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What is Authorial Philology?

Giulia Raboni
Paola Italia

Introduction to the English Translation

Paola Italia et Giulia Raboni

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1At a time when written creativity no longer manifests itself through pen, but rather through keyboard, the growing interest inspired by authorial variants has led us to promote the English translation of the manual which, in 2010, first presented the history, methods and most significant cases of authorial philology, the branch of philology that deals with variants due to the author’s intentional desire to change the text, rather than with its transmission.

2Before authorial philology was ‘officially’ founded by Dante Isella, and even before Gianfranco Contini theorized and practiced his ‘criticism of variants’ in the 1930s by working on autographs by Italian authors such as Petrarch, Ludovico Ariosto and Giacomo Leopardi, but also on Marcel Proust and Stéphane Mallarmé, the existence of authorial variants had already been recognized in classical texts by Giorgio Pasquali.

3The peculiarity of the ‘Italian case’ has two main bases. The first is the existence of a large number of autographs bearing authorial variants, starting from the ‘Codice degli abbozzi’ (the twenty pages that testify to the first version of Petrarch’s Canzoniere, containing corrections to 57 of the 365 poetic texts of the collection, which Petrarch decided to keep ‘non illorum dignitati, sed meo labori consulens’ (‘not for their merit but for my effort’; Rerum Familiarum Libri, I, 1: 10). The second and more substantive is the fact that, since the seventeenth century, these materials have been preserved and considered objects of worship, as can be seen in Federico Ubaldini’s 1642 edition of the Canzoniere, which contained not only the final version of the text, but also its drafts found on the ‘Codice degli abbozzi’, rich with corrections and variants, which were later contemptuously defined by Benedetto Croce ‘scartafacci’ (‘a scratchpad’, implying the lack of any literary interest). One could therefore say that genetic criticism was born in Italy in 1642 and developed, from the very beginning, a very sophisticated technique of representing authorial variants, which later found an effective system of formalization in the method elaborated by Dante Isella.

4This pioneering book offers a history of authorial philology, as well as a methodical set of instructions on how to read critical editions, and a wide range of practical examples. The volume expands upon the conceptual and methodological basis laid out in the first two chapters, and applies the ‘authorial philology method’ of representing variants not only to the most important Italian authors — from Petrarch to Carlo Emilio Gadda — but also to some significant examples taken from European Literature: from Lope de Vega to Percy B. Shelley, from Jane Austen to Marcel Proust to Samuel Beckett.

5In introducing to an international audience the method of editing authorial variants, we thought it would be useful to broaden the view to European examples (Chapter 4), and to propose cases of authorial philology taken from the most significant poets, novelists and playwriters of modernity, whose chapters have been written expressly for this edition — and we are particularly grateful to them — by their specialists: Marco Presotto and Sònia Boadas (Lope de Vega), Margherita Centenari (Shelley), Francesco Feriozzi (Austen), Carmela Marranchino (Proust), Olga Beloborodova, Dirk Van Hulle and Pim Verhulst (Beckett).

6For this new edition, we have also updated the chapter devoted to the innovations represented by the digital environment (Chapter 1.6: ‘Authorial philology in the digital era’) and written a new chapter on the developments of the discipline in the last ten years and its future prospects (Chapter 1.7: ‘Authorial philology in the latest decade’).

7By presenting a thorough account of the historical and theoretical framework through which authorial philology developed, this book reconceptualizes the authorial text as an ever-changing organism, subject to alteration and modification. At the same time the account allows us to extend to other literatures (and to other disciplines which deal with autographs bearing authorial variants) a philological and critical method that has developed in Italy and which prompts us to consider important questions concerning a text’s dynamism, the extent to which an author is ‘agentive’ in his/her gesture on the white page, and, most crucially, concerning the very nature of what we read.

8November 2020


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