Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Editing Thomas Hardy’s ‘Desperate Remedies’

Richard Nemesvari

In some ways producing a scholarly edition of Desperate Remedies is easier than editing other Hardy novels, first of all because there is no extant manuscript. The story is that after he completed the text Hardy was moving lodgings, and when he discovered that the MS wouldn’t fit in his portmanteau, he destroyed it rather than packaging it up for transportation. This means that an editor doesn’t need to worry about creating the complex system of symbols necessary for recording manuscript variants, although I’ve certainly imagined a scenario where I disprove that story by an unlooked-for discovery of the manuscript hidden away in some isolated archive. Alas, that’s not very likely.

The other reason that Desperate Remedies provides a relatively straightforward editorial project is because it was never serialized, and there are only five substantive versions that need to be considered when recording variants: the Tinsley Brothers three-volume first edition (1871), the one-volume Henry Holt American edition (1874), the one-volume Ward and Downey ‘New Edition’ (1889), the volume in the Osgood, McIlvaine Wessex Novels collection (1896), and that in the Macmillan Wessex Edition (1912). I say ‘relatively’ because the American Holt edition provides an interesting example of ‘stranded’ variants. Desperate Remedies is Hardy’s first published novel, but that wasn’t how it worked out in the United States. Henry Holt only became aware of Hardy after the publication of Under the Greenwood Tree and A Pair of Blue Eyes, which explains the three-year gap between the first British and American editions. Hardy, provided with a new set of proofs, characteristically took the opportunity to make changes to the story, including re-writing the circumstances leading to the birth of Miss Aldclyffe’s illegitimate son Æneas Manston, in order to reduce her ‘culpability’, and also generally softening the wrongdoing of these, his two main villains. This type of experimentation with shifting the tone of the novel was never passed on to the main line of British textual transmission, but it is now available to be seen in the substantive footnotes of the Cambridge edition.

Of course, collation is always a major task for any critical edition, and for Desperate Remedies I was aided by my advisory board colleague Peter Shillingsburg’s program PC-CASE (Computer Assisted Scholarly Editing). This requires the inputting of machine-readable versions of the substantive texts, for which I employed Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, and I then ran PC-CASE to produce lists of differences between the texts. Eventually, of course, I checked these lists against an old-fashioned eye/hand collation, but this electronically enhanced process provided a crucial, foundational first run-through of a very large amount of material.

One thing that those collations confirmed was that for the Osgood, McIlvaine edition Hardy made the same substantial revisions to setting as he did for most of his novels. This was especially necessary for Desperate Remedies, since it was written long before the idea of Wessex as a unified location for his fiction had occurred to him. Indeed, in many ways this isn’t a ‘Wessex’ novel at all, but by the time of his collected editions Hardy understood that it was an important element of his ‘brand’, and so he makes changes to create consistency where required. Reading, named as such, becomes ‘Aldbrickham’, ‘Creston’ becomes the Wessex watering-place ‘Budmouth’ (Weymouth), while ‘Froominster,’ having passed through the transitional ‘Troominster’, finally becomes ‘Casterbridge’ (Dorchester), by now established as the centre of Hardy’s ‘partly real, partly dream-country’ through The Mayor of Casterbridge. As well, distances are recalculated and revised, and while this has little impact on the narrative, it does achieve Hardy’s goal of making his locations coherent across his novels and stories.

Another set of changes can be linked to these. Hardy explicitly chose to write a sensation novel in order to break into novel publishing, and Desperate Remedies with its illegitimacy, bigamy, same-sex eroticism, murder, suicide, and exposure of secrets through detection, certainly meets that genre’s plot requirements. Later in his career, however, as Hardy increasingly became associated with realism, especially through his descriptions of Wessex, this early work became something of an embarrassment to him (and subsequent critics). He therefore slowly mitigated that disjunction by revising away the more extreme sensationalist elements, although he could never fully remove the novel’s sensation fiction roots.

The Cambridge edition of Desperate Remedies provides its reader with the best of both worlds. Because it is based on the first edition, all of Hardy’s original creative employment of melodrama is on display, while the evolution of the text away from that approach can be traced as he grows from a novice novelist to the dominant author of the late Victorian period.

Desperate Remedies edited by Richard Nemesvari
Desperate Remedies edited by Richard Nemesvari
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About The Author

Richard Nemesvari

Richard Nemesvari is Professor of English and former Dean of Arts at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada. He edited Thomas Hardy's novel The Trumpet-Major and Charlotte Brontë's Ja...

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