copyediting it, and seeing it through production at the press. It was tough to keep the style consistent since the series eventually spanned six editions of the Chicago Manual of Style. If anything went wrong (as it occasionally did, despite our best efforts), Harry refused to lay blame, and he was always generous with credit. [End Page 28]

With Harry’s support and encouragement, the job became so much more. Puzzling over the chronology of Melville’s work on The Confidence-Man and his magazine pieces led to an article for Melville Society Extracts; I also pieced together the surviving early drafts of a Confidence-Man chapter as a Related Document for that volume. In addition, I was asked to edit other books for Northwestern University Press (on theater, art, and literature) when it resumed publishing. These activities opened the door to freelance editing for other university presses, which served me well as I raised my children.

I was able to work for only a few short years in person with Harry and the “crew” of Northwestern grad students—including Bob Sandberg, Bob Madison, and Mary K. Bercaw. Harry’s wife Jo made me feel very welcome. Their lovely Evanston home was propped up with a basement full of books. Harry collected books on Melville, of course, but also on American humorists. We eventually bought a Volvo from them and I picked Harry up on my way to the office, as he did not have a driver’s license.

Reaching that third-floor office became difficult when I was expecting our first child. One day Harry found me “lying down on the job,” trying to ease my aching back. I realized it was now or never to finish my master’s thesis; Harry encouraged me to change the subject from Shakespeare to Melville and make use of some of the research I had already done.

We finished just two more volumes before life took me away from Evanston, but I was happy when my family landed in Milwaukee, which was close enough to allow frequent visits as the team worked on The Piazza Tales, Moby-Dick, Journals, Clarel, and Correspondence. Lynn Horth had joined the group by this time; her contributions were especially valuable in completing these volumes.

Throughout, Harry was invariably thoughtful: he sent newspaper clippings, postcards from his travels, books for the family, books to use in research, and bookends. When I told him my...


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