From the ephemeral newspaper to the scholarly edition intended to last for decades, the multiplicity of ‘editions’ encompasses every level of literary production and points to numerous questions about the aims and effects of published writing. The use of scholarly expertise to produce new editions of established literary works either for specialists or for a broader readership is a long-established activity within the Department, and within English studies more generally since the early twentieth century. At that time, the new discipline claimed one kind of legitimacy by honouring its acknowledged great writers with scholarly editions on the model of those associated with Latin and Greek authors. In recent years, the dramatic expansion of student numbers in British universities, together with the continuing popularity of English as a degree subject, has led to an exceptionally high output of accessible footnoted editions of standard texts in series such as Oxford World’s Classics. Such changing practices prompt reflection on the purposes and theory of editing in its many scholarly and less scholarly forms.
UCL English is involved in many kinds and levels of editing, spanning many genres and periods. To take a few recent and forthcoming examples: Philip Horne is General Editor of the Cambridge University Press edition of Henry James; two tenth-century Old Norse Skaldic poems, Haustlong and Husdrapa have been edited by Richard North; Mark Ford has edited selections and collections of a number of contemporary New York poets; Peter Swaab has produced the first ever edition of the poems of Sara Coleridge; Matthew Beaumont has done a World’s Classics edition of Walter Pater’s The Renaissance; Kasia Boddy has edited Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for Penguin Modern Classics; Charlotte Mitchell is involved in setting up online editions of the letters and bank account of the Victorian writer Charlotte M. Yonge. Many departmental editions of Shakespeare over the years include René Weis’s Romeo and Juliet, and Henry Woudhuysen’s Shakespeare’s Poems (co-edited with Katherine Duncan-Jones), both for the Arden Shakespeare.
Editions offer new versions of works for particular times and particular readerships, and often take the form of translations. As well as engaging in the practice itself (as with Mark Ford’s translations of Raymond Roussel and Rachel Bowlby’s of Derrida and others), members of the Department have also explored the theory and cultural history of translation (as with Paul Davis’s Translation and the Poet’s Life: The Ethics of Translating in English Culture, 1646-1726). As a contemporary edition of an Anglo-Saxon translation of a Latin work written several centuries before, Susan Irvine’s edition (with Malcolm Godden) of the first English translation of Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy is situated at the crossroads of all these generic distinctions and the historical and theoretical questions that bind them together.
The new Boethius also participates in a long-standing departmental focus on the history of the book; this topical subject is also one of the key research themes of the UCL Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Henry Woudhuysen is planning a major cross-Faculty study of ‘The Appearance of Poetry’ at different historical moments and in different available media of presentation and publication. More broadly, our interest in the ‘versions’—editions and translations—through which literature appears, involves questions of ‘impact’ or ‘dissemination’ or ‘knowledge transfer’. These are all terms that used to be thought under rubrics such as ‘influence’ and ‘reception’, a shift in focus which itself demands historical and theoretical analysis.
A further distinctive element in this connection is the Department’s many contributions to non-academic London-based reviewing and journalism. These include Mark Ford’s review essays for the London Review of Books and Henry Woudhuysen’s TLS column about books and manuscripts that have come up for sale. Book reviews by Kasia Boddy and DVD film reviews by Philip Horne appear in the Daily Telegraph, and John Mullan’s articles on novels for reading groups appear in the Guardian. Newspapers until recently had the shortest shelf-life (no shelf-life at all) of any published writing, but also in some ways the widest influence; their constantly updated ‘editions’ testified to a minimal but maximum-impact existence. Today, the internet has extended newpapers’ availability indefinitely as well as opening up new forums for publication—unedited in the sense of unvetted and unselected--to anyone who cares to blog or twitter. The internet publishing revolution ushers in new questions about the possible futures of writing activity.
One more feature of the focus on editions is intermediality, or the way that works may deploy and move between more than one medium of performance or presentation. In 2008-9 a series of half-day events on Literature Seen, Heard and Spoken explored the crossings and harmonies of such topics as poetry and painting (Milton and the visual arts), lyrics and music (medieval song, a specialty of Ardis Butterfield), and Shakespearean theatre. UCL English also has a thriving interest in film studies, which is an active component in the undergraduate teaching of the modern period and in the Issues and Modern Culture MA. Lee Grieveson is co-Principal Investigator for an AHRC-funded project entitled Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire.