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The Pérez Galdós Editions Project: creating electronic scholarly editions

Rhian Davies
University of Sheffield


Following the successful application for an Institutional Fellowship from the Higher Education Funding Council of England and the Humanities Research Board of the British Academy, the Pérez Galdós Editions Project was set up by the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Sheffield in April 1996 and is now situated within the University's Humanities Research Institute. As its name suggests, the Project is concerned with producing editions of the work of the major nineteenth-century Spanish writer Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-1920), who is generally recognised as Spain's greatest writer of fiction after Cervantes and ranks alongside the great realist writers Dickens, Balzac and Tolstoy. Galdós was a prolific writer: his output consists of no less than 31 novels, 46 Episodios Nacionales (or National Episodes), 23 plays, and the equivalent of 20 volumes of shorter fiction, journalism and other writings. In the first instance, namely the specific four-year undertaking to which the Fellowship is linked, Project work will be centred on the four novels based upon the Madrid money-lender, Francisco de Torquemada, namely Torquemada en la hoguera (1889), Torquemada en la cruz (1893), Torquemada en el purgatorio (1894) and Torquemada y San Pedro (1895), which are often referred to as the Torquemada novels, before moving on to deal with other novelas contemporáneas.

Aims of the Project

The aim of the Project is two-fold: part of the outcome will be a hard-copy text, or 'Edition' of the Torquemada novels, reliably founded on manuscripts and early editions, containing an appropriate copy-text, a list of the variants of the different versions of the work and a critical apparatus full enough to justify its use as a scholarly standard. This Edition will be supported by an electronic version of the novels, known to us as the 'Package', which will incorporate the full textual apparatus, (in other words the manuscript, galley proofs, serialised version and first edition, if they still exist), various indexes and concordances and an array of relevant historical background matter. In this article I will be discussing the significance of creating Packages or electronic versions of Galdós's work.

To date our attention has focused not so much on creating electronic editions for teaching purposes but rather on producing a research tool which future galdosistas (or Galdós researchers) can apply to critical and investigative purposes of their own. At present we are working with the supposition that the majority of the users of these Packages will belong to a scholarly public, typically university students and lecturers, who would probably have some knowledge of Galdós's value and would read for more than entertainment. In writing this article my point-of-view has not been that of a computer expert seeking to highlight the wonders of modern technology and software systems but rather as a researcher myself who has little expertise in these areas but is able to appreciate the benefits of communication and information technologies and is hoping to manipulate them to investigate and open up new avenues of research.

Within the academic world there has been a good deal of complacency in the expressed preference for the book as opposed to an electronic edition. The latter has often been viewed as little more than a toy, something that you might play with for entertainment purposes but rarely use as a starting point for some serious research. If there is one advantage which is widely recognised by scholars it is that the electronic edition makes the searching of the text so much easier and faster. How often do you find yourself in the frustrating position of trying to find a quotation in a novel, knowing approximately where it appeared on the page but spending hours trying to find exactly which page it was? Matters can be complicated further if, when you are trying to find this quotation, you are in the library and the edition you are consulting is not the same as the one you have at home. All would be solved in about five seconds if you had access to an electronic edition of the novel and could remember at least one of the words mentioned in this quotation. It is these kinds of searches that also enable scholars to analyse the use of a word like 'casa' (house) in Galdós's novels.

These advantages, however, are minor in comparison to those which we hope that the Galdós Project's Packages will be able to offer to researchers. In the first instance, the Packages will provide a textbase (full text database) for the Torquemada novels. This, in itself, is an important factor since it is not at present possible for a British scholar to gain access to the manuscript, galley proofs and first edition of, for instance, Torquemada en la cruz unless you are prepared to fly to the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) of Madrid or to the Casa Museo (the Galdós museum) in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, and even then you will often find that not all the materials are in the same place. The Project hopes to fill a vacuum since the editing of Galdós's novels has hitherto not been systematically undertaken. It is widely recognised that the standard Obras completas (or Complete Works) are unreliable and incomplete and although some editorial work has been undertaken, for instance in Las Palmas, this editing from manuscripts and early editions has, on the whole, been piecemeal in coverage and shows no signs of the beginnings of a series with common standards.

Within its textbase the Package will allow for the ordered retrieval and analysis of Galdós's lexis in the manner of any standard concordance and will contain detailed information about the background to the novel in question, expanding on topics which are only mentioned in passing in the Edition. Where it may be deemed relevant, the text will be accompanied by visual illustrations with the aim of highlighting the belief that Galdós's work evokes an interdisciplinary response and that knowledge of the novels and knowledge of their age, though never simply identical, remain inseparable.

Computer technology will enable us to produce without too much difficulty a number of indexes, something which has long been desired by galdosistas but has barely commenced yet. One of the essential indexes is that of the recurring characters. At present researchers solely have access to the frustratingly defective 'Censo de personajes' or character-indexes in the Obras completas, which constitute but elementary examples of how much remains to be achieved. Within the Galdós Project, such an index will provide detailed references for the occurrence of each character, including brief biographies, notes of any inconsistencies in the presentation from novel to novel, characteristic epithets and muletillas and so forth. There will be an index of the places mentioned in each novel, in which the places will not be solely logged and listed but accompanied by visual mapping of nineteenth-century Madrid. Finally, there will be an index of time references, including the four frames of the time structure of each narrative: the imagined chronology of real-time dates and events to which Galdós refers in his narration; the wider historical chronology from which these references are taken; the time taken to produce and publish these novels as plotted against real-time events in Galdós’ life and background. These indexes will provide Galdós scholars with an important starting-point for serious research. For instance, the character indexes will make individual character studies considerably easier and scholars will be able to examine any inconsistencies in presentation and analyse the interaction between different characters. The index of places will also provide the scholar with a detailed knowledge of the growing nineteenth-century city of Madrid, knowledge which Galdós assumed that his readers would have but which is seriously deficient in most twentieth-century readers. For example, by being able to locate a house in a street in a particular area, the scholar may draw conclusions about the respectability of the family living there and about Galdós's intentions. A major advantage of using the Internet as our method of publication is that it will be possible to update these indexes as new novels are edited within the series produced by the Galdós Project.

Creating the electronic edition

It can be said that, as well as rendering accessible a wide range of Galdosian materials, contextual information and background tools, producing a Package of a Galdós novel casts a new light on the issue of editing. Rather than acting as an omniscient editor, who directs the reader and, despite valiant attempts to remain impartial, is constantly forced to make decisions of a subjective nature, the editor of an electronic edition or Package is able to fade into the background. Obviously, he or she is still very much present but in the case of the Galdós Package it will be the users, and not the editor, who will be forced to make the crucial decisions.

For example, publishers of Galdós's novels often insist that the text must be modernised in order to minimise the barriers between the nineteenth-century manuscript and the twentieth-century reader. The case for modernisation is strengthened by the fact that manuscripts are often working documents and that Galdós was himself to some extent relying upon his printers to provide the finishing touches and correct his manuscript as necessary. He may, for example, not have been not overly concerned with accurately punctuating his manuscript because he was aware that the publisher could have a distinctive set of in-house rules for dealing with these issues. Comparison of the serialised version and the first edition of Torquemada en la hoguera, for instance, reveals that the La Guirnalda publishing-house makes far greater use of accentuation and punctuation than the review La España Moderna. This, however, does not mean that the editor will not feel torn between modernising in the interests of reading and preserving the original punctuation and spellings since these may not only tell literary scholars something about the creative processes by which Galdós's novels came into being but also be of interest to linguists and historians since they constitute examples of nineteenth-century writing. Through the use of Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) tagging - to date we have employed the subset established by the Text Encoding Initiative or TEI - and the use of the <sic corr='?'> tag, this dilemma will be solved and users of the Galdós Package will find that they are able to choose whether they wish to view the modernised version of the novel or a preserved form of the original version, with all its nineteenth-century accents and the like. In following the TEI guidelines for manuscript description, the editor will also be able to transcribe, for instance, the galley proofs in such a way that users will find that they are presented with a product where they can choose what they wish to view on the screen. If, for example, they are only interested in what the author imagined to be his final version of a page, the contents of the <del> tags (representing deleted text) will not be displayed. Similarly, should users wish to see what was removed from the texts, it will be possible to view solely the contents of these <del> tags, and so forth. Users will also be able to decide whether they wish to view all the notes and illustrations which will accompany the text or only some of them. They will even be provided with the opportunity of viewing, for instance, the illustrations without the text to which they refer.

More significantly, users will not find themselves confronted with the copy-text chosen by the editor (which is necessary in a book) but will have access to a number of versions of the same novel and will have the opportunity to choose which copy-text they would like to view. They will also be able to experiment with the use of various versions as copy-text or to alternate between the different versions. This, in itself, will make users aware that Galdós's novels were not static products but fluid and changing works, constantly evolving as the novelist experimented with different words and styles in an attempt to attain the most accurate form of self-expression and perfection. A study of the variants is fascinating and often enlightening in enabling us to attain a greater understanding of the complexity of the novel and the processes which it underwent before reaching the final version. The use of the programme Collate will make it possible to view the variants between the different versions of the same novel and parallel readings will be made possible by splitting the screen.

Expanding scholarship

To date, research into the creative processes of Galdós's novels has been an area which has been unduly neglected. It may be surprising but there are many students, and even some academics, who are not particularly aware of the importance of knowing exactly which version of a novel they are consulting, for instance whether it is a first edition or a reproduction of the manuscript version, or appreciating the significance of that version. This is often coupled with an all too unquestioning belief in the notion that, when he revises his work, the author always improves rather than corrupts it and that the last edition produced in the author's lifetime is always the best. Research that has been carried out into Galdós's creative processes has already revealed that the author was far from sure of his intentions and was, in fact, constantly experimenting with new styles and ideas throughout his lifetime. At the same time it is fascinating to try to probe behind the surface of the work and ask ourselves why he introduced some changes: were they voluntary or was he influenced by external pressures (real or imaginary) exerted by his publisher, friends or the general reading-public? Such questions encourage the scholar to situate Galdós's work in its nineteenth-century context. This can often cast a new dimension on research, leading the scholar to note the significance of knowing where a particular work was first published and how the method of publication may have affected the way in which it was written. In the case of Torquemada en la hoguera, for instance, the fact that the novel was written for and first published in a review is not specialist but essential background knowledge and holds the key to the understanding of the work as a whole. We hope that the Packages of the Galdós Editions Project will help to change scholars' attitudes and that they will make research into creative processes considerably easier so that this area will not be neglected for much longer.


As a conclusion, then, we can say that the Package is undoubtedly the most novel aspect of the Galdós Editions Project and aims to facilitate research on the author. This in no way means that we are proclaiming 'death to the book'; as I noted above, the Edition (or hard-copy text) is very much an integral part of the Project and we are particularly conscious of the fact that it is much easier to read from a book rather than from a screen, especially when there is a large amount of text involved. Our aim is that the Edition and the Package should complement each other. Whilst the Edition will provide a basis and form a scholarly edition, the Package will be far more complex and expand upon the information contained within the Edition. We very much hope that in producing these electronic scholarly editions of Galdós's novels we will open up whole new areas of research which have not been investigated in detail, either because such a task has appeared daunting to the researcher, given the present situation of the availability of Galdosian material (or rather the lack of it), or because the area has not been significantly highlighted as constituting a major interest to researchers.

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Teaching European Literature and Culture with Communication and Information Technologies
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Document Created: 25 January 1999
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