Collating Moby–Dick: Expurgations and Revision Narratives

Collation is the comparing of versions of a work in order to determine textual differences, and it is a crucial first step in building an edition’s reading text, regardless of editorial approach. Collation is generally associated with the recording of “variants” in versions of authorized works only, but fluid-text editing also extends the process to examining differences between the edition’s “originating” work and the sources that precede it and adaptations that follow.

Editors collate the texts of different editions of the same work, even different printings of the same edition, in order to discern variants, that is textual changes that authors, editors, and printers might introduce into the work, as it evolves over time through the publishing process. Often these variations are accidental typographical errors, but authors, editors, even printers also intervene making substantive changes that affect the meaning of a line, passage, or work. Because many changes represent a writer’s evolving text, they are not strictly speaking “variants” from a single intended or definitive wording but evidence of shifting intentions.

Changes in Moby-Dick: Authorial Revision & Editorial Expurgation.

The differences between the American and British first editions of Moby-Dick range from minor to momentous. The British edition not only corrected American typos—for instance, “fearfnlly” (p. 198, l. 25) or “warbrobe” (p. 447, l.7)—but also made scores of meaningful changes, visible only by comparing the American and British texts. Most changes are editorial interventions: either conversions to British spelling and punctuation or expurgations of sexual, religious, or political content. 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 editorial 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 shows Melville’s hand correcting the American discover to the British perceive, we can only surmise 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 but not in the American. The note explains the American usage of the forgotten British whaling term “gallied” (Ch. 87), and it only Melville had the expertise to add it, explicitly for British readers, lecturing them on his country’s democratic preservation of an Anglo-Saxonism that his monarchic British cousins had allowed themselves to forget.

The more extreme editorial interventions, the British expurgations of Moby-Dick, constitute a broad range of textual difference, from the stylistic disparities between a class-defying Melville and his more conservative editor to the larger cultural contradictions between antebellum America and Victorian England. For instance, whereas in Chapter 1 of the American Moby-Dick, Ishmael uses slave diction comically to proclaim “Who aint a slave,” the British Whale elevates him in class by having him say, in humorless proper grammar, “Who is not a slave?” 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 lines 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 editor surmised, and the line was cut. The British expurgations are obvious provocations for closer reading and interpretation of Melville’s text, but only if authorial revisions—like the addition of gallied and the change from discover to perceive—and the unauthorized editorial intervention can be visualized through collation and explained in revision narratives offering plausible and alternative scenarios.

MEL’s Collation & Revision Narrative Project.

MEL continues to develop collation protocols for each MEL edition and enhanced digital technologies involving collation and annotation. MEL’s Reading Text of Moby-Dick is a digitization of Bryant and Springer’s Longman critical edition, which is itself a lightly edited and minimally modified version of the first American edition’s text. Like the Longman edition, MEL highlights substantive authorial changes and editorial expurgations found in the British edition, and these highlighted changes are drawn from collations of the American and British texts recorded in the Textual Apparatus of the 1988 Northwestern-Newberry of Moby-Dick. Longman’s revision narratives are also featured as pop-up revision annotations in the MEL’s Reading Text for Moby-Dick. In short, MEL’s display and annotation of expurgations are not derived from immediate digital collation,

However, in the works is an added editorial feature that digitally collates the American and British texts, automatically highlights textual differences, and enables editors to add revision narratives to any given highlighted change for display online, in addition to our Moby-Dick reading text. In keeping with fluid-text protocols, this collation and annotation feature would allow multiple narratives for any given expurgation site, thus encouraging users to engage in different perspectives on the interpretive nature of authorized and unauthorized revision.

Not surprisingly, collation is an arduous task. In the past, it has been performed by hand, or rather by the eyes of proofreaders comparing both texts, and drawing up lists of variants. Digital technologies (such as Juxta Collation) now perform collations of transcriptions of texts in variant versions instantaneously, significantly reducing the labor needed to bring textual revision and versions to light. But digital collations are only as accurate as the underlying digital transcriptions of the manuscript or print works being collated. Once manuscript leaves or print pages have been digitized—that is, converted into digital images—then the text appearing in each image must also be converted into digital text, either by hand or automatically through “optical character recognition” (OCR) technology. And since digital transcriptions are themselves subject to human or machine error, they must still be proofread visually against the original leaves and pages or the digitized images of them. In short, while digital collation is automatic, digital transcription is not.

MEL’s editorial staff employs these and other modes of transcription and collation in building our model editions. For Billy Budd, we used TextLab for the digitally assisted manual transcription and coding of the manuscript. For Moby-Dick, 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 the two were collated in-house to detect keyboarding errors. For Typee and “Benito Cereno,” we use the OCR transcription approach mentioned above.

MEL’s efforts in developing a process and display for collation and revision narrative annotation 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. This chapter by chapter collation of the two editions included a pop-up feature enabling editors to compose revision narratives for highlighted variants and revisions. The revision narrative feature assisted editors in discerning Melville’s revisions from British editing and expurgation and in annotating their possible causes and effects. An enhanced version of this feature is slated in the development of Juxta Editions newest iteration, FairCopy. For screenshots of the earlier collation/annotation prototype, click on American and British editions collation. For a trial collation involving adaptation, click on Bradbury screenplay and American edition.