Sunday, October 05, 2008

Annotations, or, What's a gam'ster?

The edition of Tess of the D'Urbervilles that I'm currently reading is the 1978 Penguin Classics edition, edited and with notes by David Skilton. I usually find that the editors of Penguin Classics append a bit too much annotation, to the point that the superscripts become distracting, whereas for most of the past week I've been frustrated at how scanty Skilton's notes are: while he flags every biblical reference (which I mostly don't need, since I'm reasonably strong on the Bible), he does nothing to clarify the many wonderful Dorset slang terms with which Hardy lards his characters' speech. Some terms--such as "skillentons," meaning skeletons, or "hobble," meaning a spot of trouble--are easy enough to figure out from context. But what on earth is a pummy? Or a gam'ster? Or a rozum?

Just now, however, as I was stupidly attempting to simultaneously read and stir the beginnings of bread dough, I dropped the book . . . and it fell open to a glossary. Oops. Pummy, it turns out, is the name for "crushed apples used in cider-making"; and a gam'ster is "a cudgel player, etc.; hence a plucky animal"; while a rozum is "a quaint saying or nonsense," and by extension a person with strange ideas. And, ooh, one more: a market-nitch is "the amount drunk after market. A 'nitch' is 'a burden; as much as one can carry of wood, hay, or straw, and sometimes of drink,'" drawn from William Barnes's A Grammar and Glossary of the Dorset Dialect (1863). Sometimes of drink!

The Penguin edition also marks all the changes Hardy introduced between the first publication of the novel, in the Graphic, in the fall of 1891, and the collected Wessex edition of his novels that was published in 1912. Some of the changes are bound to be of great interest to Hardy fans, as they show Hardy continuing to tinker in relatively serious ways with the details of Tess's relationship with Alec D'Urberville--long after he'd pointedly sworn off novel-writing.

One utterly minor emendation seems worth sharing, as it's hard not to enjoy despite Alec's horridness: on Alec's first appearance in the Wessex edition of the novel, he is described as having
an almost swarthy complexion, with full lips, badly moulded, though red and smooth, above which was a well-groomed black moustache with curled points, though his age could not be more than three- or four-and-twenty.
At the time of the Grapic edition, however, his moustache had been less impressive:
a sooty fur represented for the present the dense black moustache that was to be.

All this reminds me of a letter from Tolstoy to his publisher, M. N. Katkov, that I read recently. Sent from Yasnaya Polyana on January 3, 1865, it accompanied the manuscript of the first part of War and Peace, which Tolstoy encouraged Katkov to publish, preferably in one part, and soon:
But of course you have your own considerations, and if you find it better to divide the first part, it can't be helped. But in that case, write and tell me whether you wish to have the 2nd part this year, i.e. this winter. It woudl be a nuisance for me to leave it until next autumn, since I can't hold on to waht I have written without correcting and revising it endlessly. . . . The manuscript is full of crossings out, and I do apologise, but as long as it's in my hands I revise it so much that it can't look any different.
As I've said before: thank you, tireless textual scholars. Your loving drudgery is appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:51 AM

    Tom Brown's Schooldays has quite an extensive description of the gamesters who are "backswording," a game Hughes describes as delightful where the object is to hit each other with sticks until you raise blood above the eyebrow. The prose is charming, but from this early start, I assume Tom's schooldays will be full of beatings and buggery.