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The Poems of Shelley. Volume Two: 1817-1819. Ed. Kelvin Everest and Geoffrey Matthews. Contributing Ed. Jack Donovan, Ralph Pite and Michael Rossington. Harlow: Longman, 2000. ISBN: 0 582 03082 X. Price: £95 (US$124.95).

  • Lisa Vargo

…plus d’informations

  • Lisa Vargo
    University of Saskatchewan

It is useful to remember that the current state of textual editing of poems by Percy Shelley has its roots in a forty-year-old scholarly debate. In the early 1960s Donald Reiman published an essay taking issue with two then recently published essays by G.M. Matthews. While the substance of the argument concerns the status of Shelley's feelings for Jane Williams, its larger import is the use of biographical evidence to interpret "The Triumph of Life," the poem Shelley left unfinished at the time of his death. [1] And these interpretive disputes are also evident in the editions that they produced of the poem—Matthews in a 1960 article in Studia Neophilologica and Reiman in his 1965 University of Illinois edition. [2] The ongoing debate between these two scholars based on their separate examination of the Bodleian manuscript of the fragment led to Matthews' review of Reiman in JEGP (1967) and culminated in "a discussion by Matthews and Reiman held at the Bodleian Library in August 1971 with the manuscript before them." (Reiman and Powers 455) That must have been quite a conversation. Reiman suggests his version of "The Triumph of Life" in the Norton Critical edition (co-edited with Sharon Powers) is slightly revised as a result of the review and the conversation. It is particularly fitting then that these two distinguished editors should be associated with two excellent editions of Shelley's poetry currently in process in the United States and in the United Kingdom. While the projected seven-volume Johns Hopkins Complete Poems by Donald Reiman and Neil Fraistat, with Nora Crook's assistance, will be exhaustive and authoritative, the more compact three-volume Longman Poems of Shelley, which Kelvin Everest took over after the death of G. M. Matthews in 1984, is no less significant a contribution to Shelley studies. Along with the editions of the Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics and The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts Reiman directed for Garland Press, Shelley scholars will benefit from the ongoing dialogue that these different texts will produce once they appear in their entirety.

The second volume in the Matthews and Everest project, published in 2000, covers poetry and translations Shelley composed between 1817 and 1819, from drafts of Laon and Cythna through The Cenci. As Kelvin Everest notes, much has changed since the appearance of Volume One in 1989, including the existence of the thirty-one volume Garland series of facsimiles of manuscripts, as well as scholarly editions from Pickering and Chatto of works by William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Shelley. This plethora of material led Everest to recognize that a single editor was no longer a practical option, and therefore to recruit three contributing editors. Jack Donovan has edited Laon and Cythna, including drafts and fragments, Ralph Pite "Julian and Maddalo," and Michael Rossington The Cenci and an account of the history of the Cenci story. If collaborative efforts all too often worked to the detriment of the production of Shelley's texts during his lifetime, only good seems to have come of this venture, in which the contributing editors have not only taken primary responsibility for their own sections, but have also contributed to Everest's own work in the volume. And as Everest makes clear, the influence of Geoffrey Matthews still presides, and he is properly and respectfully named as co-editor. Not merely a symbolic tribute, the conception and editorial principles that Matthews brought to the project are preserved even as the current editors are sensitive to how editing has changed in the intervening years.

The ground rules for a project that has a number of years to completion will necessarily undergo challenges about its method as the time from original conception moves further away, and what was accepted as desirable or innovative in 1989 has become open to debate, as Everest himself suggests in his Preface to Volume Two. However unavoidable this is, it does raise questions big and small about this latest volume. With respect to smaller issues, Volume Two largely follows the format of Volume One, though the page design has lost a bit of its former elegance. Some matters seem the inevitable product of a multi-volume edition produced in instalments. While the chronological table of Shelley's life and publications found in Volume One is helpfully reproduced in the volume, readers who want the benefit of an introduction to the history of Shelley's texts and to the editorial methods for the volumes will need to consult the first volume. One might quibble that the chronological order the editors have chosen does prevent the reader from seeing the collections Shelley published from being seen as he envisioned them, however an appendix lists the contents of the Rosalind and Helen volume of 1819 and the 1820 Prometheus Unbound (as is the case with the published collections relevant to Volume One). And following the principles of the Longman Annotated English Poets Series, spelling and punctuation are modernized to make "for a more accessible text overall, with very small damage to Shelley's apparent intentions" (Matthews and Everest, 1989 xxvii). The edition holds a balance between its originating guidelines and more recent notions of textual editing.

But the evocation of a "more accessible text" leads to some of those complicated larger ramifications. When Volume One was reviewed in the Keats-Shelley Journal in 1992, Mary A. Quinn could state with confidence that "The chronological arrangement dictated by the series is now the accepted order for presenting Shelley's poetry" (233) In the age of the digitized text this certainty is much less transparent and is being contested by the Johns Hopkins editors. Much has and will be said about the different perspectives of Longman and Johns Hopkins, defined by Donald Reiman as "reader-centred" versus "text-centred" approaches to editing (Reiman and Neil Fraistat, 2000 xxix). While it would be foolish to suggest that newer and bigger are necessarily better, it does seem worthwhile to reflect on the kinds of issues Longman raises for consideration. What Reiman calls the Longman "reader-centred" approach derives from the mandate of the Longman Annotated English Poets Series to which it belongs. In a "Note by the General Editor" included in Volume One, John Barnard quotes F.W. Bateson, who wrote in 1965 that the series "is the first designed to provide university students and readers, and the general reader with complete and fully annotated editions of the major English poets" (Matthews and Everest, 1989 x). Almost forty years later, the idea of privileging "major English poets" carries with it implications which did not exist when Bateson saw his series in pioneering terms, including that "major poets" is now often seen as code for male writers only. And if the idea of a general reader thirsting after a complete Shelley is perhaps as utopian an idea as any Maddalo ever accused Julian to talking to him, it is a laudable one which the editors respect without compromising standards of scholarly editing. Those who prefer to see Shelley's text plain before they consult the commentaries and collations, will use the Johns Hopkins volumes. In the name of assisting readers, Longman makes Shelley accessible in the best sense with the placement of textual apparatus on the page. As with the first volume this material includes the listing of variants for printed poems and collation with manuscripts when they exist. Head notes and explanatory notes include information about the work's composition, sources, contexts, choice of copy-text, and a brief consideration of its critical reception. A brief annotation of the source of the text and its first publication appear immediately before the text itself. Certainly no previous editions of Shelley's poetry have been so comprehensive in their production of reading texts or in offering informative annotation.

With respect to the contents of the edition, it is clear that the care and effort present in the first volume have been matched. The separate hands of the four editors are reflected in small differences in style, which preserve the flavour of the particular editor without losing sight of the edition's editorial principles. Less felicitous inconsistencies occasionally appear in very minor matters, including the fact that they might have agreed whether "copy-text" is hyphenated (Rossington) or not (Pite and Everest). Hyphens aside, the choice of copy-text for poems is flexible and the thoughtfulness of the editors and the benefit of the Garland facsimiles of the manuscripts seem to have had a bearing on their decisions. Jack Donovan chooses Laon and Cythna (1818) as the version "that conforms to S.'s original and unconstrained intention" (18) before censorship transformed it to The Revolt of Islam. More than mere good sense rests on the choice—Donovan calls the poem "the most richly and variously autobiographical" of Shelley's works (26). Donovan's notes carry through with his thesis, offering helpful information on biographical as well as the traces of Shelley's reading and opinions in the poem. In his superb edition of Prometheus Unbound Kelvin Everest has produced an intelligent and lucid account of the composition and publication history of the poem, which as he suggests, "defies any single completely satisfactory solution" (457). As the press transcript used by Peacock for the first edition is lost, Everest chooses the 1839 version of the poem in the Poetical Works (4 volumes), which Mary Shelley "revised with exceptional care" (463) in spite of the continuance of a number of errors carried over from its first appearance in 1820 and "substantial intervention by Mary (although presumably sanctioned by S. himself)" (465). Everest therefore modifies the copy-text to what he calls "an unusually extensive degree" (465), which he is careful to explain in the notes. This is complicated material that Everest works his way through, and as exemplary a job as it is, he does leave open the question as to why Mary Shelley's 1840 revised one-volume edition is or isn't more authoritative than 1839. "Julian and Maddalo" presents a case of competing claims between earlier and later transcripts and Ralph Pite makes a convincing case for the choice of the manuscript Shelley sent to Leigh Hunt in August 1819, instead of Mary Shelley's 1824 Posthumous Poems version, "because it is an exceptionally good fair copy which S. intended for publication" (656). In his fine edition of The Cenci Michael Rossington has taken a provocative choice of copy-text with The Cenci (1821) printed by Ollier in London instead of the more usual choice of the Italian printed first edition of 1819. It was the only of Shelley's works to be published in a second edition during his life, and this second edition was printed from a slightly revised copy of the first edition (723-724).

Ironically, all this excellence in the name of making "a more accessible text" does come with some inevitable costs that hinder some forms of accessibility even as they promote the principle in other respects. The price of these volumes means that few individuals will ever be fortunate enough to own their own sets of either Longman or Johns Hopkins, let alone both. And the absence of Mary Shelley's notes and prefaces, which seem so closely linked to the poems in Thomas Hutchinson's Oxford Standard Authors edition (1904), does seem a sad if necessary omission in spite of their inaccuracies and sentimentalities. That said, the Longman Shelley Volume Two is a wonderful achievement and the third and final volume is eagerly anticipated, all the more so as the division of the works means it is not possible to read the lyrics included with Prometheus Unbound until such time. Let it please not be another decade before this volume makes its appearance.

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