Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who wrote Confederacy, Addendum

In my posting of November 1, 2013, I argued that Thelma Toole, John Kennedy Toole's mother, was instrumental in shaping the final version of the novel. In that posting, I suggested that one could consult the book From Gutenberg to Google: electronic representations of literary texts by Peter L. Shillingsburg for a discussion of the gray area between authorship and editorship. The point that the editor can approach the role of a co-author has been made many times in the past. An earlier text that discusses that point in more depth than Shillingsburg is:

Thorpe, James. “The Aesthetics of Textual Criticism,” PMLA 80.5 (December 1965): 465-82.

“In a quite literal sense, the literary work is often guided or directed or controlled by other people while the author is in the process of trying to make it take shape, and it is subject to a variety of alterations throughout its history. The intentions of the person we call the author thus become entangled with the intentions of all the others who have a stake in the outcome, which is the work of art.” (Thorpe, 475).

As I discussed in the earlier blog post, according to Fletcher's book Ken and Thelma, Thelma preferred the original first draft of the novel. In his efforts to get the book published, Ken wrote several revisions. After his death, Thelma told Fletcher that she had destroyed the revised versions and eventually published the original first draft.

One interesting aspect of this textual history is that most contemporary writers have their original vision altered by editors in part to try to market their work to a broad commercial audience. Writers like Chaucer did not have to revise for the expectations of a mass audience. In the end, Toole's original intention for the text was preserved by the initial rejection by Gottlieb and by Thelma's subsequent actions.