Editing Thomas Hardy’s ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’

Written by: Simon Gatrell


The first thing to say for any reader who is not familiar with scholarly editions like this of Hardy’s fiction, is that it is different from all others and really significant. It gives, if you combine the text with the footnotes on the same page, the whole history of Hardy’s imaginative involvement with each work, from the cancelled initial thoughts on his manuscript to the last handful of revisions he added to a copy of each novel he kept in his study until his death. It is possible, with a little work, to recreate any stage in the development of a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter – you can see the effects of the creative mind at work on each page. It becomes clear that the novels are not single static objects, but works in fluid motion over fifty years which Hardy paused at various times to offer to his public in a more or less altered form.

I chose to edit Under the Greenwood Tree (UGT) when I was a postgraduate student because my supervisor (the late David Fleeman) advised me to choose the shortest novel I could that had a manuscript surviving (he was already directing Juliet Grindle who was editing Tess of the d’Urbervilles – perhaps the most complex editing task in Thomas Hardy’s work). I have never ceased to be grateful to him.

There are only four major substantive witnesses to UGT: the manuscript, which was ultimately willed to the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester; (no serialisation, unlike most of his novels and stories); the first edition of 500 copies, published in 1872 in two volumes by Tinsley Brothers (Hardy’s second published novel); volume 16 in the first collected edition of Hardy’s work, published in 1896 by Osgood, McIlvaine, which Hardy substantially revised for this as for all the novels and stories; and volume 7 of the second collected edition, the Wessex edition, published by Macmillan in 1912, which again Hardy revised. Towards the end of his life Hardy made six one-word or one-phrase changes to the texts of the first reimpression of the Wessex edition in 1920 and of the de luxe edition of his work, the Mellstock edition, published by Macmillan also in 1920.

One of the greatest pleasures involved in the editing process was spending ten days (it is a very short novel) around one new year collating the manuscript with the first edition and noting Hardy’s cancellations and all other features of the manuscript, in the (now repurposed) members library of the Dorset County Museum, the work intermingled with frosty walks around the neighbouring Stinsford and Bockhampton, the district Hardy describes in increasingly accurate detail in the successive versions of the novel.

While I was completing the relatively tedious business of collating the substantive versions, I became intrigued by the differences between the manuscript punctuation and that of the first edition; the manuscript is the one used by Robson’s compositors to set the first edition, and their names and stints are marked on it. The first piece of analytical work I did on the novel was to tabulate under compositor and mark of punctuation all the differences between manuscript and first edition; once finished these tables came as a surprise to me. I had understood that in the nineteenth century (and later) printing houses imposed a uniform house-style of pointing on the texts they produced, and to a degree this was true of Robson’s men and UGT – they all added a large number of commas, replaced many of Hardy’s quite frequent dashes with other marks, and in general increased the density of punctuation throughout. But, and this was the surprise, I discovered that each of the five compositors who set almost all of the novel had a quite different signature, so to speak. One was happy to leave most of Hardy’s dashes where they were, while another removed nearly twice as many as any of the others; a third added less than a quarter as many semicolons than any of the others; a fourth was responsible for over eighty percent of the changes of Hardy’s dashes to the hybrid comma-dash or semicolon-dash – and these are only the most dramatic of the distinctions. 

This discovery sent me back to the manuscript, and it seemed clear that, particularly in speech, Hardy punctuated as he heard the characters speak the words, where the compositors added commas (mostly) or semi-colons wherever they seemed plausible to the reading eye, with rarely any attention to subtleties of cadence or emphasis. Since there was no virtue of consistency to be found among the compositors I decided that I should use the manuscript punctuation in the edited text (I should add that this was in the early 1970s), accepting that a small proportion of the differences between the manuscript and the first edition may have been the result of Hardy’s changes at the proof stage. This decision was in line with the then current Greg-Bowers-Tanselle approach to editing, but owed very little to theory.

The other major decision was which version of the novel should furnish the substantives. The growth in Hardy’s creative consciousness of the concept of Wessex as only a semi-fictional version of South-Western England was the decisive factor here. In 1872 Wessex had not stirred in his imagination – indeed, though almost everything he wrote grew out of environments and cultures he knew intimately, he did his best to obscure the close connection with other than a general rural reality. As his career as a novelist progressed he brought his created worlds closer and closer to realities that others could experience for themselves, until, when he came to revise his fiction in 1895-6 for his first collected edition, the environment and the language and the social customs in every novel and story were altered to come closer to what was observable in Dorset and the surrounding counties, in what he had more or less rebranded as Wessex. Naturally the changes in UGT and other early novels were more far-reaching than those in, say, Tess of the d’Urbervilles of 1891. The establishment of Wessex in all its multifariousness is for many readers the most important aspect of Hardy’s work in general, and certainly the most memorable. Hardy refined this transformation when he revised everything again in 1912 for the Wessex edition. It seemed to me clear that Hardy maintained into his seventies alert and active control over his work, that it was for him a continuous process of creation and recreation over forty years, and that the words of Wessex edition version of all of his fiction and of UGT in particular were what he wished people to read. 

So my first edition of UGT combined Hardy’s manuscript punctuation with the Wessex edition words, and I would have been happy for this to have been the basis of CUP’s edition also. However the art of editing has moved on from the seventies and eighties of the last century, and two features of the edition I have just outlined were held to make it impossible in the twenty-first century – its radically composite nature, and the fact that if UGT is to be called an early novel, a novel of 1872, then the established text of an edition of the work should offer what readers encountered in 1872.

The logic of this position is satisfactory, and so the text of this edition is fundamentally that which hit Mudie’s circulating library and the booksellers in 1872, though I have gone back to the manuscript to emend a few of the more outrageously insensitive punctuation choices of its compositors. Anyone wishing to see how Hardy reshaped the novel in the successive stages I have outlined only needs, as I said at the beginning, to keep an eye on the notes at the bottom of each page of the edition, which give all the words that differ from the established text in the various witnesses.

Preparing the edition for the printer was a complex task for the typesetters, who had to marry on each page the words of the novel with the appropriate notes of variants to them, and I soon discovered that correcting the proofs was also a complicated business. I do have, however, in relation to this demanding piece of work another of the good memories associated with the long process of bringing the edition to fruition. I recall with real sensory intensity sitting for a couple of hours with my wife at a table outside a café in one of the watery suburbs of Houston, drinking excellent coffee in the sunshine of a November morning, she reading aloud the words and punctuation of the first edition and me checking that the proofs reproduced them accurately. It was the day before our son got married in that city, and the chapters we proofed then are still vivid with that happiness. 

The number of people is very large whose friendship, good conversation and invaluable assistance have made the whole business (mostly) a delight. I only hope that using the edition gives you as much pleasure as I have derived in many ways from making it.

Under the Greenwood Tree edited by Simon Gatrell
Under the Greenwood Tree edited by Simon Gatrell
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About the Author: Simon Gatrell

Simon Gatrell is Professor of English at the University of Georgia. He has previously published critical editions of Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1986) and The Return of the Native (1990), both in the Hardy series of Oxford World Classics for which he was also General Editor. Professor Gatrell is also author of Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography...

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