The Accidentals Tourist Greg’s “Rationale of Copy-Text” and the Dawn of Transatlantic Air Travel

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Sarah Neville


Since the 1980s, editorial theorists and proponents of ‘unediting’ have chipped away at W. W. Greg’s “Rationale of Copy-Text”, speculating that the accidental/substantive division is deceptively reductive, as even minor variants can have major implications. This essay contextualizes debates over Greg’s “Rationale” by recognizing that his theory of accidentals was a practical affordance designed to ensure that a copy-text (and often a specific document) could be reconstructed by working backwards from a scholarly edition — a vital bibliographic resource in an age before scholars were easily able to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in order to check variant copies. By considering shifting editorial values alongside the rapid development of the technologies of travel, ‘The Accidentals Tourist’ demonstrates that theoretical texts — and the subsequent revisions and corrections of them — are the products of the affordances of their own historical moments.


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