English, Department of


Date of this Version



Scholarly Editing: The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing, Volume 38, 2017



Copyright 2017 Melissa Homestead


In 1998, Willa Cather’s 1932 short story collection Obscure Destinies appeared as the fourth volume of the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition (WCSE). As the editors would explain in an essay reflecting on the “The Issue of Authority in a Scholarly Edition,” Cather “habitually sought to exert her authority over the full process governing the preparation and presentation of her novels: from drafting and revising the text to shaping the physical appearance of the published books.” In line with that sense of Cather’s authority, the WCSE chose and continues to choose the first edition of each work as published in book form as copy text. Obscure Destinies was the first volume for which the WCSE had access to Cather’s working typescripts, and they analyzed variants between the published texts and the typescripts and documented them in the textual apparatus. Hypothetically, one should be able to use the apparatus to reconstruct these typescripts analyzed by the editors, but as John Bryant argues in The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen, copy-text critical editions like the WCSE “inevitably marginalize” evidence of textual fluidity by placing the apparatus at the back of the book. As Bryant further argues, the nature and placement of such apparatuses also mute the temporal and spatial aspects of revision, which “occupies space and reflects the passage of time . . . reveals options and choices . . . [and] has direction.”

The WCSE aims to provide “information about [Cather’s] revisions” in order to “invite textual analyses and interpretations that will bring us closer to understanding her creative process.” However, as Charles L. Ross argues in relation to the Cambridge Edition of D. H. Lawrence, print scholarly editions fix” texts “in ways that reduce the variety of their voices” and “fail to liberate the multiple voices of textuality,” including by masking collaborators’ voices. Thee WCSE historical collation does precisely this by failing to parse responsibility for variants between Cather and her editorial collaborator and domestic partner, Edith Lewis. I have previously argued that when Lewis marked revisions on the extant typescripts of Cather’s fiction, she was editing rather than serving as Cather’s “amanuensis,” as the WCSE has repeatedly claimed. Here, my analysis of Lewis and Cather’s collaborative editing of the Obscure Destinies stories is a case study in a kind of analysis of Cather’s creative process the WCSE apparatus does not support. Furthermore, a wealth of additional material documenting the composition, editing, and publication of Obscure Destinies has emerged since 1998, namely additional working typescripts and many letters to and from Cather, including correspondence with her publishers. These materials make the textual essay and textual apparatus of the WCSE Obscure Destinies obsolete even on its own terms.