The Poem and the Poet in Exile: Issues of Textual Identity: The Prelude (1)

  • John Williams
Part of the Critical Issues book series (CRTI)


If there is one critical issue that dominated academic discussion of The Prelude in the twentieth century, it was whether or not any such poem properly exists. Since its publication in 1850 The Prelude has been the subject of inexhaustible textual scholarship. A summary of this work is to be found in the Norton Critical Edition of the poem edited by Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill. First published in 1979, the Norton Edition includes an essay, ‘The Texts: History and Presentation’, and there we find described the composition of a two-Part Prelude of 1799, the subsequent evolution of a five-Book Prelude of 1804, a thirteen-Book Prelude of 1805, and a fourteen-Book Prelude published in 1850. A more detailed account of the procedures involved in textual scholarship of this magnitude, and of the detective work involved, is available in Mark L. Reed’s edition of the thirteen-Book 1805 Prelude, published in 1991 in the Cornell series. This is a two-volume giant of almost 2500 pages, of which just 435 are given over to a reading text of the poem. Prior to this Stephen Parrish published a Cornell edition of the 1798–99 Prelude in 1977, and in 1985 W. J. B. Owen edited the fourteen-Book Prelude in one volume of 1222 pages, also for Cornell.


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© John Williams 2002

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  • John Williams

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