Editing Modernism in Canada


May 13, 2011

What I learned as a Research Assistant…

For the last year, I have been an EMiC-funded research assistant on a number of the P.K. Page projects been worked on at Trent University. Primarily, I have been working on Page’s Brazilian Journal, edited by Suzanne Bailey—due out in print in the fall of 2011, published by Porcupine’s Quill—as well as Page’s Mexican Journal, edited by Margaret Steffler. My responsibilities have included: transcribing typescript manuscripts into a digital file, proofreading, fact-checking, and creating annotations. Now that the Brazilian Journal is in the hands of the publisher, I thought I’d share some of the knowledge I have gained over the last year.

The joys and problems of manuscripts! For the Brazilian Journal, we were lucky to find a copy of the manuscript in LAC. The manuscript was a typescript—most likely the actual journal Page kept while in Brazil (1957-1959). This journal was then later edited by Page, and published in 1987 by Lester & Orphen Dennys. Therefore, with this typescript manuscript, we were able to identify what changes—alterations, deletions, re-wording—that Page had made to the journal before it was originally published. This was useful for a number of reasons. Primarily, it gave insight into Page’s creative process. By looking at what passages Page deleted and speculating on the reasons for the deletions—was she censoring herself, removing private issues, or trying to prevent herself from embarrassing friends—it is possible to see how Page wrote for herself, as well as how she wanted to be seen by the public. As the copy-text for the new edition of the Brazilian Journal is the 1987 published version, and not the manuscript, few of the changes between the two text will be mentioned in the new edition. These changes, however, will all be made available when the digital edition of Page’s work goes live. While one version of the manuscript was incredibly useful, recently a number of other copies have been discovered. Some of these manuscripts have marginalia, and other notes, which will be incredibly useful. The numerous manuscripts also present potential problems—trying to organize them chronologically, discover when they were written, for what purpose they were created, etc. Thankfully the new print version of the text did not use the manuscript as a copy text, so these problems can be addressed between now and when the digital edition goes live.

Publisher and editor relationship. While my studies are in book history, and I have read numerous accounts of how the relationship between publisher and author can affect the final appearance of a text, it is still interesting (frustrating?) to experience these discussions first-hand. Due to a limitation on page count, numerous discussions were had over what to include in the final text, and what to exclude. How long should the index be? Are all the terms in the index necessary? Can we make the annotations shorter, without losing valuable information? Etc. This experience has only made me question the editorial practice of every book I read even more—what was excluded? Why? On whose request? Was it for financial reasons? Practical reasons? I strongly believe that this sort of critical approach to any critical edition is both appropriate and responsible. Yet, it took being involved in these types of discussions myself before this opinion became solidified.

Creating annotations is an incredibly humbling experience. When I first started making annotations, I naïvely assumed that I would know most of the things that needed annotation, and would be able to write annotations for them easily. Once I began, however, I quickly realized that I was dead wrong. As I began reading the text extremely closely, underlining anything that I did not understand, or that I thought others wouldn’t understand, I quickly developed a very long list, with most of the entries coming from the former. I started to worry—clearly I am an ignorant fool, if there are so many allusions and references that I don’t understand. After a few moments of self-deprivation, I decided that the only way to continue was to assume that I wasn’t a ignorant fool, but that Page was brilliant—therefore, including references that the average joe would not recognize. As well, the journal was written in the late 50s, thirty-years before I was born. After accepting my ignorance, the job of annotating actually became thrilling, and incredibly rewarding. Tracking down obscure references was fun, and often illuminating. I quickly discovered that I was right about Page—she was brilliant. While writing her journal in Brazil, surely without a large library of texts, she is able to quote from a vast array of sources, presumably all from memory. Even with the help of Google, tracking down some of these sources was difficult, and yet Page knew them by heart. Despite having read the journal half-a-dozen times by this point, I learned more about Brazil through creating the annotations than I did by reading the journal. I also learned a lot about Page, and also about how I read (apparently I often skip allusions and references I don’t understand). And most importantly, I gained a new appreciation for annotations found in critical editions that are done well, and an even greater disdain for ones that are done poorly.

I wanted to share one example of how rewarding and important annotations can be to a critical edition of a text. In the Brazilian Journal, Page writes of “the Ricketts-blue bay” (128). It took me a while to track down what Page was referring to, despite the fact that I knew it had to be something blue, when eventually, I stumbled across these images–image 1, image 2. As soon as I saw these images, I knew I had discovered the proper allusion—and that feeling of epiphany is reward in itself. I was then able to write my annotation: “Reckitt’s Blue was an early laundry whitener, manufactured by Reckitt & Sons in Hull, England. The product was a dark, rich blue in colour.” I also quickly realized that the text contained a typo, it should read “Rickitt’s” and not “Ricketts.” The work on this annotation forced us to create an emendation to the text—of which they are not many.

In conclusion, my job as a research assistant has been fun and challenging, but most importantly, it has given me a “hands-on” education that is invaluable.


2 Responses to “What I learned as a Research Assistant…”

  1. […] Editing Modernism in Canada has a great post by Christopher Doody, who writes on his experience as a research assistant working on P.K. Page’s Brazilian Journal. Another perspective on the “inside look” we try to give you here at Letters from the Porcupette! […]

  2. Hannah says:

    Thanks for the great post, Chris. I’m very excited to see what shape the digital edition of Brazilian Journal takes, particularly your work around the differences between the original diary manuscript and the original printed edition. About thirty years passed between the original composition and publication, right? Have you/will you and Suzanne construct a time line of revisions? Are there any plans for more in depth theorizing of the institutional or personal motivations for alterations, particularly considering that huge time lapse?

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