Part II: In which a hyphen is not a hyphen

This is second in a series of six, and possibly seven, posts with the provisional title “Marking Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Typography, Race, and Textual Transmission.” See Part I: In which a space is not a space if you’d like to start at the beginning. This series includes much-revised versions of presentations at the Midwest MLA Conference (Minneapolis, 2008) and the Society for Textual Scholarship (New York, 2008). The revised version is intended as a draft for an article to be submitted to a journal. Comments are appreciated.

In the two-volume Jewett edition, volume 1, page 106, of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, slavecatcher Tom Loker asks Haley, the trader who purchased Uncle Tom, to provide what his partner Marks will call a retaining fee. Loker and Marks will pursue the child Harry–for Haley–and the mother Eliza for their own profit:

Stowe, UTC, Jewett 1852, vol. 1, pg. 106

Note the hyphen at the end of the third line of the image. In an editorial sense, when this passage is transcribed, the hyphen is not a hyphen: it is not there. The hyphen that is not a hyphen is not there for many reasons–which this post will explore–but the real reason that the hyphen is not there, I propose, is that the hyphen represents a space that is not quite a space, in the sense that we cannot see it because of a paradigmatic blindness about typographical space. Not all scholars of literature and cultural studies are blind to typographical space in historical printing practices. A comment on Post I in this series, by William Tozier, shows that my original assumption about the blindness of other toilers in the field may have been rash. But I only recognized my own blindness to typographical space with the assistance of many works by Randall McLeod, most recently his “Gerald Hopkins and the Shapes of His Sonnets” (2004), and with the assistance of Peter Burnhill’s Type Spaces (London: Hyphen Press, 2003). But the degree to which my work departs from McLeod’s and Burnhill’s–and may be of more interest to scholars of American literature–concerns the intersection between type space, race, and stereotype during the textual transmission of Stowe’s work, a function of Modernization.

The hyphen could be “not there” in two senses. In the first sense, which is used by the Chicago Manual of Style for the preparation of manuscripts, it could be a soft hyphen, one “used merely to break a word at the end of a line.” The alternative, a hard or permanent hyphen, which “must remain no matter where the hyphenated word or term appears,” can be rejected as impossible, unless the intended word is “does-n’t [sic]” (87). A second sense in which the hyphen is “not there” is provided by the The Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Committee on Scholarly Editions (CSE). The MLA CSE addresses cases that are neither the Chicago Manual‘s soft hyphens (“signs of syllabic division used to split a word in two for easier justification”) nor hard hyphens (“signs that a compound word is to be spelled with a hyphen”). Those which fit neither category are “ambiguous,” because it is “unclear whether the word is to be spelled with or without the hyphen” (CSE 36). In a scholarly edition, the editor uses judgment to decide how the word was “intended to be spelled.” After the matter is resolved, the editor must record the emendation in the apparatus. There are two basic choices: 1) “does-n’t [sic]” is an error in which “doesn’t” was intended, 2) Or “does-n’t [sic]” is an error in which “does n’t” was intended. For an authoritative judgment, a scholarly editor consults corollary evidence, which consists, first, of other instances of the same word in this edition, and which consists, second, of the same passage in other authoritative versions of the text.

In the two-volume Jewett edition, the contraction appears 12 more times, and the first use of the word (or words) is by Aunt Chloe:


That’s straightforward. There’s a space, a somewhat thin one, between the s and the n. Trust that if I were to photoquote (the term is Randall McLeod’s) “does n’t” 12 more times the other examples would also have a space, regardless of the speaker’s race, typically a thin one but a space nonetheless. Of course, in the troubling example at the end of the line on pg. 106, we have a hyphen at the end of the line. With confidence that there is usually a space between does and n’t, we will lean toward the hyphen as an error. But if the intent is to cite this passage or prepare an edition, a more conscientious attitude may be required, especially if the caution from MLA Style Manual (2008) echoes in our head: “Accuracy of quotations is extremely important. They must reproduce the original sources exactly” (122).

Stowe had some authority over at least four other versions of the text: the manuscript, the National Era serial version (1851-52), Jewett’s one-volume paperback Edition for the Million (1852/53), Jewett’s one-volume illustrated edition (1853), and Houghton-Osgood’s New Edition (1879). This passage is not present in the surviving manuscript pages. But it does appear in three near contemporary versions on which the author may have had an influence. I’ll photoquote other examples of “does-n’t [sic]” in chronological order of appearance: the serial, which appeared before the Jewett edition; those that followed shortly, the paperback and the illustrated edition; and, for good measure though it appears 27 years later, the last edition in Stowe’s lifetime on which she was intimately involved, the New Edition:

Note: Image size is not proportional. Also, the 3rd image is from the Google facsimile of the Sampson Low edition, a printing that was prepared based on the Jewett illustrated edition plates. The fourth image is also a GoogleBooks microfilm facsimile. I will be scanning the texts for updates to this post.


Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Jewett Paperback (1852), pg. 29


Stowe, UTC, Houghton-Osgood, 1879, pg. 85

If we reach a conclusion based on the predominant practice of Jewett’s two-volume edition, there should have been a space. But these examples are also typical of their respective publication form. The National Era practice for contractions was to have no space. But because we have three editions from Jewett, and I’ve checked multiple examples in all three texts, we can make a further surmise. The presence or absence of space in contractions is a matter of design. For the short paperback edition, a trim 166 pages, spaces are generally present in contractions, as they are in the two-volume edition. For the fat illustrated edition with 568 pages, in many copies gilt-edged, with ample margins and copious engravings, the design of typography included omitting spaces in contractions. If Jewett as a publisher had a practice–and I think we can reasonably infer that it did–the act of designing the edition included deciding whether contractions should have a space. The 1879 Houghton-Osgood may carry lesser authority for space in typography, but it at least seems true that a space was thought present, from which we can infer, provisionally, either that the Houghton-Osgood compositor followed the 1852 two-volume copy or followed the design, in which, again, the presence or absence of space in contractions was a matter of concern.

Unfortunately, neither multiple editions nor the publisher’s practice offers any clarity on our original question, the presence of that curious hyphen in “does-n’t [sic].” The paperback edition’s generous typographical space conflicts with its strict economy in other matters: cramped margins, no illustrations, cheap paper. And though the illustrated edition was lavished with larger type, the designer chose to close up the space in contractions. So a transcriber of this text, or an editor who prepares a new edition, must make a surmise about this curious example. This is my surmise. When the compositor for the two-volume Jewett edition decided to place the hyphen at the end of the line, he probably struggled against competing influences. His copy, probably Stowe’s manuscript but possibly a marked up printing of the National Era newspaper, lacked a space before the comma. But the compositor’s instinct to follow copy contrasted with the book’s design, which insisted that contractions have a thin space between the two halves of the contraction. At the end of this line, he compromised awkwardly between the two practices: he inserted a hyphen that stands for a thin space.

That is, in the case of “does-n’t [sic]” at line end, a particular case that finds theoretical justification in the works of Jerome McGann and D. F. McKenzie, the hyphen represents a space that is not quite a space. Why one generic space is not equivalent to another will be the subject of Part III in this series of this post. This surmise can only be supported if our concept of typographical space is both historically sensitive and theoretically sound. While I aim to provide such a background, I must address our own era of computer typesetting, in which we have we have become accustomed to flexible spacing, wherein space as definition of width or space as substitute for line end is a matter of bewildering possibilities. Part III in this series of posts, “In which a hyphen is not a space,” will explore subtle variations in typographical space, from the perspective both of historical printing practices (hand-set type) and digital reproduction (ASCII, TeX, and Unicode). And we’ll turn in Part IV of this series to Modernist attitudes toward typography.

See Part III: In which a hyphen is not a space.

Works Cited

Burnhill, Peter. Type Spaces. London: Hyphen Press, 2003. Print.

Committee on Scholarly Editions. “Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions.” Electronic Textual Editing. Eds. Katherine O’Brien O’Kee ffe, et al. New York: Modern Language Association, 2006. Print.

McLeod, Randall. Voice, Text, Hypertext: Emerging Practices in Textual Studies Eds. Raimonda Modiano et al. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004, 177-297. Print.

Modern Language Association. MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. 3rd ed. New York: Modern Language Association, 2008. Print.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly. 2 Vols. Boston: John P. Jewett, 1852. Internet Archive. Web.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly. National Era. 5 June 1851 — 1 April 1852. Ed. Wesley Raabe. Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. Web

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly. Illustrated. Boston: John P. Jewett, 1853. GoogleBooks. [published also by Sampson Low]. Web.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly. 1 Vol. Pbk. Boston: John P. Jewett, 1852-53. Print.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly. Boston: Houghton-Osgood, 1879. Web.

University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. 87. Print.

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One Response to Part II: In which a hyphen is not a hyphen

  1. Pingback: Part I: In which a space is not a space « Fill His Head First with a Thousand Questions

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