Michael Edson, ed. Publishing, Editing, and Reception: Essays in Honor of Donald H. Reiman. Review by Bysshe Inigo Coffey

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - 10:53

Publishing, Editing, and Reception: Essays in Honor of Donald H. Reiman, ed. Michael Edson (University of Delaware Press, Newark: 2015). Hbk $90, E-Book available ISBN: 978-1611495782

Bysshe Inigo Coffey

Donald H. Reiman remains a looming presence in Romantic scholarship. Author of The Study of Modern Manuscripts and Intervals of Inspiration, he was also the general editor of the monumental The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts (23 volumes) and The Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics (29 volumes). Today he edits (with Neil Fraistat and Nora Crook) The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley for Johns Hopkins. 

How do you begin to honour such achievements? The potentially underwhelming title of Michael Edson’s Festschrift for Reiman, Publishing, Editing, and Reception, belies the imaginative and inventive treasures that the collection contains. The essays are at turns brilliant, refreshing, and even deliriously playful, adducing a significant reflection on Reiman’s methods and his substantial catalogue of interventions. But the book is a discrete repository of astounding work on its own terms too. Edson notes the Festschrift’s generic limitations: ‘one criticism of the festschrift genre is that contributors to such a volume simply pull “an unpublished piece [from] the desk drawer,” the result being a “mixed bag” of chapters with little “unity”’. Edson has fashioned, with the essays written variously ‘by friends, students, and collaborators’ of the honoree, anything but a ‘mixed bag’

Where does the sense of unity come from? Many of the contributors note a passing (but striking) comment, or piece of advice offered by Reiman in person during the course of their careers. This lends the bristling air of the supervision to the collection, highlighting the rewards of active listening and luck, which are the collection’s motifs. Alice Levine explains in her essay, ‘Indeterminacy and Method: Editing Byron’s Accidentals’, that ‘it feels appropriate, in a volume dedicated to Donald Reiman, to focus on the subject of editing so-called accidentals’ (I’m reminded here of Reiman on the ellipses of ‘Julian and Maddalo’, or ‘The Triumph of Life’). Indeed, ‘no detail of an author’s text was too small for Don’; Levine ‘distinctly recall[s]’ a conversation during which he remarked: ‘You may want to restore some of Byron’s midline capitalisations.’ Levine writes that she was unaware of what editorial ‘uncertainty’ the innocuous sounding couple (‘may want to’ and ‘some’) betokened. Reiman recommended her for the role of editing Byron for the 2009 Norton Critical Edition. Here Levine articulates her ‘nonmethodological’ approach to Byron’s accidentals, since Byron often expected his publishers to re-punctuate, adjust, and correct them—including his midline capitalisations. Yet, as his publishers often made errors, exchanging the wrong punctuation marks, for instance, such questions are vexed. Levine guides us deftly through the fascinating and knotty decisions involved when editing Byron.  

Continuing the motif of fruitful listening, Michael O’Neill reflects on Shelley’s rhyme and its subtle language of thematising. Peter McDonald and Simon Jarvis have recently revitalised approaches to thinking on (or through) rhyme, and O’Neill revisits an earlier interest here. The rhyme of ‘approved’ and ‘reproved’ in Adonais suggests (with a semantic attentiveness reminiscent of Wimsatt) the relation of approval and censure through their shared root, but also a nuanced reflection on the societal function of criticism central to Adonais. One is left wondering whether the essay anticipates a thorough reinvestigation of Shelley’s flirtation with rhyme’s equivocation between coercion and control. We might consider rhyme as the formal correlative, perhaps, to Shelley's thought experiments with necessitarianism and the ‘intellectual system’.

Nora Crook’s ‘Shelley as Sussex Gentleman and Wild Motorist’ is entertaining, convincing, and beautifully written. The essay functions, arguably, as the collection’s ‘Shelley as Agrarian Reactionary’—Reiman’s provocative (and still unavoidable) essay which argued that it was a misnomer to call Shelley simply a ‘radical’, but that certain strands of his thought were, by definition, ‘reactionary’. Crook reflects on the neglected and conservative responses to Shelley, such as those of H. M. Stanley and Hugh Walpole. Such readers tended to indulge in the poet’s potential ambiguities, stripping the poetry of its politics—rendering Shelley an icon of British culture. As Crook notes, ‘a comprehensive and detailed analysis of Shelley’s appeal to conservative readers during the period roughly spanning 1870 to 1914 still awaits the cultural historian’. Crook then turns to Kipling’s 1904 short story ‘Steam Tactics’ (she has written an excellent book on Kipling.) Consider Kipling’s ‘witty’ redeployment of ‘Prometheus’s gift to mankind’, which is transformed here into ‘the internal combustion engine’. This essay will hopefully inspire the ‘cultural historian’ alluded to. In a wonderful conclusion to the collection, Kipling’s Shelley emerges as a proto Mr Toad.    

This collection not only revives the Festschrift as a genre (and features contributions from the likes of Stuart Curran, Neil Fraistat, and Timothy Webb, in addition to those discussed above), but also honours an accomplished scholar and (to borrow from Swinburne) ‘scholiast’. The book survives its title triumphantly.