Monday, July 14, 2008

Oxford University Press Editions - A Review

Oxford University Press kindly sent us a copy of three of their new editions of Brontë novels: Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Anne Brontë
Edited by Herbert Rosengarten
Josephine McDonagh

Price: £6.99/$10.95
(Paperback)
ISBN-13: 978-0-19-920755-8
Publication date: 17 April 2008
496 pages, 196x129 mm
Series: Oxford World's Classics

This new edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a revised version of the 1993 Oxford World's Classics edition. The text uses the Herbert Rosengarten 1992 Clarendon edition text that still is the state-of-the-art version as far as Brontë scholarly editions are concerned (particularly in a novel like Tenant which has been so badly edited in the past)(1). Nevertheless, the note on the text is by Margaret Smith. The new additions are a new introduction by Josephine McDonagh who has considerably revised and supplemented the annotations, originally by Herbert Rosengarten and Margaret Smith. And of course, the new collection design, clearer and with a more modern look but still in keeping with the tradition of using portraits of contemporary(2) painters, Jean-Hippolye Flandrin in this case. A nice particularity is the use of a face detail on the spine. An ear in this case.

The book also presents a selected and updated(3) bibliography, a chronology of Anne Brontë colated with several historical and cultural contextual references and as usual the Preface to the Second Edition by Anne Brontë herself.

After a briefly condensed biographical account (with the usual suspects: the wooden soldiers, Gondal, Thorp Green, Scarborough... and some unexpected obviations like William Weightman for instance), the introduction concentrates on the exploration of the gender social relations in the novel, even admitting that
any social allegory is deflected as the moral centre of the novel throughout lies not in any particular social class but rather in Helen and her feminine blend of Christianity conviction and domestic virtue.
The difference on education for boys and girls, a very important issue in the novel, is treated briefly; the more developed topics being the effects of alcohol, where Josephine McDonagh introduces interesting points about the anachronism of describing Arthur Huntington's as an alcoholic; the importance of physiognomy and above all phrenology, in the novel; and women's legal and moral place (as moral guides and guardians of the family). Another important element discussed in the introduction is the almost compulsory allusive style used by Anne Brontë. It is suggested(4) that the style of the magazine and album press was a big influence. Maybe Anne Brontë's style (sophisticated, rich in layers and meanings and almost intertextual per se) made her a post-modernist avant la lettre? (M.)

Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
Edited by Ian Jack
With an introduction and notes by Patsy Stoneman
Price: £5.99/$6.95
ISBN-13: 978-0-19-953560-6
Publication date: 17 April 2008
432 pages, 196x129 mm
Series: Oxford World's Classics

In this case we are not talking about a new edition but of a reissue of the 1995 Oxford World's Classics edition which used as a copytext the 1976 Clarendon edition by Hilda Marsden and Ian Jack. Nevertheless for some reason only Ian Jack appears credited as the editor of this one.

Patsy Stoneman is the author of the introduction and the selected bibliography (which obviously hasn't been updated and lacks essential bibliography published in the last ten years). A brief (much too brief(5)) note on the text and Ian Jack's explanatory notes complete the edition which also includes the usual Biographical Notice of Ellis & Acton Bell and the Editor's Preface to the Second Edition and an extract of the not so usual Prefatory Note to 'Selections from Poems by Ellis Bell' (all of them by Charlotte Brontë).

Patsy Stoneman's text is somewhat dated (mentioning several times the recent, in its first edition, 1992 Wuthering Heights film adaptation) but constitutes a good introduction to the several critical readings that the novel has given rise to. After some very brief biographical facts, Ms Stoneman introduces us to the the several critical currents to have approached Emily Brontë's masterpiece: from Lord David Cecil symbolic reading to the deconstructionist approaches (via feminism, marxism, psychoanalitic criticism, etc...) ending with a personal reading which in her own words,
Most critics endorse Heathcliff's judgement that, in marrying Edgar, Catherine has 'betrayed her own heart'. What I want to offer here is an explanation - possibily a vindication - of her behaviour.
Patsy Stoneman uses the possible influence of Shelley (a point which Edward Chitham highly favoured in his 1987 Emily Brontë biography and was quite fashionable in Brontë scholarship in the years when was this edition first published) to elaborate her approach which can be summarised thus:
Wuthering Heights juxtaposes this ethic of propietry and retribution with Catherine's 'naïve' assumption that people could love one another without conflict. The result is a tragic commentary on Shelley's idealism.
(M.)

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë
Edited by Margaret Smith
with introduction and notes by Sally Shuttleworth
Price: £5.99/$7.95

ISBN-13: 978-0-19-953559-0
Publication date: 17 April 2008
542 pages, 196x129 mm
Series: Oxford World's Classics
Although the edition is defined on OUP's website as a new one, as a matter of fact this is a reissue of the 2000 Oxford World's Classic edition which uses as copytext the 1969 Clarendon edition, by Margaret Smith and Jane Jack. Sally Shuttleworth has written the introduction, the revised notes, the chronology (placing in context biographical data and historical and cultural events) and a selected bibliography (up to 2000). The edition also contains a very informative note on the text by Margaret Smith, the Preface to the second edition and the note to the third edition by Charlotte Brontë and an appendix with the Opinions of the Press, as printed at the end of the third edition (April 1848).

The introduction avoids the critical commentary and focuses on examining what is clearly in the text. Thus, several parallels in the text are traced and several sections on the key points and characters of the book, all extensively and exhaustively examined.

As for the notes, they offer a good background on the context of the novel (dated words and expressions, and contemporary customs) as well as trying to trace - as far as possible - the real-life basis for many places and characters. They also help the reader get acquainted with possible influences for the text, which according to Sally Shuttleworth, relies heavily on the Bible and, this was quite new to us, a book owned by Charlotte Brontë called The Doctrine of the Passions, by Isaac Watts. Some of the cross-references were actually interesting and had a fresh air about them, while others seemed somewhat contrived. A good deal of Byron, Shakespeare and Milton's Paradise Lost(6) as is usual. (Cristina)

Notes

(1) It should be borne in mind how many English editions, following the Parlour Library edition of 1854, omit the first four pages of Markham's letter to Halford, thus changing the structure of the novel.
(2) The notable exception is the choice of a 1912 portrait of Edie McNeill by Henry Lamb as the cover of the new Jane Eyre edition, but reframed in order to focus the attention on the face and avoid all the anachronisms (hair style and dress).
(3) There are some absences like Robert and Louise Barnard's A Brontë Encyclopedia or the Oxford Companion to the Brontës. And why select only Lock & Dixon A Man of Sorrows when Dudley Green's The Letters of Reverend Patrick Brontë provides a more complete letter selection?
(4) The idea comes from Heather Glen's Charlotte Brontë: The Imagination in History.
(5) There are several editorial decisions that are not explained. As an example, check note (4) of our review of a 2007 Broadview Press edition of Wuthering Heights. The present edition doesn't explain the choice of "inhabitant".
(6) However, the references to Paradise Lost are not as many as in Stevie Davies's notes in the 2006 Penguin Classics Edition where every few sentences a parallel to Paradise Lost would be found.


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