David vander Meulen, ed. Studies in Bibliography: Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia 59. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015. vi, 336p., ill. ISBN 9780813933016. US $70.00. Also available online at http://bsuva.org/wordpress/studies-in-bibliography/.
Studies in Bibliography returns after a seven-year hiatus with a full spectrum of essays, some bristling with the formulas and charts of traditional bibliography, and some grounded in newer book history methods. Ever since D. F. McKenzie questioned bibliography’s exclusive reliance on evidence from physical books, scholars have increasingly turned to external documentation. Studies in Bibliography provides a forum for both traditions.
The volume opens with an excerpt from G. Thomas Tanselle’s forthcoming The Living Room: a Memoir which nicely bridges the gap between bibliography and book history. Examining the objects in his living room as a bibliographer might examine books in a rare books library, Tanselle shows how evidence in material artifacts, including books, bear witness to a larger social world.
Dirk Van Hulle and Peter Shillingsburg systematize approaches to textual editing, from the traditional search for a stable text based on authorial intentions to newer conceptions of a multi-layered text created by many hands. Considering a range of forms from pre-Gutenberg manuscripts to works realized in performance, they explore notions of textual instability, of authorship dissolved in a field of textual production, and of moments of creation external to the text. The theoretical perspectives examined here should be considered by anyone engaged in bibliography or book history.
Bibliography at its best may undermine belief in a stable text. Hope Johnson studies alterations of early editions of Chaucer, including inscribed manuscript verse, pasted-in portraits, and hand-drawn title pages, revealing how readers participated in Chaucer’s canonization. Michael Johnston’s analysis of the fifteenth-century Findern Manuscript shows that its accumulation of humanist texts by amateur hands preserves at its core a damaged fragment of an old-fashioned romance from a commercial scriptorium, thus revealing the eclectic taste of an early modern literate community. Joseph J. Gwara uses typographical evidence to convincingly identify the printer of a sheet from a lost translation found in an early binding; less convincing is his identification of the specific source of the translation, which underestimates the creativity of the translator’s craft. Hao Tianhu’s study of lines per page in Milton’s 1720 Poetical Works leads to the recovery of compositors’ choices in accommodating engraved ornaments printed separately from the text. James May’s analysis of ink offset in Edward Young’s The Centaur Not Fabulous recovers text once present on cancelled leaves; he also shows that the sheets were folded before they were sent to the binder, thus questioning standard accounts of book production. Gabriel Egan attributes textual variations in one sheet of a Shakespeare quarto to slightly oversized headlines, which loosened the type and caused enhanced scrutiny by the printer, thus establishing authority for one set of revisions; similar quests for authorial intention originally motivated analytical bibliography, but one might wonder whether such piling up of inductions really produces authoritative knowledge.
An over-inflation of the importance of the author might be at the source of some recent crises in attribution studies. Defoe, for instance, rarely signed his texts, although he is credited with some 570 works. Ashley Marshall carefully analyzes the reasons given by Furbank and Owens in their shortened list of 252 Defoe items, ranging from acknowledgement by the author to attribution based on stylistic similarities; unfortunately, flimsy reasons have been given for the inclusion of most of the novels, including Moll Flanders. Marshall provides a theoretical basis for a more rigorous and cautious system; but what is lost when texts are unmoored from their authors?
Consider, for instance, nineteenth-century periodicals, often replete with anonymous or pseudonymous pieces. We can sympathize with William McCarthy’s attempt to discover as many articles written anonymously by early feminist author Anna Letitia Barbauld as possible, or Gary Simons’ search for unknown early works by Thackeray; indeed, many of their attributions seem convincing, although they might lack some of Marshall’s theoretical rigor. Yet authorship in the nineteenth century was often fragmented, imitative and collaborative, as David Latané’s recent work on Thackeray’s circle has shown. Stylistic and thematic echoes indeed structure the literary field, but must such structures be tied to authors’ names? As Marshall rightly notes, Moll Flanders is a great book whether or not it was written by Defoe.
The volume concludes with several studies in publication history. Geoffrey Hargreaves describes publisher’s cloth bindings for novels by Wilkie Collins whose simplicity would have starkly contrasted with the bright pictorial bindings then predominant in the railroad station book stalls where they were displayed. Richard Bucci surveys primary sources to investigate a lost anthology containing the first book publication of stories by Mark Twain and Bret Harte. Michael Winship offers additions to his previously published list of early directories of American bookstores.
The current issue of Studies in Bibliography demonstrates the continuing relevance of traditional bibliography as well as the importance of newer approaches. Its openness to innovation and theoretical investigations keep it at the forefront of the book studies field.
Robert O. Steele
George Washington University
Furbank, P.N. and W.R. Owens. A Critical Bibliography of Daniel Defoe. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1998.
Latané, David E. William Maginn and the British Press: A Critical Biography. Surrey: Ashgate Press, 2013.
McKenzie, D.F. “Printers of the Mind: Some Notes on Bibliographical Theories and Printing-House Practices.” Studies in Bibliography 22 (1969): 1-75.