For more than three years, Joseph Furphy resisted suggestions that he shorten Such is Lifefor publication. But, after a visit to Sydney in April 1901, he gave in to the pressure from A. G. Stephens and the Bulletin Publishing Company. When he returned to Shepparton, he wrote to Stephens with a plan that would make radical changes to his novel: ‘As we agreed, contraction is impossible; the operation must be performed as if you would cut an ocean liner in two, then take a portion out of the centre, and deftly stick the ends together, making a tight, seaworthy brig.’ Such iron work might have been performed daily in the family foundry where Furphy worked, but the author performed a similar feat by lamplight in the ‘sanctum’ he had built for himself at the rear of his cottage. This skillion had just enough room for a table, a bookcase and a stretcher bed, but Furphy retired there every evening to work on his ‘magnum opus.’
As I have described in a previous post, Furphy replaced the second and fifth chapters with shorter ones that contained significantly different content. The original chapters were revised and eventually published as The Buln Buln and the Brolga and Rigby’s Romance. As Julian Croft has argued in The Life and Opinion of Tom Collins, Furphy’s revisions changed the book’s ‘centre of gravity.’ With most of the text from the extracted novels, the 1898 version was ‘more concerned with relationships of men and women, and far more concerned with the notions of art, artifice, realism, and romance.’ With the two new chapters, the 1903 version placed greater emphasis on the theme of alternatives, choice, and determinism. In effect, Such is Life became a MUCH different book than the one Furphy had hoped to see published in 1898.
Collation of the 1898 typescript with the published versions confirms the variation discussed by Croft, John Barnes and Kevin Gilding, but it also identifies a multitude of variants that weave the extant documents together into complex sets of material and textual relationships.
In addition to revealing the complexity of this variation, I would also like to show today’s readers the text of Such as Lifeas Furphy typed it in 1898. But because parts of the
typescript are missing, it is difficult to represent the complete text of that document with certainty. Nevertheless, we can approximate that text by drawing text from the published documents, and by flagging any words or passages likely to have been added to accommodate the new chapters, two and five.
Such a procedure will always be provisional, and so the established text is best provided in an electronic form that is easily updated and open to comment from readers. I aim to establish the provisional text over the next few months and work towards the best electronic environment for such an edition with my colleagues at the AustESE Project.
The AustESE project aims to build an electronic workbench that includes a workflow engine for scholarly editing and the best open source tools available . . . all tied together with a data model based on FRBR and the SPAR ontologies. A variety of export formats will be available, and so editors can choose from web-based electronic editions, e-reader versions, or traditional print formats.
For Such is Life, I’m aiming for something like the social editions discussed at the recent conference, Beyond Accessibility: Textual Studies in the 21st Century, but more thought will be necessary before the best way to represent Furphy’s documents and texts comes forward. With a suitable electronic environment, a beta version of ‘Such is Life (1898)’ can be offered to Furphy scholars and general readers for perusal and comment, in order to collaboratively determine which of those elements drawn from the published texts are most likely to be anachronisms. New versions of the text can then be released when necessary and made available in a variety of formats for readers of different persuasions.
By providing greater access to Furphy’s texts, with suitable tools to deal with the complex network of relationships between the related documents and people, we can all get a bit closer to a work that retains a significant place in the history of Australian literature.