Academic journal article The Byron Journal

On a Special Copy of Caroline Lamb's Glenarvon Recently Discovered in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

On a Special Copy of Caroline Lamb's Glenarvon Recently Discovered in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Article excerpt

Abstract

This essay analyses a recently discovered copy of the first edition of Lady Caroline Lamb's Glenarvon in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek at The Hague filled with annotations and corrections apparently in the hand of its author. This copy shows many of the extensive revisions eventually implemented in the second edition of the novel. Some changes indicated in this special copy were not adopted, however, and a note on the punctuation in a hand not the author's raises the question of whether others edited the work, especially the punctuation. The essay shows how, working with great skill to minimise the labour of resetting type, Lamb appears to have made her text less vulnerable to charges of indecency, blasphemy, and animus towards friends and relations. However, it also shows that the novel's major themes remain substantially unaltered, while the transgressions of Lamb's protagonist, Lady Calantha, are excused as the result of ineluctable passions. The consistency of the substantive alterations and the inconsistency of the punctuational changes suggest that Lamb probably had the final word on revisions.

Lady Caroline Lamb's novel Glenarvon was published anonymously by Henry Colburn on 9 May 1816, just two weeks after Byron had left England amidst tremendous controversy over his separation from his wife and child. An unflattering picture of Whig morality was embodied in this novel, which was, of course, almost universally viewed as a 'kiss-and-tell' fictionalisation of Lamb's rather public liaison with Byron four years earlier. Even before the first 1500 copies were sold Lamb wrote to tell her editor that she had approval from her husband, William, for a revised second edition, and to urge him to sell the remainder of the first as quickly as possible.1 She requested that the editor present the proofs to her and assured him that she would acquaint herself with the correction marks used by printers.2 The heavily revised second edition of Glenarvon appeared in June. As John Clubbe first pointed out in 'Glenarvon, Revised and Revisited' (1979), Lamb corrected hundreds of mistakes in language and style, as well as printing errors. She also rewrote whole episodes and added a preface deflecting criticism that the novel was ill-constructed, libellous, slanderous and immoral.

As Clubbe says, Lamb 'carefully revised' the novel 'to eliminate passages that had hurt others or shocked public taste'.3 'I am doing every thing I can to stop further mischief', she told Lady Melbourne, her mother-in-law.4 The press had treated Glenarvon roughly, complaining that it was composed of 'scenes of seduction and adultery' by a writer who appeared 'to glory in her guilt'.5 One journal even described it hyperbolically as a work of pornography, like John Cleland's Fanny Hill,6 and no one thought it much better than 'wearisome'.7 Lamb fought back in the preface to the second edition, asserting that her novel had no 'immoral tendency',8 and as one assesses the changes made in the second and third editions, one notices that she actually gives little ground on the fundamental situations and behaviour of her characters. One would like to know more about the process by which she decided what to cut, amend or add, and who may have pressured her into making certain changes. It is therefore fortunate that one of the co-authors of this essay, Ria Grimbergen, discovered a special copy of Glenarvon in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Dutch Royal Library) at The Hague,9 one that is filled with annotations and corrections apparently in the hand of Lamb herself. This previously undiscovered record of Lamb's work on her novel shows that she made revisions with great rapidity and skill, though it also raises some perhaps unanswerable questions about the motives behind certain revisions, and about whether others (a copy-editor, her husband?) may have influenced other changes made later when the novel's second edition was published.

All but a handful of the notations in the margins of the text appear to be in Lamb's handwriting. …

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