Reflective Essay on "Coronation" Poems

"Editing 'Coronation' by Baroness Elsa Von Freytag Loringhoven:
Contamination or Clarification?" by Christina Painton

(View "Coronation")

The final edited version of "Coronation" by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven is the culmination of five original manuscript versions plus a typewritten transcription by Djuna Barnes. The piece consisted of only 35 words, yet it presented several significant editorial challenges.

How much was I letting my awareness of the Baroness's multilingualism and unconventional dadaist artistic sensibility influence my annotations?

Ordering the undated versions...was the first of such challenges. It seemed clear that the piece typewritten by Djuna Barnes (O'Neal 2) was the overall final version and that the Baroness's handwritten piece with the letter to Barnes on the backside...was her own final version. However, that left me with four additional versions to sort through: working backward seemed the best approach. Within the remaining four versions I searched for that which was most similar to Version [5]. I chose what is now Version [4] because it included the compound word "Smoketoadstools" as it appears in the final Version [6]. Although clearly the Baroness is deciding where to place "Smoke" in Version [3], it is in Version [4] that "Smoke" is compounded into "Smoketoadstools." I did note that in Version [5] "Smoke" seems to be an afterthought, written in different ink between a crossed out word and "Toadstool," but I assumed here that the Baroness was still undecided regarding its placement. In Version [5] she may have isolated "Smoke" in the line above "Toadstool" then crossed it out, then placed it back in its position in Version [4] at the beginning of "Toadstool." Either way, the relation of "Smoke" to "Toadstool" was what convinced me of the placement of Version [4].

I selected Version [3] because "Smoke" replaces the crossed out word "Fog" in the compound word "Fogametyst." This is the first version in which we see the Baroness's inclusion of "Smoke," and the only version in which she considers compounding it with "Ametyst." In selecting Version [3], it was the transition of the placement of "Smoke" from "Ametyst" in Version [3] to "Toadstools" in Version [4] that was the deciding factor.

It was the word "Balloonsize" that was the deciding factor in placing Version [2]. "Balloonsize" does not appear in Versions [3] through [6] and thus I assume that the Baroness decided to edit it out of subsequent revisions.

Version [1] appears to be the original version. "Balloonsize" still appears and "Sheathes" has been changed to "Swathes" and then back to "Sheathes." "Slate-Vapor" is hyphenated and not yet compounded with "Mist," and "Fog" and "Ametyst" are not compounded either. Furthermore, a dedication is included here that is omitted in subsequent versions. Despite the fact that the manuscripts are undated, it was the Baroness's revisions and unconventional word choices that were of the greatest assistance in discerning the final manuscript sequence.

As for the editorial approach to the final version, I considered the three major schools of thought: McGann's Variorum/Versioning, Greg-Bowers's Eclectic Editing/"Ideal Text," and Bédier's "Best Text." Given its six versions, any of these approaches would have been feasible for "Coronation." In one sense I agreed with McGann's theory that each different version has a historical and cultural value "and may be usefully studied as a singular example of a creative process" (Socialization 42). The dedication in Version 1 of "Coronation" is an example of an element that was subsequently deleted by the author, but may have creative merit or be of value to a researcher. However, Grigely's theory of textual eugenics carries this notion a bit too far. I find his idea that any and all versions are "perfectly authoritative in relation to their intentions" (50) and that "the dogmatism of editing's rhetoric" is comparable to "a eugenic conception of society" (Grigely 49) highly arguable at best and inflammatory and offensive at worst.

In the case of "Coronation," I agree with Bowers in that presenting all versions of a text with little to no editorial intervention is an abdication of duty. Conversely, his statement that an author's "initial intention can be modified from early to late, for better or worse, by the criticism of friends or of publishers' editors" (11) does not apply to this piece. Since "Coronation" was not published, I assumed it was never edited professionally. Moreover, my research of the Baroness did not indicate that she was much influenced by the "criticism of friends." My guess is that the revisions found in each handwritten version of "Coronation" were purely her own. Therefore, given the letter the Baroness inscribed on the backside of Version [5], I do believe that Version [5] represents the author's final intention.

However, this brings us to a significant consideration in editing "Coronation." The version I originally chose to edit (Version [6]) had in fact already been edited in a sense by Djuna Barnes when she transcribed it. I initially intended on applying Bédier's "Best Text" method to Version [6], which seemed straightforward given the fact that it was the only typed version of the text. However, although this typewritten text appeared true to the original handwritten version at first glance, upon closer scrutiny I realized that Barnes made several changes. She inserted the letter "h" in "Fogametyst," changing it to "Fogamethyst;" she inserted an ellipsis after the final line of the poem; and she omitted the single dashes after "Pansy" and "Saphir." Given these discrepancies between Versions [6] and [5], I was faced with a decision: should I maintain my decision to use the "Best Text" method, and if so, which version should I use?

I considered Bédier's notion "that once having established... that a particular manuscript best represented the author's wishes, this manuscript should thereafter be followed religiously" (Greetham 325), and realized that the Baroness's final handwritten version (Version 2) would be the appropriate choice if applying the "Best Text" method. Yet after researching the word "Ametyst" in the Oxford English Dictionary, and finding that it was simply a variation of "Amethyst," I concurred with Barnes's change to the conventional spelling. However, I did not agree with her omission of the dashes. I was reminded of Martha Nell Smith's article "Erasures, Disguises, and Definitions" where she claims, "through various elliptical strategies, Dickinson invites readers to author connections between her texts and patterns within texts" (13). I felt it entirely possible that much like Dickinson, the Baroness's use of dashes in "Coronation" was an elliptical strategy. Although unsure of the significance of the dashes, I felt certain that they should remain as the Baroness had originally intended. Moreover, I also decided to remove the ellipsis that Barnes included as the last line in Version 1. Rather than risking a reader's misinterpretation of its stylistic significance, I felt it best to omit the ellipsis from my final version.

And so I present an "Ideal Text" for the final edited version of "Coronation." The conventional spelling of "Amethyst" precludes it from being a "Best Text" of Version [5], yet my inclusion of the dashes after "Pansy" and "Saphir" that were omitted in Version [6], and my omission of the final ellipsis that was included in Version 1 demonstrates my attention to what I felt was original authorial intent.

After settling on the editorial copy, I grappled with how and where to place notes. The key issue I faced was in how to annotate the Baroness's unusual spelling conventions and the relevancy of secondary definitions. For instance, I assumed "Saphir" was a variant spelling of "Sapphire," yet upon further research in the Oxford English Dictionary, I found that it also was a form of the word "Philosopher." Unlike the case of "Ametyst," in this instance I felt that the spelling of "Saphir" should remain unchanged and that the secondary definition merited inclusion. This brings up the issue of author's intent versus editor's paradigm. How much was I letting my awareness of the Baroness's multilingualism and unconventional dadaist artistic sensibility influence my annotations? McGann claims that "to be put in touch with an author and their works... [we should] take away the textual contaminants, remove the interfering scribal and typographical presence, and the autonomous original will appear before us" (Critique 40). I struggled with the idea of how to annotate without "contaminating" the work, without stripping the poem of its "autonomy." I was aware that my knowledge of the Baroness as an eccentric multinational artist was influencing my choice of where and how to annotate. Yet as Bowers claims, "textual criticism, and its application to the finished product of editing... is not for sissies" (Bowers 3).

In the end, I believed that the Baroness's lifestyle was too unconventional and noteworthy to disregard. Just as important as the influence of dadaism was on her art, so was her familiarity with several languages. Both of these conditions warrant serious consideration when approaching "Coronation." For instance, I probably would not have researched the word "Cloggs" to the extent that I did had I not been aware of the influence of dadaism on the Baroness. And yet I feel that the annotation for "Cloggs" is helpful, and gives the reader some insight into how the Baroness applied dadaist principles to her poetry. If this makes me a "contaminator," then so be it. Better that than "sissie."

Works Cited

Bowers, Fredson. "Unfinished Business." Text. 4 (1988), pp. 1-11. Greetham D.C.

"Criticizing the Text: Textual Criticism." Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. Garland: New York, 1994, pp. 295-346.

Grigely, Joseph. "Textual Eugenics." Textualterity: Art, Theory, and Textual Criticism. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 1995.

McGann, Jerome. "The Socialization of Texts." The Book History Reader. David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery, Eds.

Routledge: London, 2003, pp. 41-58. ------. "The Ideology of Final Intentions." A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism.

Charlottesville: U Press of Virginia, 1992.

O'Neal, Hank. Ed. Djuna Barnes and the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven. New York: Hank O'Neal, 1992.

Smith Martha Nell. "Erasure, Disguises, Definitions." Rowing in Eden: Rereading Emily Dickinson. Austin: U of Texas Press, 1992.

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