Presenting an edition of letters is a work of transformation, bringing together texts in an assortment of material states and written in various modes and frames of mind. Nevertheless, for print or electronic publication they are all shaped by editorial protocols, and thus, to use Walter Benjamin’s term, they lose their aura. As if to compensate, the way in which editors juxtapose material in a collection can create surprises and suggest new constellations of ideas.Whether for a selection or a collection of all surviving letters, one of an editor’s tasks is to construct an interpretative frame. Authors and the recipients of those letters may be in perfect accord, but often enough misunderstandings come between them. As letters pass through time and space and become the property of others, puzzles and misprisions multiply. An editor must decide how much to explain, and how much to modernize, standardize or otherwise modify the original texts. There are no single or infallible answers to such challenges.The examples in this chapter come from many times and places, but draw in particular on the author’s experience of editing Joseph Conrad’s letters. With such a mercurial correspondence, it is hard not to consider its generic affiliations. As a genre, letters may overlap with personal essays, experimental monologues, epistolary poetry or prose fiction. In spite of editorial constraints, letters never quite lose their unruliness, their immediacy.
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- Editing Letters: Resources, Challenges and Mysteries
- Macmillan Education UK
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