Emma Brown and the morality of editing.
I forgot to mention yesterday that I brought up a Brontë adaptation, Emma Brown, in a course I am taking on editing practices. We had just finished collating two volumes of poetry by an obscure Canadian poet. The first edition of his works had been seriously tampered with. The editor chose to delete lines from the poems, and–worst of all– add an entire stanza. She didn’t bother mentioning that she had ‘improved’ these poems and the edition stood as the canonical text for about 50 years as I understand! Most of us were outraged, a few took the view that writing is a ‘transition’ and had no problem with it. To lead us on in the discussion, our teacher put forward the scenario of finishing a novel. Would it be right for someone to finish a novel? I suppose, in a sense, this is what ‘Emma Brown’ is supposed to be.
Emma Brown is a novel by Clare Boyland. It begins with the two chapter fragment ‘Emma’ written by Charlotte Brontë. I have no read anything about the author’s purpose or plan for writing ‘Emma Brown’ and have looked at it in different ways. In short, and what I told my classmates, was that I find the idea of ‘finishing’ a novel interesting provided that the novel is seen as a new work (It might seem silly, but the editor of the Canadian poems clearly did not put these poems forward as new pieces). At home I have an antique volume which includes the Emma fragment and I also have ‘Emma Brown’. I can read the fragment as Charlotte’s work, and Emma Brown as Boyland’s, and this is only fair.
Most of the reviews–if not all the reviews… okay ALL the reviews of Emma Brown comment on how ‘like’ a ‘Brontë novel’ it is, or is not. I am unsure how I feel about this. For one, it is uncharitable to Boyland that her work succeeds or fails only when matched with one of the greatest authors in English literature. Also, this is not a Brontë novel. However, in choosing to make use of Charlotte’s fragment Boyland has to take responsibility for it in some way. It seems that she has tried to do so. The novel includes some underpinnings which include quotes from Charlotte’s letters, and backstories culled from her juvenilia.
Is it right for someone to ‘complete’ Charlotte’s ‘Emma’? I believe it is. I think there could be a dozen attempts to work with it, and they could all be as individual as the author’s writing them but they should not be so tightly bound to Charlotte’s name and reputation. Of ‘Emma Brown’ itself, I will say that I found it to be a page-turner and a good mystery but found little statisfying in it beyond this.