Trinity Fellow Professor Adrian Poole has won the Modern Language Association Prize for a Scholarly Edition for The Princess Casamassima by Henry James. It is volume 9 of The Cambridge Edition of the Complete Fiction of Henry James published by Cambridge University Press.
The citation for the award described Professor Poole’s book as an ‘exceptional edition’ with a ‘lucid, lively, and informative introduction’ as well as praising its comprehensiveness. The Modern Language Association of America, founded in 1883, has over 23,000 members in 100 countries and works to strengthen the study and teaching of languages and literature.
Below the Emeritus Professor of English Literature shares his thoughts on this award, his passion for Henry James, and what a ‘scholarly edition’ involves.
What’s your reaction to winning this prize?
It was a terrible shock. I mean it was a wonderful surprise. Absolutely out of the blue. You have to be nominated for this award and I had no idea that someone had done so. A close friend and admirer? As it turned out, our editor and publisher at Cambridge University Press, Bethany Thomas, to whom now of course warmest thanks.
Why do think you won this award?
You’d have to ask the judges. They may have been impressed by the sheer doorstopper size of the volume, so handsomely produced by CUP. It took Henry James well over a year to write it in fourteen monthly instalments; he called it ‘interminable’. It’s taken me a good ten years of work to do it justice.
Why The Princess Casamassima?
If you mean why did I choose this particular novel to edit, it’s a kind of reward to myself. Many years ago I wrote a PhD thesis on a good but melancholy late nineteenth-century writer called George Gissing, best known for New Grub Street (his doomed and gloomy protagonist has inspired a Radio sitcom, ‘Ed Reardon’s Week’, that’s a good deal funnier than Gissing’s novel). I spent a lot of time reading and wishing I were working on greater contemporaries such as Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad and Henry James. In due course I managed to get on to them, and at long last, here I am, doing another PhD as it were, on the novel of James’s that most closely resembles the world that Gissing represents – and in artistic terms, far surpasses it.
What is a ‘scholarly edition’?
A scholarly edition such as this brings back to life (or tries to) the world out of which the literary work was created and which it first addressed. That’s to say, the experience of the author as he conceived it, laboured over it, negotiated with editors and publishers and the readers he imagined for it, and then the readers who responded to it or failed to, including the critics and interpreters who shape our own reading of it now. So it means a big introduction, over 30,000 words, and about the same volume of notes.
Tell us a bit of background about this series
Some literary works speak to us more than others. Some no longer do so; others speak to us for the first time, or with renewed urgency. But as they recede from us in time, all of them need help; or better, we need help in grasping the circumstances, personal and collective, that first gave them birth, so that we read them more attentively. Henry James’s writing has more than survived; it gets published, read, turned into movies. But however much we can recognize in his writing, his world was different from ours, and to stretch across that gap, we all need assistance. That’s how the project of the Complete Fiction of Henry James was born. That’s what everyone involved in its 32 volumes is seeking to do for the work this author has left us, to deepen our sense of it , to enlarge its reach, to ensure its longevity.
The full citation for Professor Poole’s award:
Adrian Poole’s exceptional edition of Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima includes unusually voluminous and complex collations, laid out clearly in two hefty apparatuses of over one hundred pages each. The front matter is graced with a general editors’ preface and a chronology; a lucid, lively, and informative introduction; a textual introduction; a chronology of composition and production; and a bibliography. The back matter lists variants before copy text (the manuscript, the serialization in the Atlantic Monthly) and after copy text (James’s extensive late revisions for the New York Edition and includes a glossary of foreign words and phrases as well as comprehensive explanatory notes, a list of emendations, and James’s preface to the New York Edition.