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Melville Electronic Library - a critical archive


First English and American Editions, 1851

MEL’s “textual core” is a database consisting of the texts of all versions of Melville’s published and unpublished writings, in both print and manuscript.  This Editions room provides a table of contents for MEL’s series of scholarly editions, titled Versions of Melville, and a link to our “tool kit” of MEL’s editorial tools.

Versions of Melville

During his lifetime, Melville published nine book-length works of fiction, a collection of tales, and four volumes of poetry.  At his death, among other documents, he left in manuscript several uncollected tales (including Billy Budd), numerous poems (including Weeds & Wildings), and at least one review (“Hawthorne and His Mosses”).  Most of these manuscript works have appeared in print posthumously.  For various reasons, almost every Melville title exists in multiple versions, either in print or manuscript, due to Authorial or Editorial revision.  Changes to a work also occur in forms of Adaptive revision, with or without authorial control, as in plays, films, opera, or even the cultural “meme.”  As a body of work that exists in multiple versions, Melville’s corpus of writing is a remarkable fluid text, and therefore a considerable challenge, editorially and digitally.

MEL’s editorial project—funded by NEH and supported by Hofstra University—began its work by designing “model editions” of three exemplary Melville works: Moby-Dick, Battle-Pieces, and Billy Budd.  By resolving the different editorial and digital problems that each work poses, these models will serve as templates for MEL’s editions of additional works.

Moby-Dick, first appearing in 1851 in an American and an expurgated British edition—is a significant example of a fluid text in print.  Scholarly editors create their own versions. The now-standard Northwestern-Newberry edition mixes elements from the 1851 first editions, corrects errors, and adds judicious new wording in order to render a text that represents the editors’ conception of Melville’s final intentions.  The Longman Critical Edition of Moby-Dick—a fluid-text print edition edited by John Bryant and Haskell Springer—is designed to demonstrate changes made by Melville and his editors, historical and modern.  Accordingly, it emulates the original American edition and corrects errors to provide the earliest available “base version” of Moby-Dick in order to showcase the passages that Melville might have changed and those that British editors expurgated.  MEL’s Versions of Moby-Dick re-edits Moby-Dick digitally so that readers can navigate these and other versions of the novel and track the changes through a form of fluid-text annotation known as the revision narrative.  In future development, MEL will extend the navigation to include adaptive revisions of Moby-Dick, particularly in film.

Manuscripts of Moby-Dick have not been found, but many working drafts of other Melville texts have survived, and each bears evidence of the writer’s seemingly endless shifting of intentions.  This phenomenon of layered versions in manuscript is best witnessed in Billy Budd, which consists of 350 leaves, representing at least eight stages of composition.  Scholars have transcribed this fluid text three times in the twentieth century—Raymond Weaver (1924), F. Barron Freeman (1948), and Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr. (1962)—and each transcription varies significantly from the other. MEL’s Versions of Billy Budd builds on this scholarship.  To meet the challenge of editing the phenomenon of revision digitally, in both manuscript and print versions of a work, MEL developed TextLab.  This innovative tool enables editors to identify revision sites and display them in an interactive “diplomatic transcription” (a typographical simulation of each leaf or page) that is in turn linked to revision sequences and revision narratives for each site.  TextLab also automatically collates MEL’s base version transcription of Billy Budd with the three twentieth-century transcriptions mentioned above.

Melville’s first published volume of poetry, Battle-Pieces, poses other problems.  Although working drafts of these Civil War poems have not survived, evidence of his revisions appear in pencil on certain poems in two person copies of the book.  Melville also published a handful of poems in magazines before the volume’s publication, and certain poems appeared as reprints in other publications in Melville’s life.  The challenge of integrating magazine and anthology texts along with Melville’s penciled revisions will be met in Versions of Battle-Pieces.

In addition to these matters of textual fluidity, each of MEL’s model editions includes sets of contextual annotation, which involve the work of our four MEL research groups—Art, History, Travel, and Editions—and their implementation of two other tools: MELCat and Juxta Editions.  These tools, along with TextLab (and others), are explained in MEL’s Tool Kit.

In 2017, MEL will begin work on editions of Typee, Piazza Tales, Melville’s journals, and the Melville Family Correspondence.

Typee (1846)
Omoo (1847)
Mardi (1849)
Redburn (1849)
White-Jacket (1850)
Moby-Dick (1851) Pierre (1852)
Israel Potter (1855)
Piazza Tales (1856)
The Confidence-Man (1857)
Battle-Pieces (1866)

Clarel (1876)
John Marr (1888)
Timoleon (1891)
Billy Budd (published posthumously)