The Author/Editor Relation in the Trajectory from New Criticism to Versioning: Reading Between the Lines in the Theodore Dreiser Edition

Davies, J. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Especially within Anglo-American traditions of scholarly editing, it is obvious to the point of cliché that the conceptualization of the author/editor relation has been fundamentally rethought since the 1980s, as notions of textual fluidity and the social text became increasingly influential alongside the development of technological means of realising them. Using the Theodore Dreiser Edition (1981 to the present) as an example, this paper argues that the reconceptualization of the author/editor relation evident in scholarly editions is as much driven by strategic aims of intervention in critical reputation, as it is driven by changes in methodology and technology. In these circumstances, it is necessary to read between the lines, in order to reveal the historical and reputational interventions at stake in what may be presented as simply methodological arguments. Reading between the lines in another way, I will suggest that notions of authorship are remarkable for their persistence in the era of the ‘social text’, albeit in forms that tend to be implicit.
To show this I re-examine the first volume in the Dreiser Edition, the radically ‘new’, ‘unexpurgated’ text of Dreiser’s first novel Sister Carrie published in 1981. Textual editor James L. W. West asserted boldly that ‘[i]n the strictest sense,’ Dreiser’s , ‘authorial function ceased after he inscribed the holograph draft of Sister Carrie’ and on that basis used as copy-text the first draft of the novel before it entered the processes of being typed, revised, and further edited by Dreiser and others. I argue that this strategy is best understood within West’s (and the Dreiser Edition’s) project of staking out a claim for Dreiser’s artistry that contested the New Critics’ politically motivated dismissal of his work. West’s insistence on the importance of recovering Dreiser’s originary act of literary creation was therefore an attempt to turn New Critical tropes against conservative New Critical ideological positions. Ironically (or perhaps not) this ‘restored’ text of the novel failed to fulfil its New Critical destiny by establishing itself as a standard text. Rather, in taking its place over the last four decades as one version alongside other critical editions which adopt the originally published 1900 text of the novel, it introduced a ‘versioning by the backdoor’ as I have called it, which provides significant continuity with the Dreiser Edition’s subsequent development. The Dreiser Edition today overtly espouses versioning and ideas of textual fluidity, eschewing claims for definitiveness and embracing the notion of supplementarity. The New Critical fetishisation of authorship has long been displaced, but, I will close by suggesting, the author/editor dynamic remains very much alive.
Period17 Nov 2018
Held atEuropean Society for Textual Scholarship
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • scholarly editing; textual editing; theodore dreiser