Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A facsimile Alice and a pricey study aid to Faulkner

In November 1864, Alice Liddell received a book bound in morocco leather with the inscription ‘A Christmas gift to a dear child, in memory of a summer’s day.’ It  commemorated an outing in July 1862, when a small party that included Alice, aged 10, and her sisters Edith and Lorina rowed down the Isis river at Oxford as their friend Charles Dodgson spun a fantasmagoric tale of rabbit holes, shape shifting, and verbal whimsy. The book was titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, and Dodgson had worked on it for two years, fashioning 37 illustrations which he interspersed in the handwritten manuscript. Later the story was edited, expanded, and renamed, with the familiar illustration by John Tenniel, but this original version remained in Alice's hands for 60 years. It passed to private collectors until it was donated to the British Library, where it remains one of their most prized possessions. You can flip through the entire book here.
The Folio Society, whose offerings always brings an onset of book lust, has a splendid facsimile edition (left) that will set you back a mere $180. If your house lacks a copy of the Alice in Wonderland version of the story, we have one for $3.98.
This description of their new edition of The Sound and the Fury describes how the Folio Society pulled off an amazing literary and typographic coup to have the book printed as Faulkner envisioned:
The Sound and The Fury is acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of 20th-century literature. It takes the modernist narrative devices of stream-of-consciousness, time-shifts and multiple changes of viewpoint to an unprecedented level of sophistication. Faulkner was well aware that readers would find it difficult, and employed italic and roman type to convey its ‘unbroken-surfaced confusion’, but when his agent attempted to standardise and simplify the system this prompted an angry objection from Faulkner. He quickly jotted down eight time-levels in Benjy’s section, ‘just a few I recall’, and wished that it could be ‘printed the way it ought to be with different color types’, but he concluded pessimistically, ‘I don’t reckon … it’ll ever be printed that way’.
The Folio Society determined that it could be printed that way, and drew on the expertise of two noted Faulkner scholars to work on fulfilling Faulkner’s idea. Stephen M. Ross and Noel Polk undertook the painstaking task of identifying each different time-level to be coloured, while keeping the original italic/roman shifts. We can never know if this is exactly what Faulkner would have envisaged, but the result justifies his belief that coloured inks would allow readers to follow the strands of the novel more easily, without compromising the ‘thought-transference’ for which he argued so passionately.
Would having this edition encourage you to read the book?

8 comments:

  1. The colorful "Sound in the Fury" is an interesting idea, but it's not necessary. It is a novel to savor for its language and its dreamlike mood, and anyone preoccupied with plotting and symbolism will probably miss the point. Likewise, in this book Faulkner shows some great flashes of humor, a trait for which he deserves more credit.

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  2. That edition of "The Sound and the Fury" is unbelievably cool, but like Cabaret Voltaire I'm not sure it's entirely necessary. I think that it would be better to read after one has already read through the book as it was originally published, to achieve a deeper understanding, rather than as a first introduction to the book. The best of modernism, in my opinion, lies in the poetry of the language employed and not the plot.

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    1. The best of literature, the best of non-fiction narrative, the sweetest reward to my reading life--has been that elusive poetry, that blending of sense and sound and thought, which you ascribe to modernism, but is the care of writers since troubadours sang their romances. I have grown impatient with any writing that lacks it.

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  3. I love your blog subject today. I had read "Alice I Have Been" when it came out and have been intrigued with Alice in Wonderland/Charles Dodgson ever since.

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  4. I checked out the Alice book, really rad!!! there is something romantic about seeing words handwritten on paper.

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  5. As gorgeous as that edition is, nothing makes Faulkner any less daunting! I've always been left cold... Anyone care to convince me:)?

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    1. Not I, said the sparrow. Thanks for voicing the opinion I have sat on since high school, where my teacher loved Faulkner. Arguments to the contrary...?

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  6. FAVORITE AIW QUOTE "THE HURRIER I GO, THE BEHINDER I GET". WORDS TO LIVE BY.

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