Editorial Voices in Isabella Bird's Rocky Mountain Letters

Stacey, Mikki, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Booth, Alison, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

Reading is an inherently collaborative process between the author, editor, and audience. The editor’s tasks of supporting the author’s vision and promoting the reader’s understanding are paramount but not always wholly compatible—particularly when the text being read and revised is life writing (e.g., diaries and letters). "Editorial Voices in Isabella Bird’s Rocky Mountain Letters: A Case Study on Third-Party Editing in Women’s Life Writing" focuses on editorial voice because editors wield significant influence over readers’ understanding not only of the author’s intentions, but of the author herself and her lived experiences. By explicitly acting on the author and, in consequence, implicitly acting on the reader, editors create a strain on their relationship with each. This strain raises ethical questions about how women are treated in media and practical questions about editorial approach (e.g., textual versus documentary editing).

In this thesis, the Rocky Mountain letters of Isabella Bird, a Victorian travel writer, are used as a case study to discuss editorial voice in women’s life writings and how that voice manipulates the author and audience. Editorial voice is exposed through discussion of biography, reader expectations, Bird’s relationship with her publishers, her genre and form, and effects of variance across three contemporary and two modern editions of her letters. Regardless of whether readers are aware of it, the authority they give editors is substantial, and unless they consider editorial voice critically, it becomes particularly difficult for them to prioritize the author’s voice.

MA (Master of Arts)
Documentary Editing, Isabella Bird, Life Writing, Textual Editing
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