Marta L. Werner's Editorial Theories and Practices


 Werner, Marta L., ed. Emily Dickinson's Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1995.

---, ed. Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson's Fragments and Related Texts, 1870-1886. Online. University of Michigan Press, 1999. Internet. 19 May 1999. Available:
No material is excerpted.





Marta L. Werner's Editorial Theories and Practices



Marta L. Werner's Emily Dickinson's Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing was published in 1995 by the University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor). Open Folios is presented as a "scholarly edition and aesthetic exploration of a group of forty late drafts and fragments hitherto known as the 'Lord letters.'" Throughout, her edition both implicitly and explicitly converses with "authoritative" and masculine renderings of Dickinson's writing, particularly Thomas H. Johnson's The Letters of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1958). Werner explores the ways in which Dickinson's writings (specifically her later writings, those composed after 1870) resist conventional literary classification and organization (for example, the notion of a definitive or "fixed" or final text) and concludes that "[T]here can never be an authorized edition of Dickinson's writings" and that "[T]he gold imprimatur - emblem or face of Harvard's authority stamped across the blue binding of Johnson's Letters (1958) — is a false witness" (5). Thus her own edition is about "undoing" in order to recover and rediscover "the spectacular complexity of the textual situation circa 1870, which has been all but erased by the editorial interventions and print conventions of the present century" (1-2).


Most significantly, Werner begins by thanking Susan Howe for leading her "into spaces I would not have ventured into alone" and says "[W]hatever in these pages she would own, I freely give (back) to her" (xi). She also gives profuse thanks to Jerome J. McGann for effecting a profound change in her thinking toward textual theory in regards to Emily Dickinson. Werner furthermore acknowledges the efforts of Martha Nell Smith in developing collaborative editorial projects on Emily Dickinson and makes specific reference to Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson and terms it a "gendered version of literary creativity and collaboration" (xii).

Werner goes on to thank and acknowledge the work of a great many people. Unlike some editors, she is quite forthcoming with regard to the ways in which she has been influenced and encouraged by others. She sees Open Folios as an experiment of sorts "and therefore a risk" (xiii); thus she also thanks the editor of the University of Michigan Press series on editorial theory and literary criticism for undertaking and encouraging her project.


Unlike the great majority of the editors of Dickinson's works, Werner decidedly steers clear of extensive biographical narration and speculation. Uncomfortable dictating biographical information to the reader, Werner comments, "Biography tell us that, by the age of thirty, Emily Dickinson, a single woman without intellectual station, suffered from acute agoraphobia&ldots;" (25). By introducing biographical/personal information in this manner, Werner cleverly evades responsibility in terms of this presentation of Emily; her deferral to biography — "Biography tells us. . ." — implies a degree of skepticism. One can almost see the words "don't believe everything they tell you" lurking (smirking?) between the lines. And although she quotes Dickinson herself to substantiate the persona presented ["I do not cross my Father's ground to any House or town" (L 330)], Werner asserts that the "biographical and textual conditions of a writer's life do not always act in collusion . . . " (26). She suggests that while Emily's physical person became increasingly withdrawn over time, her writing "crossed outside quatrains and paragraphs and strayed beyond the resolution of sequences and series into rich and strange textual fields . . . [A]t last she wandered so far from the center that her refusal of destination (final intentions) itself became her aesthetic . . . [A]goraphobia was her alibi, 'I' her alias" (26-27).

Editorial Theories and Assumptions

Werner's edition is a departure from other "scholarly" editions in that it is not comprehensive and does not claim or attempt to be so (likewise, see Hart & Smith). Werner investigates the "forty late drafts and fragments hitherto known as the 'Lord letters,'" providing a facsimile of each as well as a transcription. Like the "Master letters," the Lord letters escaped destruction after Emily's death. They ended up in the possession of Mabel Loomis Todd, presumably through the hands of Austin, Emily's brother. Most of the fragments were not published until 1954, when Todd's daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, released Emily Dickinson: A Revelation. This edition is divided into two sections: the first part contains the "alleged" fair copy drafts of Dickinson's letter-fragments to Judge Otis Phillips Lord, and the second section contains fragments not found among the letter drafts but rather "among the masses of unclassified bits of verse and prose usually referred to as 'scraps'" (Bingham, Millicent Todd. Emily Dickinson: A Revelation. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954).

Johnson also published these draft fragments in his Letters. Like Bingham, he divided the fragments into two groups: those writings he believed to be intended for Lord are included in the body of Letters; "writings peripherally associated with [Lord]" (Werner 45) are placed at the end of the volume in a section entitled "Prose Fragments." Johnson's organization does not exactly follow that of Bingham: for the fragments included in the body of Letters, he chose from both Bingham's first and section sections. Furthermore, "[A]t times, Johnson splices together discrete fragments, rearranging text . . . in order that there may be a 'beginning,' 'middle,' and 'end'. . . [A]t other times . . . 'constructing' [a complete text] out of the myriad of rough and fair copy drafts available" (45). Moreover, Johnson dates and orders each letter and inserts the heading "To Otis Lord," in effect usurping "the space of address Dickinson chose to leave empty, or open" (Werner 45). His editorial interventions are all the more disturbing to Werner because of a statement made by Johnson in his introduction to Letters: "All autograph letters are presented in their verbatim form" (xxv).

Werner's text then is an attempt to undo such artificial reconstructions of Dickinson's writing, as "no evidence exists to confirm that these manuscripts were ever posted" to Judge Lord or any other recipient (55). Werner states, "[F]or, in the strictest sense, there are no letters to Lord - only drafts and sketches, traces of writings pieced together from an unknown number of sources" (47). Werner is trying to reclaim the "boundlessness" inherent in Emily's later writings, "these uncollected leaves" (47). As such, Werner offers "only a crude case history of a writer-at-work, a set of unassimilated drafts and fragments - sans instructions for reassembly" (48). Although she presents the drafts and fragments in ascending numerical order, "this order is entirely arbitrary and subject to change." Furthermore, Werner indexes material documents rather than individual drafts in order to focus on the physical, "corporeal" aspects of the manuscripts. In other words, a single document may contain more than one draft or composition; "A 758, 758a," for example, refers to "Thank you for; (verso) It is joy to be" (61).

In Open Folios, Werner is necessarily bound by conventional printing/publishing practices. However, she envisions a presentation for these manuscripts in which "the order of Dickinson's drafts would ideally be left entirely open. [N]o longer limited by the codex format, the rectilinear notion of time would then give way to a discursive — wandering — seriality . . . " (48). Werner imagines readers "opening the folder at random and sifting its contents" (48); such a state of perpetual disorder would invite readers to consider infinite orderings and re-orderings, linking the fragments together in new and revealing ways.

Organization of Werner's Text and Paratext

Werner's edition begins with acknowledgments, a list of abbreviations, and an introduction. She then presents three chapters of her own analysis: 1) "Flyleaves: Toward a Poetics of Reading Emily Dickinson's Late Writings," 2) "Lost Events: Toward a Poetics of Editing Emily Dickinson's Late Writings," and 3) "Open Folios: An Experimental Edition of Forty of Emily Dickinson's Drafts and Fragments." These sections explore and explain her work and her vision as well as provide background information on the fragments and an overview and brief analysis of their publication history. The next two hundred pages present "transcript and genealogy." Interestingly, although Chapter 3 ends on page 62 and Appendix 1 begins on page 273, the text between is not physically numbered, although obviously accounted for. No doubt this is done to approximate, as best as possible under the limitations of codex form, the boundlessness and freedom of presentation and (dis/un)ordering she envisions for the fragments. Likewise, there is no index, although she does list the fragments and their catalogue numbers in Chapter 3. As stated above, Werner catalogues (arbitrarily) the material documents, not the individual drafts. Finally, there are eight appendices: 1) "The Bingham, Leyda, and Johnson Collections," 2) "Sequences and Dates," 3) "History of Manuscript Ownership," 4) "Mutilated Manuscripts and Missing Leaves," 5) "The Johnson Reconstructions," 6) "Transcripts," 7) "Excluded Manuscripts," and 8) "Paper Types." She finishes the edition with notes and a bibliography.

For each fragment, Werner presents a facsimile and a transcription (on facing pages). Her transcription is typed, and she attempts to approximate spacing between words. Her "greatest [editorial] compromise" is that she does not attempt to approximate spaces between individual letters in her transcriptions. Also, "the varying sizes of Dickinson's scripts, from the contracted hand of the rough copy drafts to the dramatically magnified hand of the fair copy drafts, have been standardized — 12 characters per inch and 10 characters per inch indicate rough and fair copy drafts, respectively . . . " (56). Werner furthermore points out that whereas Emily's handwriting generally covers the entire page, the typescripts do not and thus "appear suspended in whiteness" (56). Werner adds by hand such "accidentals" as dashes, commas, and lines crossing out text.

Werner provides a genealogy of each fragment under its transcription that includes bibliographic information such as approximate date, media, size of fragment, and material details such as "top and right edges . . . slightly ragged" or "ED wrote against the rule of the paper."


Genre does not seem to be much of an issue for Werner. Because she resists the editorial urge to definitively categorize and organize Dickinson's writings, she does not run into the frustration that editors such as Johnson encountered in attempting to distinguish between a letter or a poem or a "finished" or "unfinished" work. The only distinction Werner does make is between rough ["often composed on both sides of scraps of paper of household refuse" (51)] and fair copy drafts ["almost all of which were composed on leaves or partial leaves of fine stationery" (52)]. Most often, Werner refers to the writings as drafts or fragments.





Marta L. Werner's Editorial Theories and Practices


Editorial Practices

Organization of Dickinson

By providing transcriptions for the facsimiles — as well as an introduction, analytic/critical chapters, genealogies, appendices, notes, and a bibliography! — Werner does participate in a form of editorial mediation. Thus it can be deduced that she does not entirely renounce her role as editor; it seems rather that she views conventional editorial practices as tyrannical and is therefore searching for new methods with which to approach the (dis/un)organization and presentation of literature.

Werner's transcriptions attempt then to represent the textual complexity inherent in Dickinson's later writings, and they are quite successful in doing so ( Link forthcoming). Werner's presentation — that of typed words and hand-written accidentals — highlights certain aspects of Dickinson's works in a way that is not possible in either print or manuscript form. On one hand, although it may be technologically possible, it is certainly not financially feasible to reproduce the irregular spacing and punctuation in Dickinson's writing in print form. On the other hand, such marks are so implicitly a part of the poems/letters/fragments as written in Emily's own hand as to seem unexceptional; in other words, her dashes and insertions and dividing lines are naturally at home in the context of Dickinson's own script. Thus, Werner's transcriptions force the reader's awareness of compositional aspects such as inserted or crossed out words as well as unique punctuation such as passionate dashes in all different directions and emphatic underlining. In this way can such components be more readily perceived and analyzed. And there is value in this. However, for the purpose of merely reading and enjoying Dickinson's writings, this format is undesirable. The contrast between the hand-inserted textual marks and the typescript is just plain distracting. This incongruity also distorts the fragments by upsetting the delicate relationship between form and content, medium and message. Although Werner's goal is to highlight material and textual components traditionally overlooked or ignored, one might still be tempted to ask whether the transcriptions reveal anything that cannot be determined from the manuscripts or facsimiles themselves.

Lineation, Punctuation, and Capitalization

Werner follows Dickinson's punctuation and capitalization as closely as possible. She admits that "[O]ccasionally, it is difficult to distinguish between Dickinson's upper- and lowercase letters as well as between her dashes, commas, and extended periods: my decisions in these instances invite revision" (57). She also laments that "the inflexibility of type still obscures the visual impact or interior code of Dickinson's open Os, Us, and Ws as well as her frequent use of the cross of the T as both dash and underlining" (56). But then again, that is the point of standardized type — to eliminate such individual peculiarities.

Werner follows Dickinson's lineation exactly; in fact, she attempts to replicate the exact positioning of the words on the page. For example, if Emily's draft is two columns of writing, so is Werner's transcription. If the fragment has words written at a slanted angle or perpendicular to the main body of text, Werner types the words accordingly. If a word appears upside down on the paper, Werner types the word upside down.

Dating and Attribution

Werner points out that "[I]n the notes accompanying individual drafts I have included, whenever possible, information regarding the watermark and date of the stationery Dickinson used but have left the date(s) of composition open" (58). She also includes the dates assigned by Johnson and Jay Leyda (who arranged the Amherst College Library/Special Collections' card catalog) in brackets.

Although she admits that Dickinson's handwriting does move through distinguishable phases, Werner refuses to use handwriting as a method for dating herself (she does, however, present Johnson's dates, which are often based on handwriting analysis). To do so would be to ignore the textual complexity in Dickinson's writings that Werner is so determined to expose and explore, for example, "the numerous conscious and unconscious variations within those basic [handwriting] styles" and "the more problematic hand of the rough and intermediate copies, in which distinct styles disappear almost entirely while isolated letters exist in highly unstable forms" (58).

Of the fragments included by Bingham in A Revelation, Werner chooses to exclude "Were Departure Separation . . . " from her own edition. She states, "[F]irst, though it may exist, I have been unable to locate a manuscript at Amherst College that contains both 'Were Departure Separation . . . ' and 'Emerging from an Abyss and entering it again . . . Second, the handwriting of [Were Departure Separation] is unlike the handwriting of the fair copy drafts included here and seems to belong to an earlier period. Finally, this manuscript is signed 'Emily' and so belongs to another category of her work" (290).

Final Thoughts

Werner adopts a refreshing editorial approach in Open Folios in an effort to propel Emily Dickinson scholarship in a new direction of purity and complexity and discovery. She provides an exciting counternarrative to the past presentations of Dickinson's writings; her analyses are self-conscious, intelligent, and perceptive. This rebellious critique of conventional editorial practices is quite in line with Dickinson's own refusal to compromise her writing to the authoritative conventions and poetical standards of her own time period. Thus it is doubly effective in drawing the reader's attention to the means by which various authors and editors can attempt and have attempted to defy or move beyond the limitations of our (oftentimes masculine) codex society. Werner raises important questions about narrative, genre, "artistic work," authorial intention, and chronology. Along with Emily Dickinson, she challenges conceptions of "literary" and "canonical" writing as well as notions of "definitive" or "fixed" or "authoritative" texts. She reveals that "[I]f I began this work with something like a 'final intention,' that intention is no longer available to my memory . . . [I]ndeed, only by refusing definitiveness and the temptation to lay these materials 'beautifully to rest' have I been able to explore the complex relationship between medium and message as well as the transience that is at once the work's condition and it's subject" (47).

A Side Note: Werner's rejection of formal organization (no index or page numbers) can be frustrating at times for the reader. It is understandable, however, why she chose to present the fragments in this way. The problem is, though, that codex form is not entirely compatible with her vision, and thus her electronic edition, Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson's Fragments and Related Texts, 1870-1886, is a more effective presentation in certain respects.





Marta L. Werner's Editorial Theories and Practices



Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson's Fragments and Related Texts, 1879-1886 is edited by Marta L. Werner. It is published online by The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor (copyright 1999, The University of Michigan). As stated in its title, this online edition of Dickinson's writings is dedicated to exploring the fragments and related texts from 1879 to 1886. Werner's online project seems to be a continuation of her vision as developed in Emily Dickinson's Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing (1995), in which she imagines "opening the folder at random and sifting its contents . . . " (48). In this meta-textual medium, Werner does indeed scatter Dickinson's writings, "to separate and drive in different directions; to throw about in disorder in various ways; to place here and there at irregular intervals; to sprinkle, strew, diffuse."


Werner thanks numerous individuals and institutions including D. C. Greetham, Ralph W. Franklin, Martha Nell Smith, and Ellen Hart, not to mention Susan Howe and Jerome J. McGann. Werner states toward the end of her acknowledgments that "[M]y indebtedness to the scholarship of Thomas H. Johnson and Jay Leyda is too deep for a simple acknowledgment and is inscribed everywhere in this project." This last comment is particularly interesting in light of Werner's book Open Folios, which is scathingly critical of Johnson's editorial methods at times. One gets the distinct impression that Werner feels comfortable acknowledging Johnson's contribution and influence in this context, having successfully confronted his problematic textual practices in her Open Folios.


Werner does not directly confront the issue of Dickinson's biography. Instead, she focuses on Dickinson's creative productions and her transitions through style and form and content (see Editorial Theories and Assumptions). Some biographical information is presented in the context of Dickinson's writings, such as dates or production rates or correspondences.

Editorial Theories and Assumptions

Werner remarks of the writings presented in Radical Scatters that "[S]o far, these fragments have been read as signs of the failure or, at the very least, the intermittency, of Dickinson's late vision." She suggests an alternate viewpoint: "Rather than signifying the inevitable decline of creative energies, the late, extant collection of fragments may mark the moment when, having simultaneously reached the outermost boundaries of the prevailing style of the 1860s and the limits of the codex book, Dickinson was once again entering a transitional term of profound experimentation and instability." Thus Werner challenges the dominant depiction of Dickinson — particularly in later years — as emotionally unstable and creatively depleted. Instead, Dickinson the female artist is depicted as bold. Werner views the fragments as highly charged creative productions, focusing on external expressions rather than attempting to guess at Dickinson's internal psychological state; Dickinson's writing is depicted as unstable, not her person. Werner sets about presenting the fragments then in a framework that will allow the reader to experience firsthand the experimentation and instability inherent in the writings. She believes that Dickinson may have reached the point where she had "submitted fully to the process of writing" and, "constantly reaching new decisions," no longer thought of finishing any particular text. The reader/user of Werner's electronic edition is invited to explore the ways in which such writings can be defined, interpreted, and linked to one another or isolated from one another. Werner's own format seeks to deconstruct (editorial) categories such as "finished" or "final" text or "letter" or "poem" or "work." As neither Dickinson nor Werner can be pinned down on such conceptual matters, the reader/user is left, finally, to choose — or not!

Organization of Dickinson

I believe that Werner's own statements best describe the organization of Dickinson in Radical Scatters (see "Library of Search Paths" and "Archive Indices" within the electronic edition for the seemingly infinite categories by which Dickinson's writing can be accessed):

"The criteria for inclusion used in the current version of Radical Scatters are as follows: all of the fragments featured as 'core' texts have been assigned composition dates of roughly 1870 or after; all of the core fragments are materially discrete (that is, fragments have not been excerpted from other compositions); and all of the core fragments are inherently autonomous, whether or not they also appear as traces in other texts, and inherently resistant to claims of closure. Excluded from this version of the archive are fair- and rough-copy message- or message-drafts to identified or unidentified recipients; brief but complete poem drafts; extra-literary texts such as recipes and addresses; quotations and passages copied or paraphrased from other writers' works; and textual remains preserved only accidentally because Dickinson used the same writing surface to compose other texts."

" . . . determinations of 'state' made here are open to revision. The terms 'rough-copy,' 'intermediate-copy,' and 'fair-copy' are not ideal terms with which to describe documents of an essentially private nature. In order to distinguish a fair-copy sent out of Dickinson's personal archive from a fair-copy housed within her personal archive I have added the word 'draft' to the latter category. The vast majority of the fragments appear to be rough-copy drafts."

"While the non-hierarchical or decentered structure of the archive reflects the fragments' irreducible singularity and insusceptibility to collection in a 'book,' the archive's system of nonlinear links reveals, on the other hand, their openness to and participation in multiple textual constellations and/or contingent orders. The number of codes, types, searchable fields, and links is finite and determined; the number of paths that can be traced through the materials, however, is almost limitless -- or, rather, limited only by the reader's willingness to track individual codes, attributes, and elements and to collate search results, or by his or her imagination of virtual itineraries. In general, the best readers of Dickinson's fragments do not read linearly, but recursively, finding, often by losing, their different ways through the materials of the archive."

"Sifting through the manuscripts of these fragments drafts, the reader receives a profound intimation of the freedom and joy of that final scene of writing. Having abandoned the institution of 'authorship' early on in her writing life, Dickinson was able to set in motion a work without beginning or ending. The abbreviation of the late style (thought) must not blind us to the profligate gesture behind it. The fragments -- the work in throes -- scatter it in all directions at once. Everything must be redefined in their wake."

Organization of Werner's (Online) Text and Paratext

The reader/user naturally begins at a homepage, the focus of which is an image of one of Dickinson's fragments with a pin through it. Werner is listed as editor, and the University of Michigan Press is noted as the publisher; copyright information is also given. The reader/user is presented with one option: to enter. After doing so, an acknowledgments page appears. From the acknowledgments, the reader/user can access the table of contents, which is organized thus:

-Symbols Used to Identify Manuscripts
-Symbols Used to Identify Publication
-Abbreviations of Commonly Used Proper Names
-Editorial Symbols: Reading View

Critical Introduction
-"Most Arrows": Autonomy and Intertextuality in Emily Dickinson's Late Fragments

Textual Introduction
-The Interpretation of Radical Scatters

User's Guide
-Navigating in the Archive
-Site Map

-Library of Search Paths
-Hand Library

Archive Indices
-Index of Documents Carrying Fragments
-Index of Autonomous Fragments
-Index of Trace Fragments
-Index of Documents Carrying Variant Versions of Fragments
-Index of Document Constellations
-Index of Documents Carrying Target Texts
-Index of Other Texts Inscribed on Documents Carrying Fragments
-Index of Control Documents and/or Texts

-Documents by Collection
-Earliest Printed Sources of Fragments and Control Texts

Bibliography: Scatters

There are myriad ways by which to access the writings (see Organization of Dickinson). Each poem/letter/fragment is presented by Werner with an extensive editorial apparatus. A physical description is provided as well as a transmission history and a publication history. The individual or institution currently in possession of the manuscript is given. Also provided is a commentary by Werner and a code summary. The poem/letter/fragment can be viewed in one of four ways: manuscript facsimile, transcription, SGML view, and reading view (see Lineation, Punctuation, and Capitalization for details). The user also has the option to call up a "floating window" in order to view the manuscript facsimile, the transcription, traces ("lines, phrases or passages in Dickinson's fragments that appear in other texts"), or variants. The floating windows "pop up" into view on top of the main window. More than one can be accessed at a time. In this way, the reader/user may examine variants or different textual forms of a specific writing simultaneously for purposes of direct comparison.

Something worth examining here is the fact that Werner does provide such extensive editorial commentary alongside each poem/letter/fragment. This is in stark contrast to Open Folios, in which fragments were presented with a minimum of editorial mediation. Granted, Werner's transcriptions are amazingly complex and true to the spirit of the original manuscripts — to the degree that any transcription can be so — and yet in many instances it seems as though the image of the manuscript is downright overshadowed by background information, dates, publication histories, transmission histories, and so forth, not to mention the electronic menus! In fact, the manuscript image (or alternate view) generally takes up less than half of the screen. One possible reason for this may be Werner's desire to "legitimize" the late Dickinson fragments; in other words, perhaps if enough bibliographic information is conveyed about them — as is done with more "formal" writings — the reading audience will accept these fragments as a valid subject for literary scholarship. In this way she may be seen as attempting to broaden our concept of "literature" or "poetry." However, it remains to be determined whether Werner falls prey to the very same methodologies that she so vehemently criticizes Johnson for in Open Folios, that is, superimposing a scholarly apparatus over Dickinson's "anitcanonical aesthetics" (Werner 27).

Also, it is difficult at first glance to determine where in the Table of Contents the actual poems/letters/fragments can be accessed ("Library of Search Paths" and "Archive Indices"); furthermore, the user must scroll down in order to locate these sections, as they are placed in the bottom half of the Table of Contents.


Werner locates and isolates the individual documents by various and extensive classifications. Documents can be searched, for example, by "genre." Here are the divisions of genre as delineated by Werner: fragment, extrageneric; fragment(s), extrageneric; message-fragment; poem; poem, trial beginning; poem-letter; letter; letter-poem; letter, with poem embedded; letter, with poems embedded; letter, with poem enclosed; letter, with poems embedded and enclosed; address; practice signatures and/or pen tests; and recipe and/or ephemera.

Thus, Werner in effect deconstructs the category called "genre" in her fragmentation of classification. She demonstrates the resistance of Dickinson's writing toward any simple or clear organization. And yet, Werner acknowledges the utility of classification — so long as the categories do not tyrannically dictate understanding and interpretation but rather expand the possibilities of imagining Dickinson's writing. Werner's aim is to assist the reader in discovering the poems/letters/fragments in the context of dynamic intertextual relationships and unconventional categories of "literature."



Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson's Fragments and Related Texts, 1870-1886


Marta L. Werner's Editorial Theories and Practices


Editorial Practices

As stated above, Werner provides four alternative views of Dickinson's text: manuscript facsimile, transcription, SGML view, and reading view. Furthermore, these presentations may be accessed individually or simultaneously. Thus a range of editorial practices is demonstrated by Werner, from the manuscript facsimile, in which there is no editorial mediation, to the readers view, which is presented in standardized print with notes detailing the direction in which the text was written or any textual damage. The SGML view furthermore allows the reader to see the way in which the writing has been coded for electronic representation. It provides a transparent look at the way in which technology is used to mediate the presentation of a work.

Lineation, Punctuation, and Capitalization

To the best of her ability, Werner maintains lineation, punctuation, and capitalization in all instances. There are, however, variations in presentation. MSS Facsimile: Werner presents an image of the facsimile of the document(s).

Reading View: The writing is transcribed into standardized typescript. Punctuation is thus also standardized. All text reads from top to bottom, left to write; notes and codes are provided indicating the direction or location of text or orientation of paper and also corporeal details such as any damage to the paper. Media and handwriting are also indicated. All of this "background" information is provided in a very light color, so that Dickinson's text (black print on a beige background) is the focus of the page.

SGML View: This view shows coding around/within the text, as displayed in the Reading View.

Transcription: Also in typescript, the print is not standardized. Werner attempts to achieve the variation in letter size and spacing (between letters and words) found in Emily's own handwritten version. She also approximates direction, for example words written upside down or along the side of the page. Stray lines or the crossing out of text is also duplicated.

Dating and Attribution

Werner discusses pivotal dates (in terms of transitions of style or content or medium) in the section entitled "'Most Arrows': Autonomy and Intertextuality in Emily Dickinson's Late Fragments." She discusses the use of handwriting analysis for dating in "Hand Library," in which she remarks that "[T]he traditional division of Dickinson's fair-copy drafts into three periods, though ultimately arbitrary, has assisted scholars in hypothesizing a working chronology for her largely undated writings; this periodization schema has in turn led to a clearer delineation of the boundaries of her style periods." Thus, although Werner does not seem to embrace this method of categorization wholeheartedly (she describes its divisions as "arbitrary" and suggests that "scholars" — she does not explicitly include herself - have found such dating useful), she does use dating as a means by which to isolate specific texts. Under "Library of Search Paths" Werner lists three chronological categories: text composed in or before c. 1858, text composed between c.1859 and c.1869, and text composed between c.1870 and c.1886. As Dickinson's fragments are rarely if ever dated, one must assume that Werner did use handwriting analysis (the extent to which is unknown) to approximate dates of composition. In some instances, she only provides the conclusions of other editors such as Johnson or Franklin: "Though this fragment, composed around 1863 (THJ) or 1864 (RWF), is a relatively early text . . . "

Her approach in Radical Scatters is somewhat of a departure from Open Folios, in which she refuses to locate dates of composition (even approximately) by handwriting. In Open Folios, when possible, Werner provides dates derived from use or production of specific types of stationery. Also, she provides the composition dates as approximated by Johnson, but makes sure to inform the reader that they are not her own.

Online Considerations

The electronic format quite simply allows for more information — and allows this information to be organized at a level beyond that afforded by book or journal. An author or editor is no longer constrained linearly. Rather, she/he is now able to construct text and images three-dimensionally, so to speak, creating layer upon layer of information. Such complexity affords both fluidity and a decentralization of knowledge. In other words, there is much more flexibility in terms of the amount of control allowed/provided the reader. An electronic editor can easily contain and retain such control, strictly dictating specific paths. On the other hand, an author or editor can also transfer the power to the user, merely creating a database of sorts to be ordered and re-ordered or disordered as the reader/user deems useful or appropriate. Likewise, she/he can present a non-hierarchical table of contents from which the reader can progress in any direction. In this way, the "center" or "focus" of the knowledge is determined from without.

As it provides the space and freedom of movement to present a substantial editorial apparatus, an electronic edition also allows for representation of original manuscripts through facsimile images (not only does Werner display images of Emily's own manuscripts, but she also displays images of the handwritten transcriptions of Mabel Loomis Todd). Thus the role of the editor is both expanded and retracted at the same time; in other words, the works of an author can be displayed with minimal editorial interference/mediation, while at the same time an editor can surround manuscript images with as much biographical, bibliographical, textual, interpretive, narrative — and so on ad finitum — information as she/he deems appropriate. As with any presentation of literature, an editor can be more or less open about the ways in which she/he is mediating the viewer's experience of the text. As such, a reader of an electronic edition should critically examine the motives or assumptions implicit in the presentation, as she/he would with any book.

As pointed out in the "Dickinson Archive Discussion," the electronic medium has its own set of unique limitations. Factors such as the size of monitor and its resolution, the speed of the internet connection, and the speed of the central processing unit can greatly affect edition access and reception. Some users may not have the equipment required to interpret auditory data or advanced graphics. Thus, economic factors can be acutely restrictive. A book can be purchased for much less than a computer or borrowed from a library. Mobility, then, is also another factor.

Finally, due to the large size and incredible depth of information provided in electronic editions, a reader/user can quite easily get lost or lose focus, depending upon the navigational system provided. Fortuitously, Werner's organization — albeit scattered — is practical and useful. At any stage, the user can return to the table of contents or a list of indices in order to regroup or start again.

Final Thoughts

Working online has allowed Werner the freedom to arrange and rearrange Dickinson's texts endlessly: "The number of codes, types, searchable fields, and links is finite and determined; the number of paths that can be traced through the materials, however, is almost limitless." Although on the surface it may seem as though Werner classifies or organizes or categorizes Dickinson's works to an excessive degree, her goal — literally — is to "scatter" the fragments such that such the rigidity of classification is finally exploded in all directions. Werner says of the fragments that "vulnerability is the mark of their existence. If they are the nuclei of poems or messages in a state of pure potentiality and in search of conditions yet to be defined, they are also often bolder than Dickinson's more finished texts. Like souls, neither touching nor mingling, never composing a set, these positionless fragments depict the beauties of transition and isolation at once." Thus Werner presents the fragments such that the reader ultimately has the "authority" to assemble and reassemble — or isolate — various texts ad libitum, and infinitely so.