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COLLATING MOBY-DICK:
EXPURGATIONS AND REVISION NARRATIVES

Editors collate the texts of different editions of the same work, even different printings of the same edition, in order to find changes that authors, editors, and printers introduce into the work, as it evolves over time.  Often these differences are accidental typographical errors.  But authors and editors can intervene making substantial changes that affect the meaning of text. Therefore, collation is an essential step in the editorial process, regardless of editorial approach.  In the past, collation has been an arduous task, performed by hand, or rather by the eyes of proofreaders comparing both texts, and drawing up lists of variants.  These lists are concrete, material evidence of textual change that editors use to establish whether a change is, in fact, accidental or substantial.  Digital technology can now perform collations of transcriptions of variant texts instantaneously.  Though transcriptions can be faulty and must still be compared “manually” against original pages, digital collation reduces scholarly labor and thereby gives scholars and critics more direct access to evolutions in the text of a written work.

MEL uses Juxta technology to collate transcriptions of Melville’s manuscript and print texts.  Eventually, Versions of Moby-Dick will offer a variety of collations that compare Melville’s original versions with modern scholarly editions, such as the Northwestern-Newberry’s “eclectic” edition, and with adaptive revisions, such as Bradbury’s screenplay of John Huston’s 1956 film Moby Dick.”  Currently, MEL we use our collation of American and British as a platform for displaying Revision Narratives that explain British expurgations of Melville’s American text.

Variants in Moby-Dick.  The differences between the American and British first editions of Moby-Dick range from minor to momentous. The British edition not only corrected typos—for instance, “fearfnlly” (Am Ed. p. 198, l. 25) or “warbrobe” (Ch. 90)—but also made scores of meaningful changes, visible only by comparing the American and British texts.  Most changes are clearly expurgations imposed by British editors on the text, but since Melville had a chance, during his proofreading of the American sheets he sent to England, to alter his own text, the British edition changes also include some of Melville’s nuanced revisions. Accordingly, the first problem confronting us is whether a textual variant is, in fact, an authorial revision or an editorial change or expurgation.

For example, in his last encounter with Moby Dick, Ahab, in the American edition, can “discover no sign” of the white whale (Ch. 133), but, in the British edition, the verb is changed to “perceive.” The difference is meaningful because Ahab’s inability to perceive suggests a blindness that prevents him from being able to “read” the signs of his doom. Since no direct evidence exists that shows Melville’s hand correcting the American discover to the British perceive, we can only speculate that this variant is Melville’s revision. It is possible that Bentley’s editor Henry Milton made the change, but we also must ask why a copy-editor would presume or even want to make such a non-grammatical, non-political, non-sexual, non-heretical change? Chances are that Melville revised the word in proofs.  An easier case has to do with a footnote that appears in the British edition that does not exist in the American.  Most certainly, the note, explaining the American usage of a forgotten British whaling term “gallied” (Ch. 87), must have been added by Melville, explicitly for British readers, lecturing them on his country’s democratic preservation of an Anglo-Saxonism that his monarchic British cousins had forgotten. 

Melville certainly inscribed his gallied note on the American proofsheets he sent abroad, and it was dutifully added to the British edition. But despite this certainty, the evidence is indirect. Collation of the American and British texts tells us that a variant exists, but the attribution of the revision to Melville must be inferred no less than we infer that the change from discover to perceive is not just an editorial change but an authorial revision. Determining the cause of the variant requires argumentation, ranging from “common sense” to speculation, and even common sense is not always self-evident. Because of this necessarily speculative aspect of revision analysis, editors are obliged to offer “revision narratives” that explain the textual condition of revisions and argue for a given revision scenario, and plausible alternative scenarios.

Revision Narratives. The British expurgations of Moby-Dick allow us to measure cultural differences between antebellum America and Victorian England, or more precisely between an audacious Melville and his circumspect editor.  Chapter 25—a brief satire on the pomp of monarchs—was too much teasing for British readers, and Bentley (or Milton) had it removed entirely. Perhaps the most devastating cut is of Ishmael’s line toward the end of “The Whiteness of the Whale” (Ch. 42) that manages to offend by combining the sexual and blasphemous in one blow: “all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within.” Apparently, equating god’s nature to a whore would not sit well with British readers, or so Melville’s British editors surmised.  Elsewhere, rather than expurgate, an editor—it can be argued—modulated Melville’s humor by revising Melville’s words.  Where Ishmael uses slave diction to proclaim “Who aint a slave?” (Ch. 1) in the American Moby-Dick, the British Whale has him say, in absurdly proper grammar, “Who is not a slave?” 

Annotations for these and other textual changes, including revision narratives, are affixed to their corresponding, highlighted variants in MEL’s collation of the American and British versions.

Currently, MEL’s collation project for Moby-Dick is in transition. Initially, our collation of the American and British versions was achieved through Juxta Collation technology that had been incorporated into an earlier instance of TextLab.  Each version was transcribed, with minimal TEI encoding, from digital images of the American and British first editions supplied by the University of Virginia Library’s special collections.  (See Moby-Dick Side-by-Side, for more details on these two volumes.)  Each book was “double-keyed” by Aptara, Inc.—that is, typed twice by different keyboarders—and separately collated in-house for typing errors.  

Then we uploaded each version’s proofed transcription texts to TextLab’s Juxta collation function, which allows us to compare the American and British versions. In this collation, readers can click on selected variants to find revision narratives explaining the textual change, revision, or expurgation.  Last year, we developed a more advanced approach to collation as part of our integration of TextLab into the Juxta Editions platform, which will be on display later in 2018.  In the meantime, the present display offers the same collation and revision annotation functions to be found in what we are developing. To navigate the collation site, please follow the instructions below.

Navigating the Collation. When you enter the collation site, you should see the American 1851 and British 1851 versions displayed side-by-side, for Chapter 1.  If not, click the double-headed arrow icon in the menu bar and choose “select a witness” in the Side-by-Side option box: choose the British 1851 option. To change chapters, select the American 1851 link in the menu bar, and select the desired chapter from the table of contents.

In the side-by-side view, the Juxta collation allows you to scroll both versions together; click the padlock icon between the two versions to unlock the simultaneous scrolling.  Each textual variant is highlighted in blue in both columns, and a highlight bar in between the columns links the corresponding variants.  We will use this collation feature to record all textual variants between the two versions and provide textual notes where necessary.

Expurgations of the American version on the left are also highlighted and the highlight bar between the versions points to a highlighted blank in the spot where the text would appear in the British version on the right. If a revision narrative has been composed for a highlighted expurgation, it will appear when you click the expurgated text on the left.  If multiple revision narratives have been composed, an option box will list all those that are available.  A completed revision narrative has a two-step structure: step one explains the content removed; step two argues for the reasons for the removal.