Uncle Tom’s Cabin Project (Entry 3): Experiment

This is the third (and most speculative) draft entry in a projected multi-part posting. During next week these documents will be refined. This posting on “Experiment” is accompanied by previous posting on “Composition History” and “Editorial Approach.”

I am proposing–attempting to imagine–an editing and humanities computing experiment that would offer an alternative form of evidence for my belief that some installments of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s National Era version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin are later authorial revisions of the 1852 Jewett edition text.

During her composition process, Stowe provided copy for the National Era (initially in manuscript, but later perhaps in galleys prepared by Jewett printers), for the Jewett editors (either in manuscript or possibly in marked up newspaper printers). Leaving early manuscript drafts and considering only those intended as printer’s copy, there are the following options:

Printer’s Copy Options

If Stowe used option 1, 2, or 4, any of which are possible, this experiment has no purpose. The trouble is, how do we know? Short of a manuscript letter that says “copied out Jewett printer’s copy from Era installment” (if someone knows of one, please tell me!), we won’t know. If I can get funds, I’d love to read all of the letters. In any case, if Stowe used option 3, I assume that the response of most people will be “duh” and a yawn. Nothing is lost except years of my time, and we may gain the difference between suspicion and having hard evidence. But if Stowe used option 5, we have something really interesting on our hands, a corollary to my suspicion (based mostly on intuition) that the Era is, at least in part, a revised copy of the Jewett edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Recall, however, that option 5 increases in likelihood later in the composition process. Option 3 increases in likelihood earlier in the composition process. During middle stages of composition (October to early March) we can’t lean one way or the other. Put otherwise, the composition process used in one section of the text may not match the process used in another.

To proceed with this experiment, we must distinguish between those variants that don’t matter and those that do. In brief, the only variants that do matter are those that would not otherwise matter. That is, if a variant is likely to have originated as a conscious act, we must discard it. The only variants that can bear any weight are the insignificant ones, those that originated when the compositor followed copy unconsciously (perhaps against rules of house styling or of consistency).

By the way, the spelling of the exclamation “oh” as “O” seems not to matter to most people. But publishing houses have different styles. Jewett, for example, excludes the “h” while the Era printer includes it, but not always. In the final installments of newspaper, the Jewett spelling of “O” starts to appear regularly (Kirkham noticed this). The counts (my counts) are as follows: Jewett has 276 O’s and 22 oh’s while the Era has 8 O’s and 279 Oh’s. So the question is, if we have a pattern that seems to reflect house styling and the pattern is followed 97 percent of the time, do the breaks in the pattern indicate random noise or following copy. If all examples are considered and they seem randomly distributed, I would assume random noise during the attention to manuscript copy is the reason. But if we consider all patterns and the types of pattern breaks are clustered, we may be able to infer that the setting copy was the reason for the variation.

These types of variants must be excluded from the analysis:

  • Variants in wording, presumably authorial. These include both newspaper-Jewett variants and Jewett edition variants (between uncorrected and corrected state)
  • Register changes in dialect, that is, from educated to lower class or vice-versa or from biblical (thee/thou) to non-biblical or vice-versa. By the way, this variant does not always follow race; rather, the Era and Jewett edition are different.
  • Punctuation variants of substance (semi-substantives), including emphasis in type styling (small caps or italics), switch between exclamation, question, or statement, or alteration of quotation form that affects sense as well as styling
  • Newspaper errors, more or less obvious w/o reference to Jewett edition. Includes obvious mis-spelling, omitted or incorrect punctuation, and type damage
  • Jewett errors, more or less obvious w/o reference to newspaper edition. Includes obvious mis-spelling, omitted or incorrect punctuation, and type damage.
  • Unclassifiable errors.

The only type of variants included are accidentals characteristic of type styling:

  • space before apostrophe in contractions
  • quotation indicated but signed differently (e.g., em dash vs. quote marks)
  • Hyphenation of compounds
  • Indifferent spelling variants, including dialect spelling w/ or w/o apostrophes
    • I am trying to figure out a method to do this, and I’m drafting ideas right now. More to come.

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