The myth that posthumous editing is something scholars deplore

Revising an author’s works after his departure is a shoddy, disreputable practice no respectable publisher would approve.

Not so. Restoring lost text and correcting mangled text for great works of literature is an endeavor scholars and educated readers highly value, and publishing houses with impeccable reputations for scholarly integrity have published posthumously edited works by such authors as Melville, Thoreau, Faulkner, Hemingway, Orwell, Joyce, Robert Frost, Mark Twain, and James Fenimore Cooper.

Recent years have seen a new edition of J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic The Lord of the Rings, carefully revised in consultation with the author’s son. (Among other reasons: Tolkein’s typists made with the languages of Middle Earth the same sort of errors Śrīla Prabhupāda’s typists made with Sanskrit.)

For an authentic look at high-quality scholarly publishing, please see the website of The Library of America. Here's an excerpt from their site:

Scholarship

A commitment to publish each work as the author intended it sets Library of America apart.

To determine which version of a work is authoritative—that is, closest to the author’s original intention—the printing and publishing history of each work is traced in an attempt to learn when it was written, what differences there were in pre-publication versions, who prepared the copy sent to the publisher, who proofread the galleys, and other details of the publishing process. LOA editors may examine the writer's letters commenting on the publishing process, any records of changes made in subsequent printings, publishers' archives, and so on.

Through this process Library of America has made important contributions to scholarship and has, in fact, occasionally made literary history. For example:

  • Textual investigation of Richard Wright’s Native Son recovered many passages that had been cut or altered because of their sexual, racial, or political candor.
  • The Library of America edition of William Faulkner’s works was prepared directly from his manuscripts and typescripts. For the first time they can be read precisely as he intended.

Authoritative new editions of Zora Neale Hurston, Thomas Paine, and Robert Frost have made all previous editions of these writers' works obsolete.

Educators and researchers rely on the accuracy and authority of Library of America editions, which are unabridged and unencumbered by critical analysis. Each volume includes a chronology of the author's life and work, helpful notes prepared by a distinguished scholar, and a brief essay on the text selected for each work. Historical documents are prefaced by short, informative headnotes that provide context.


Related Videos