Chapter 1 Introduction

In: The Author as Annotator
Miriam Lahrsow
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1.1 Xenographic Annotations: Unequivocal in Theory – Partly Ambiguous in Practice

The discourse tradition of xenographic annotations is made up of a multitude of sub-traditions which are influenced by different cultural environments, schools of thought, assumptions about the duties of a scholarly editor, conjectures about readerly needs, etc. But even though xenographic notes are an “extremely complex, multifaceted genre that resists definition” and are characterised by their “versatility and elusiveness” (Enenkel and Nellen, “Introduction” 59), they are nevertheless governed by a few conventions that – at least in theory – pertain to the discourse tradition as a whole.1 Firstly, such notes have four main (and partly overlapping) functions:

  • (1) emendation and textual criticism, i.e. trying to establish the correct text, justifying one’s textual choices, and recording variants;2

  • (2) explanation and information, which comprises annotations that strive to elucidate the text, notes that show readers how they can make practical use of the text in their own life (e.g. by imitating its rhetorical style in their own writing or by following its moral lessons), and annotations that take the text as a starting point to provide readers with different pieces of information and advice that the annotator perceives to be interesting or worth knowing, even if they are not immediately relevant for understanding the annotated text;3

  • (3) interpretation;4 and

  • (4) evaluation, i.e. passing scholarly, moral, or aesthetic judgment on the text, defending the text, anticipating as well as reacting to criticism against the text, and implicitly conferring canonical status on the annotated text by presenting it as worthy of annotation.5

Often, a single note performs more than one of these functions. Secondly, xenographic annotations are, in theory, informed by a notion of sound scholarship. In other words, readers can be more or less certain that xenographic annotators provide them with information that they believe to be correct and to be sufficient as well as relevant for the respective target audiences of their editions.6 Furthermore, readers can assume that xenographic annotators do their best to make their commentaries as comprehensible as possible. Thus, even though xenographic annotations often present and discuss the different possible interpretations that the annotated text gives rise to,7 they themselves usually strive (and sometimes fail) to bring across their point as unequivocally and straightforwardly as possible.8 Even if a commentary violates any of the three criteria of adequacy (neither too much nor too little information), correctness, and intelligibility, readers can presume that the respective xenographic annotator acted in good faith and did not willingly mislead them or waste their time. Of course, what counts as (sufficiently) relevant, correct, and intelligible depends greatly on the historical and scholarly context in which an annotation is written.9

Thirdly and lastly, the enunciatory, temporal, factual, and (para)textual status of xenographic annotations may be assumed to be rather unambiguous. Readers can be almost certain that the voice speaking in the annotation is that of the real-life editor, that the note should be read as a later comment on an existing text, and that the annotation is part of a factual paratext that exists completely outside of the text that it is commenting on. Taking together the four main functions of xenographic annotations, the notions of sound scholarship and ‘good faith’ that inform such annotations, and their unequivocal status, it can be concluded that, in principle, (1) xenographic annotations are themselves quite unambiguous with regard to their purpose(s), (2) that, for the sake of intelligibility, the rhetorical strategies employed in them are designed to avoid ambiguity, and (3) that they generally strive to elucidate – or even reduce – the ambiguities of the annotated text rather than add completely new ones to it.

In practice, however, things sometimes lie differently. For instance, rather than providing readers with information that is immediately relevant for understanding (or making practical, moral, etc. use of) the text, editors may employ their notes for purposes of social networking with friends, relatives, patrons, and other scholars. Prominent fifteenth-century commentator Filippo Beroaldo, for example, often uses his annotations to extol the influential Bentivoglio family and to introduce personal anecdotes, e.g. about his recent marriage and his wife’s pregnancy (cf. Casella 662; Gaisser, “Teaching Classics in the Renaissance” 8; Krautter 44–52).10 In fact, Renaissance commentators often take a prominent, overt role in their own annotations and provide a wealth of information about themselves that has little to do with the annotated text or at least their scholarly qualifications (cf. Céard 104–05). In other cases, editors take the work that is to be annotated merely as a pretext to present their own, more or less unrelated, research (cf. Sluiter, “The Violent Scholiast” 193; Dubischar 560). In all of these examples, the function and maybe even genre of the annotations is ambiguated: are they scholarly commentaries, or – depending on the case – attempts at securing patronage, personal memoirs, or independent academic treatises?

On a related but still different note, editors sometimes offer (or are forced to offer) deliberately incomplete commentaries. For instance, in 1939, Ernst Beutler was urged by his publisher to omit all references to the Talmud in his commentary on Goethe’s Faust (cf. Bohnenkamp 129), and Renaissance scholar Cristoforo Landino often abstained from commenting on the homoerotic elements in Horace’s poems (cf. Stadeler 124–29). Most Renaissance commentators of Catullus also chose not to annotate obscene words and bawdy passages (cf. Stadeler 140–41). In these cases, editors are being led more by considerations of what may be annotated than what should be annotated because, objectively speaking, it is relevant for a better understanding the text at hand. Thus, the social and historical context in which an edition appears often results in annotators consciously violating the scholarly soundness of their xenographic annotations.11

Furthermore, the enunciatory status of xenographic annotations is not as unambiguous as it may seem at first sight. Sometimes, editors blur the boundaries between authorial and xenographic annotation by presenting themselves as both the alter egos and the collaborators of their authors, e.g. by pretending that the original writers are speaking through them (cf. Céard 108; Sluiter, “The Dialectics of Genre” 191). Commentators’ voices are further ambiguated by the fact that they usually incorporate material from earlier editions, thus letting both themselves and their predecessors speak at the same time (cf. Kraus 16).

To conclude, even in the case of xenographic annotations, practices are much more ambiguous than discourse conventions and functions suggest in theory. Nevertheless, these conventions and functions provide a set of criteria on the basis of which one can judge editorial notes from a purely scholarly point of view. For instance, it is possible to call Beroaldo’s digressive notes ‘irrelevant’ with regard to the annotated text and Beutler’s censored annotations ‘incomplete’, and it would be rather difficult to refute this line of argument. In other words, xenographic notes may certainly violate the conventions of their discourse tradition, but this violation always entails that the annotations are ‘flawed’ to some extent since they fail to fulfil their scholarly functions.12

In literary self-annotations, this is not necessarily the case – unless they signal that they are meant to be judged by the rules that govern xenographic ones, i.e. that the author strives to provide exactly the information that a competent scholarly editor would supply.13 But even in such cases, there is a difference between self-annotations and xenographic annotations: when xenographic notes are found lacking from a scholarly point of view, this only has consequences for how we assess the editor’s expertise. But when the same occurs in self-annotations that strive to be scholarly, it has a negative impact on how we evaluate the entire work because it raises questions about the author’s knowledge and competence in writing about a certain topic. For instance, Byron’s poem “Lachin Y Gair” stresses his Scottish heritage and the fact that he spent a great portion of his childhood in the Highlands. However, in an annotation he incorrectly translates the term “pibroch” as “bagpipe” – a mistake for which he was ridiculed by reviewers14 and which casts doubt on Byron’s Scottishness, the very aspect around which the poem revolves (cf. “Lachin Y Gair” 31n; CPW 1: 373).

Byron’s note on the pibroch was a self-annotation that set out to imitate a xenographic one and, thus, to adhere to the rule of correctness.15 It inadvertently violated this rule and hence can be seen as a failed note. However, many of Pope’s and Byron’s annotations explicitly or implicitly signal that they deliberately strive to transform, flout, or undermine the conventions of xenographic annotations for literary, social, political, or other purposes. In these notes, the ‘failure’ to follow the rules of xenographic annotation is not a flaw but a strategy. A strategy that often draws on the inherent ambiguity of the discourse convention of self-annotation and that, in turn, frequently results in new ambiguities.

1.2 Why the ‘Self’ in Self-Annotation Matters, Or: Hotbeds of Ambiguity

This line may puzzle the [future] commentators more than the present generation. – Byron, Don Juan

Alluding to a verse of Mr. Dryden’s not in Mac Flecno (as it is said ignorantly in the Key to the Dunciad, pag. l.) but in his verses to Mr. Congreve: ‘And Tom the Second reigns like Tom the First’. – Pope, Dunciad Variorum

If we found the first note among the editor’s commentary in a scholarly edition of Byron’s Don Juan, we would most likely feel confused or annoyed, and conclude that the editor must have fundamentally misunderstood his or her task. Why annotate a line that allegedly does not (yet) require annotation in the first place? Why speculate on what future scholars and readers will not understand? Why not use your superior knowledge and just spell out the inside joke for the benefit of posterity? Worse still: why alienate those contemporary readers to whom the meaning of the line may not be clear after all? Penned by an editor, this note would violate several of the conventions that govern xenographic annotations, such as relevance with respect to the annotated passage, helpfulness, and clarity. At best, the annotation could serve as an interesting case study of editors who neglect their task to crack jokes and who try to establish a relationship with those privileged readers who already share the editor’s own horizon of understanding. Readers could not even be sure that the allusion that this editor hints at is actually present in the annotated lines – the rather unprofessional xenographic annotator might simply be misinterpreting the text.

By contrast, in the second quote – taken from an annotation on Alexander Pope’s Dunciad Variorum – the author of the annotation appears to have done a pretty good job. At first sight, the note seems to offer a helpful, trustworthy, and easily comprehensible explanation of an intertextual reference, despite being rather rude to a previous editor of the work. If it was a xenographic note, we would have no reason to assume that its author was being ironical or even deliberately misleading; our experience tells us that this is not something that most scholarly commentators are prone to do. However, these two notes were, of course, not written by professional editors but by Byron and Pope themselves (cf. Byron, Don Juan 12.37n; CPW 5: 754; Pope, 1729 Dunciad 1.6n, original emphasis). The fact that the two notes quoted above are self-annotations rather than xenographic ones makes them appear in a completely different light.16

In the case of Byron, the ‘unhelpful’ note is not the result of an editor’s eccentric and self-absorbed approach to annotating – in which case the note could very well simply be ignored by readers who are trying to make sense of the lines. Rather, its apparent irrelevance is part of the author’s strategy and, thus, an integral component of the meaning of the passage. Byron’s note is appended to a segment of the poem that muses on the fact that some ladies marry “him who scarce pursued at all. / A hazy widower turn’d of forty’s sure” (Don Juan 12.37). The very fact that his annotation cheekily engages readers in a satirical guessing game and that it behaves so differently from a xenographic note adds to its rhetorical force and humour. Byron’s refusal to spell out the allusion – infuriating as it would be in an editorial comment – here serves various social and literary purposes. By its mere existence, the annotation acknowledges that the passage is not meant as a general comment on the marriage market but that it refers to one or more specific incidents. Its ostensible irrelevance points to its actual relevance. Instead of naming names (which would have seemed rather tasteless and might even have caused a duel),17 the annotation trusts that most contemporary readers are able to decipher the meaning by themselves. Given the scandals that the two possible referents18 of Byron’s allusion caused shortly before this canto of Don Juan was published, it is likely that many readers were indeed able to understand the joke. The (at first sight) uninformative annotation thus creates a sense of intimacy between Byron and many of his readers, a feeling of ‘us vs. them’ – ‘them’ being the poem’s future readers and those contemporaries who are not in on the joke. This explicit and teasing exclusion of certain readerships, which would be deemed rather condescending and unprofessional in an editorial note, makes for an entertaining and clever literary strategy in an authorial one. Byron’s note invites readers to participate in the meaning-making of the poem, allows a part of them to congratulate themselves on sharing his horizon of understanding, and, perhaps more seriously, makes a point about the ephemeral nature of even the greatest scandals and most widely circulated gossip. Furthermore, by not spelling out the allusion, Byron also allows his readers to decide for themselves how biting and risqué the satire in this passage eventually is. If they disambiguate the lines as referring to the Keppel-Coke marriage (see note 18), the stanza is merely concerned with a rather extreme though ultimately harmless example of a May-December relationship. If, however, the passage is read as a hint at the Hanson-Portsmouth marriage (see note 18), the satire becomes much more serious – a glimpse at some of the darker aspects of the high-society marriage market: fraud, violence, adultery, legacy hunting, and ruthless social climbing. Due to the apparent unhelpfulness of the annotation, the blame for this latter disambiguation is shifted from Byron to the readers. He intimated no such thing; if they want to interpret the passage in this way, it is their own fault. Lastly, the fact that the annotation prefers to remain silent on the background of the passage may also be a self-ironic reference to Byron’s wish to forget or gloss over his own role (marginal though it was) in the disastrous Hanson-Portsmouth marriage (see note 18). In short, the seeming failure of the annotation contributes to its actual satirical effectiveness; it informs by refusing to explain and invites dangerous interpretation without explicitly endorsing it.19 Furthermore, the – at first sight – irrelevant note is still helpful for future readers: by drawing their attention to the fact that there is indeed an allusion that could be explicated, it encourages them to do their own research and solve the puzzle.

In the case of Pope, the ‘intertextual’ annotation that would have seemed helpful and trustworthy if written by an editor becomes suspicious when one knows that it was composed by Pope himself. At the time when readers encounter this note, they have already made their way through dozens of pages of prefatorial matter (likewise composed by Pope) that teem with ironies, quotes that deliberate misrepresent Pope’s enemies, and just plain fabrications (like the fiction that the Dunciad Variorum is edited by a man called Martinus Scriblerus). Put briefly, even this early on in the footnote apparatus, readers know that they have to take every piece of information provided in the Dunciads20 with a grain of salt. And even if one were to consider the note in isolation, its context and readers’ knowledge about Pope’s political affiliation strongly hint at the fact that this innocent explanation should not be taken at face value.

Appended to the lines “Say from what cause, in vain decry’d and curst, / Still Dunce the second reigns like Dunce the first?”, Pope’s annotation claims that the passage is merely a reference to Dryden’s poem “To My Dear Friend Mr Congreve” (1729 Dunciad 1.5–6). This poem indeed contains the lines “But now not I, but poetry, is cursed; / For Tom the second reigns like Tom the first” (Dryden, Works 4: ll. 47–48). Dryden is here alluding to Poet Laureate and Historiographer Royal Thomas Shadwell being succeeded as Historiographer Royal by Thomas Rymer. (Before he was dismissed in the aftermath of the 1688 Revolution, Dryden himself had held both of these offices.) According to the note, then, the annotated passage in Pope’s satire either ridicules dunce and Poet Laureate Laurence Eusden, who succeeded Laureate Nicholas Rowe in 1718, or Lewis Theobald, whom the three-book Dunciads depict as succeeding Elkanah Settle as king of the dunces. Both of these interpretations are plausible, given that Eusden, Theobald, and Settle are recurring victims of Pope’s jokes throughout the Dunciads. While both of these interpretations are insulting, they are ultimately rather harmless. However, contemporary readers would immediately have discovered a much more dangerous meaning in the lines, one that is not at all addressed in the note. The first version of the Dunciads was published in 1728, just one year after George II had succeeded George I. Is Pope – the highly suspicious Catholic Tory-sympathiser who had extolled the last Stuart queen and who counted several Jacobites among his friends – cursing the ruling House of Hanover? The annotation pretends to forestall such an interpretation, while ironically drawing attention to how forced its own ‘innocent’ disambiguation is, given Pope’s background and the rather obvious topical allusion.21 The annotator doth protest too much; the disambiguation becomes a mock-disambiguation, and all three meanings – the two innocuous ones and the dangerous one – are maintained.22 In a scholarly editor, such an absurdly restrictive ‘disambiguation’ would be seen as the result of mere ignorance and a failure to understand the passage and its historical background. In a self-annotator, however, it is deliberately ironic and serves a satiric strategy. Readers are aware that scholars can never fully reconstruct authors’ intentions, opinions, background knowledge, etc. but that authors themselves obviously know what they are trying to say in a passage, what allusions they are making, and what kinds of background information they are drawing from. If their annotations overlook rather evident allusions, propose nonsensical interpretations, and plead general ignorance of a text’s meaning, readers know that they are confronted with an interpretative cat-and-mouse game rather than a scholarly disaster.

The two annotations by Pope and Byron use very different rhetorical means – Byron’s pretends to be irreverently uninformative, whereas Pope’s feigns disambiguation. The aims of both annotations, however, are rather similar. Both invite readers to decide for themselves whether they want to acknowledge the dangerous subtext of the respective poetic passages. Both also rely on assumptions about (contemporary) readers’ background knowledge without which this subtext cannot be uncovered. But most importantly, both annotations can only achieve these aims because readers are aware that they were written by the author rather than a scholarly editor.23 It is because of their authorship that they must not be seen as irrelevant, incorrect, incomplete, or plainly failed but as creative ways of inviting readers to discover the satiric import of the annotated passages themselves.

The comparison between xenographic and authorial annotations can be summed up as follows: while xenographic notes usually determine meaning(s) and either simply register existing ambiguities or disambiguate them altogether, authorial ones proliferate meanings and introduce completely new ambiguities. In other words, in xenographic annotations the use and creation of ambiguity can generally be seen as a flaw or at least a strange aberration, but in authorial annotations ambiguity becomes a strategic device. This device often relies on the fact that self-annotations are inherently ambiguous themselves. For one, there are often two different possibilities of describing the temporal status of authorial annotations: are they synchronic asides embedded in the temporal frame of the main text – similar to parentheses? Or are they diachronic, later comments on an existing text? Furthermore, self-annotations are ambiguous with respect to the question whether they are (1) factual explanations of a fictional text or (2) themselves (partly or entirely) fictional or (3) a factual sign that the annotated text is to be read as (partly) factual as well.24 Closely related to this is the question of their (para)textual status: are self-annotations really paratextual features, i.e. external to the main text, or are they an integral part of it?25 Lastly, there is an ambiguity of voice or, put differently: an enunciatory ambiguity. Who do we ‘hear’ in an annotation? The real-life author, a fictionalised version of that author, the narrator (who may likewise be aligned with the author or not), or an entirely new fictional character?26 And, in the two latter cases, in what relationship do these fictional(ised) voices stand to the author – are they mouthpieces, antagonists that are being ironised, or maybe something completely different?

To make matters even more complicated, many works deliberately obscure the authorship of their notes and either pretend that the author’s notes were written by someone else or that someone else’s notes were written by the author (cf. Venturi, “Introduction” 20–21). Erasmus’s Praise of Folly is a famous example of the first case; it claims that the notes were composed by Gerardus Listrius, but they are generally believed to be Erasmus’s own (cf. Griffiths 108; Slights, “Edifying Margins” 710–11). In Byron’s and Pope’s works, we are sometimes confronted with the second case, i.e. annotations written by someone else but presented as if they were the author’s own. This goes for the annotation on the setting of Lara that Byron had asked his friend John Cam Hobhouse to write (cf. BLJ 4: 143–44; 146), and, more importantly, for the notes that William Warburton contributed to Pope’s 1743 Dunciad in Four Books.27 After Pope’s death, Warburton signed his annotations in the 1751 edition of the work, but, as Valerie Rumbold points out, his authorship attributions are not entirely trustworthy, given that Warburton had a “vested interest in emphasising his importance to the project” and might have overstated his involvement (editor’s introduction to Dunciad 2).28 Hence, discussing self-annotations often entails discussing which annotations can actually be seen as such.29

Apart from their ambiguous temporal, enunciatory, (para)textual, and factual status as well as their sometimes-equivocal authorship, self-annotations also evoke two different discourse traditions at the same time. On the one hand, authorial annotations still conjure up the scholarly, xenographic model and thus raise certain expectations of what a note may (and may not) do. Hence, even when reading self-annotations, the knowledge about the discourse conventions of xenographic annotation is (potentially) always at the back of readers’ minds. On the other hand, readers are aware that, due to their completely different relationship to the annotated text and its author, self-annotations do not necessarily fulfil the same functions as editorial notes and, hence, are not governed by the same conventions as they are. Thus, readers of authorial notes have the double awareness that these notes imitate the discourse tradition of xenographic notes while at the same time constituting a separate discourse tradition to which the conventions of factuality, unambiguousness, and direct relevance with respect to the annotated lemmata do not necessarily apply.

As shown in the examples from Pope and Byron above, self-annotations usually follow a specific pattern: (1) they explicitly or implicitly evoke one or more functions that a xenographic note would fulfil and then (2) use various textual strategies in order to (3) either indeed accomplish these functions or to actually perform very different ones. Pope’s note quoted above, for example, evokes the xenographic function of explanation (here: identifying an allusion), uses the strategy of ironic and misleading disambiguation, and thereby achieves various satirical aims. As we will see in the course of this study, the degree to which a specific self-annotation still adheres to the discourse conventions of xenographic annotation can vary greatly: some authorial notes follow them so closely that they can be mistaken for those of a scholarly editor, while others overtly transform, flout, and subvert them.

As the examples drawn from Don Juan and the Dunciads above have shown, it would be overly simplistic to just call these latter kinds of authorial notes ‘failed’ annotations or parodies of editorial annotations. Though making fun of the conventions of xenographic annotations is a common strategy in self-annotations, the main function of such apparently bungled notes is only rarely to simply parody scholarly notes. In other words, in self-annotations, the subversion of the discourse conventions of xenographic notes is generally a means to an end, not an end by itself.30

Any given self-annotation may have intratextual as well as socio-pragmatic functions. The former refers to how a note influences the meaning of the annotated passage and sometimes even the text as a whole. It can straightforwardly explain and support the meaning, but more often alters, expands, or even contradicts it. The socio-pragmatic functions are concerned with how the annotation interacts with the world outside the text – serving to portray the author in a certain light, enacting his/her relationship with the public, and fulfilling practical purposes like flattering patrons and insulting enemies. In the Byron example above, the intratextual and the socio-pragmatic functions are closely intertwined. With regard to the former, the note points readers to the presence of a topical allusion within the text, thereby emphasising and expanding the meaning of the annotated passage. The socio-pragmatic functions of the annotation are to comment on the high-society marriage market as well as on the ephemerality of gossip, to establish a shared horizon of understanding with contemporary readers, to tease future audiences about their alleged inability to make sense of the passage, and, thereby, to still give them a hint that there is indeed an allusion that can be deciphered provided that they do the necessary research.

While in this specific note all of the functions complement one another, there are also many annotations in which the functions are unrelated or in which they even contradict each other. The latter is the case in the example drawn from Pope’s Dunciads which partly stresses the innocence of the annotated passage but which, by its very silence on the political allusion, also ironically confirms that the lines have a much more dangerous meaning. A note may also have different functions for different readerships (see esp. chapters and 3.2.2). The ‘double-directedness’ of self-annotations at the text and the world outside the text, and the various (sometimes contradictory) functions that a note can fulfil simultaneously add even more ambiguities to this far from unequivocal discourse convention.

To conclude, in xenographic annotations, ambiguity is a bug; in authorial ones, it is a defining feature. Xenographic annotations are usually unambiguous in themselves and strive to determine or at least to record possible meaning(s); authorial ones are frequently ambiguous and often serve to further proliferate meanings.31 Self-annotations set out by invoking one or more of the functions of editorial annotation. They then use a multitude of textual strategies to fulfil, transform, or subvert these functions for ulterior aims, thereby interacting both with the annotated text and the world outside it. These strategies and the aesthetic, satirical, social, etc. purposes for which they are used – the how and the why of self-annotation – are at the heart of this study which sets out to provide a systematic overview of Pope’s and Byron’s practices of self-annotation (for more details on the focus of this book, see chapter 1.5.3).

1.3 Existing Attempts at Categorising Self-Annotations

Since the publication of Genette’s pioneering Seuils, a considerable number of studies have stressed the manifold ways in which authors’ annotations interact with, and contribute to, the meaning(s) of their texts.32 Yet, so far only a handful of them have attempted to comprehensively categorise the notes of individual writers, literary movements, or even of self-annotated literature as a whole. Such categorisations, however, are essential for gaining insights into the immense (and perhaps surprising) diversity of self-annotations and for comparing the uses of authorial notes across different authors, genres, and times. Furthermore, even the existing handful of categorisations cannot (for the most part) fully do justice to the complexity of the self-annotations that they are covering.33

As one of the few attempts to classify self-annotations, Ottavio Besomi’s article “L’autocommento nella Secchia rapita” is concerned with the notes in Alessandro Tassoni’s famous mock-epic – a work that was well-known to Pope (see p. 62 below). Besomi’s essay, however, is mainly concerned with categorising the pieces of information that the notes provide (i.e. what kind of knowledge do they explicitly contain?) rather than the functions that these notes serve (i.e. what do the notes do to the meaning of the work and the author’s interaction with the world outside the text?).34 Furthermore, Besomi’s categorisation partly blurs the line between the purposes of the notes and the textual strategies employed in them (e.g. ‘direct addresses to the reader’).

William Slights in “The Edifying Margins of Renaissance English Books” proposes fifteen functions of marginal notes, regardless of whether they are authorial or xenographic.35 He also acknowledges that a note often does not serve only one of these functions but that “many of the more significant contributions of marginalia to particular texts result from subtle combinations of these purposes” (686–87). Despite the helpfulness of Slight’s list for gaining an overview of the uses of early modern marginalia, I have indicated above why it is problematic to discuss authorial and xenographic notes under the same heading. The very same note, e.g. ‘This is nonsense’ (which, in Slights’s terminology, might be categorised as ‘correction’ or as ‘parody’), can have different functions depending on whether it was written by the author of the annotated text or by someone else. In the case of an authorial annotation, readers would have to come to terms with the apparent self-contradiction and can read it, among other things, as an isolated case of playful self-irony, later repentance for one’s youthful writings, or a sign that the annotated text as a whole should not be taken seriously. If the same note was written by someone else (e.g. an editor), readers can, theoretically, just dismiss the note as subjective and unfounded, with no bearing on the annotated text whatsoever.

Maxine Hancock, in her study of Bunyan’s marginal notes, identifies four functions and two effects of self-annotation. The functions are “to refer, to index, to interpret, and to generalize” (Hancock 123). Like Slights, Hancock stresses that

some of the most complex and interesting interactions between marginal notes and narrative text occur when marginal notes function in more than one way at a time, as when reference notes offer interpretation. (Hancock 133)

The effects of authorial marginal notes can be divided into “text-reflexive”, i.e. notes that “modify, intensify or ameliorate the effect” of the annotated passage, and “text-extensive”, i.e. notes that “invite the reader’s attention to move beyond the narrative” (Hancock 123). Text-reflexive annotations are hence concerned with intratextual patterns and the interpretation of the text, while text-extensive notes are related to signification, representation, and intertextuality (cf. Hancock 134). Hancock aptly shows that even brief marginal notes often serve a number of different purposes, and she likewise recognises the double-directedness towards the text and the world outside the text that characterises annotations. Nevertheless, she does not mention that notes can also be employed for socio-pragmatic functions. The prevalence and importance of such ‘social’ annotations will be shown in the course of the present study.

Andréas Pfersmann’s article “Éléments pour une approche typologique des notes infrapaginales” offers six main functions of self-annotations in general, without focussing on a specific author or genre (cf. Pfersmann 66–88).36 These categories are again comprised of many subcategories. Even though Pfersmann’s approach takes an important step in stressing the social and ‘practical’ dimension of self-annotation, it is still mainly concerned with categorising the information that is explicitly given in a note, thereby neglecting cases in which one or more functions are implicitly fulfilled by the apparent performance of another. For instance, a note may – on the surface – be used to merely inform readers about the presence of an allusion (information), but this information may – depending on the context – be used to reinforce the meaning of the work or, by contrast, to undermine it (function).

Lastly, in his study of Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse, Yannick Séité lists nine different functions of self-annotations in this novel.37 Later in his book, he also suggests a second way of categorising the annotations in the Nouvelle Héloïse, this time with more focus on the socio-pragmatic aspect of the notes and the occasional antagonism between the notes and the main text.38 Séité’s proposal of two different models indicates how difficult it is to systematise the functions of self-annotations. The complexity of authorial notes, which often pretend to do one thing while fulfilling many different functions in addition to, or even instead of, their alleged aim, is also acknowledged by Séité. Referring to his first categorisation (pp. 292–93), he points out that it cannot account for the actual intricacy of self-annotations:

[I]l est une ultime caractéristique des notes de La Nouvelle Héloïse dont le tableau ne rend pas compte: la complexité de leur structure; le fait que, pour beaucoup d’entre elles, elles ne remplissent pas une et une seule fonction, et, plus encore, ne se limitent pas à un seul effet mais en visent bien souvent plusieurs. […] [S]i le but apparent d’une note est peut être bel et bien à chercher du côté d’un désir de faire passer un savoir, son effet, voire son but réel, peut être d’un tout autre ordre. (Séité 297; 323, original emphasis)39

Even though this is an extremely important insight, Séité’s book overstates the degree of Rousseau’s uniqueness and innovation. For instance, he asserts that Rousseau was the inventor of the complex note and that he was the first and maybe only author to use self-annotations to address personal messages to a small group of insiders rather than to his whole readership (cf. Séité 298; 313). By contrast, I wish to argue that self-annotations in general exhibit a considerable degree of complexity (albeit not always to the same extent as those in La Nouvelle Héloïse) and that Pope’s and Byron’s are among the most intricate examples of the discourse tradition of self-annotations. Furthermore, similar to Besomi, Séité mixes categories: some of his criteria refer to the explicit information contained in the notes (e.g. information about Switzerland), some to the textual strategies (e.g. annotations that tonally clash with the text), and some to actual functions (e.g. preventing readers from becoming too invested in the sentimental letters).

As already indicated, the five approaches just outlined suffer from several drawbacks. Besomi and Pfersmann mainly focus on the information that is explicitly given in an annotation rather than its actual functions, thereby implicitly evaluating self-annotations according to the criteria of xenographic notes. Likewise, in combining authorial and editorial annotations in the same scheme, Slights does not consider the fundamental differences between these two discourse traditions. Slights, Hancock, and Séité recognise that a single authorial note can serve many different functions, but none of them ‘translate’ this insight into a categorisation that considers the complexity of self-annotations, nor do they investigate why and how authorial annotations lend themselves so well to this multifunctionality.

The question is, how can one satisfactorily categorise something that is intriguing precisely because it resists categorisation? The most promising approach seems to be to analyse the textual strategies that lead to the multi-functionality of self-annotations and to describe patterns of functions and strategies that frequently co-occur. I have therefore chosen a tripartite categorisation in this study. First, I sort Pope’s and Byron’s self-annotations according to the function(s) of xenographic annotation that they appear to mimic (e.g. explanatory notes, emendatory notes, or evaluative notes). Then, I structure these notes depending on the main textual strategy (or strategies) employed in them (e.g. using manipulated quotes or employing various fictional annotator personas). Lastly, I categorise these annotations again into the main functions that are served by these strategies (e.g. both reinforcing and disowning the attack of a passage). This may lead, for instance, to the investigation of Pope’s self-annotations that mimic both emendatory and interpretative xenographic notes (see chapter 2.3). In this specific case, only one main strategy is employed, namely the attribution of these notes to two annotatorial personas – Bentley and Scriblerus. The functions that these notes serve are, first, to ambiguate the two personas themselves and, second, to use the annotations signed by these ‘annotators’ to ambiguate both Pope’s Dunciads and his public image as a whole. This tripartite categorisation – mimicked function(s), textual strategies, actual function(s) – frequently results in overlaps and the repeated mention of a single function in various contexts. However, such repetitions are useful in that they show, for example, when an author is especially preoccupied with a certain function and when vastly different textual strategies serve the same function.

Pfersmann’s and Slight’s categorisations of the functions of (self-)annotation derive from a large sample of vastly different texts, while Besomi, Hancock, and Séité all focus on one writer and work, respectively. This makes it hard to use either of these approaches for the aim of learning more about the similarities and differences of authorial notes from different authors, genres, and periods. Furthermore, neither method can fully grasp how variegated practices of self-annotation actually were (and still are) – the former only outlining what this discourse tradition can do in general and the latter showing what one author does but not how this author’s self-annotations differ from those of his contemporaries. For this reason, the present analysis focuses on two writers, Pope and Byron, and embeds their approaches to authorial annotation in the context of the (self-)annotatorial practices of their respective ages. This will, of course, still be insufficient for a comprehensive overview of all the strategies and functions of the discourse tradition of self-annotations as a whole (i.e. irrespective of author, time, or genre). However, the study of these authors will show that even in a case in which two writers wrote in the same language and lived merely one hundred years apart, were often preoccupied with the same genre (satire), and in which one saw the other as his great idol and model, their notes vastly differ from one another, thus attesting to the multifariousness of the discourse tradition of self-annotation. Furthermore, the analysis of their two very dissimilar approaches to self-annotation will allow me to develop broader analytic categories (e.g. the degree to which the notes subvert the main text) that can be employed for comparing annotatorial practices of different authors, genres, and periods.

The close readings of Pope’s and Byron’s notes will be guided by two interconnected theoretical frameworks: the conceptualisation of self-annotation as a discourse tradition which is still informed by xenographic annotations but strategically deviates from its conventions in a multitude of ways (see above), and a fine-grained approach to the phenomenon of ambiguity.

1.4 Self-Annotations and Ambiguity

Ambiguity relates to self-annotation in four ways: (1) as a characteristic of this discourse tradition as a whole, (2) as a starting point for self-annotations, (3) as a strategy in them, and (4) as an outcome of them. These four aspects are located on conceptually different levels. The first point has been discussed above and refers to the highly ambiguous enunciatory, temporal, (para)textual, and factual status of self-annotations, their sometimes-equivocal authorship, and their ambiguous relationship with the conventions of xenographic annotations. Here, ambiguity appears as an inherent property of a discourse tradition. An individual author does not produce this ambiguity but rather employs (and thus: perpetuates) an already-existing ambiguity. The second aspect points to the fact that annotations (be they authorial or xenographic) often react to ambiguities within the annotated text; they take them as a starting point for explanation, interpretation, disambiguation but also – in the case of self-annotation – further ambiguation. In this case, ambiguity is a feature of the annotated text; it is created by the author and can be located in a single word or passage but also in a work in its entirety. Thirdly, self-annotations often use textual strategies that involve ambiguity, e.g. irony, addressing different readerships, performing two contradictory functions at once, proposing mutually exclusive interpretations, etc. Here, ambiguity – or, rather, ambiguation – is a rhetorical and literary device employed for a specific aim. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, based on the three former aspects, self-annotations create yet further ambiguities. These ambiguities can be relevant on a local level (i.e. with respect to the annotated passage) but also on a global level by complicating how we interpret the whole annotated text and even an author’s entire œuvre and public image. Thus, ambiguity as an outcome of self-annotation touches on many different conceptual levels: it can raise questions about the meaning of a single word in a text; complicate our notion of a work’s genre, tone, and factuality; and even have far-reaching social implications (e.g. when an author uses a facetious note to cast doubt on his usually sombre or morally impeccable self-presentation).

These four aspects taken together can show how different ambiguities located on different conceptual levels may interact with one another. For instance, the very fact that a note is an authorial instead of a xenographic one raises the question of who exactly is speaking in it – is it the real-life author or a fictional annotator persona whose opinion might be ridiculed by the author? This note might then be used to address an ambiguity in the text and offer an elucidation. The enunciatory ambiguity of the note might be employed by the author to ambiguate the irony or seriousness of the note – is the elucidation to be taken as a serious explanation by the author or as a nonsensical proposal by a fictional persona that the author ironises? This ambiguity of the note, then, ambiguates the annotated text by giving rise to various interpretations of the annotated passage, which, in turn, may raise questions about the author’s philosophical and political outlook. (For concrete examples of such cases, see chapter 2.3.)

In order to be able to describe these interrelations between the status of a note, its starting point in the main text, the strategies it uses, and the outcomes it produces, a framework is needed that is detailed enough to precisely describe why a certain textual phenomenon has different meanings, and what these different meanings are. At the same time, this framework has to be flexible enough to be applicable to ambiguity phenomena on different conceptual levels and of different sizes (ranging from a morpheme to a whole discourse tradition) and to cases in which the multiple meanings of one part of the text have ramifications for a completely different part of the text, thereby ambiguating it as well. This framework is based on the approach to ambiguity developed by the Tübingen Research Training Group “Ambiguity: Production and Perception”.40

1.4.1 Ambiguity – Indeterminacy – Underspecification – Ambivalence

In this context, ambiguity is understood as the “co-existence of two or more meanings” which have to be clearly distinct from one another (“Conceptual Framework”; cf. also Winter-Froemel and Zirker 285). Whereas some approaches argue that the two or more possible meanings of an ambiguous utterance have to be incompatible (cf. Rimmon 16), the Tübingen project contends that the distinct meanings do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive (cf. Winter-Froemel 70–72; Bauer et al. 27). For instance, the example from Byron’s Don Juan discussed above both serves to strengthen his ties with contemporary readers and to make a satirical point about the high-society marriage market. These two meanings of the annotation (reader-interaction and satirical attack) coexist and are clearly distinct from each other, but they by no means preclude one another.

In order to be able to precisely describe ambiguous phenomena, it is necessary to clearly differentiate the concept from notions such as indeterminacy, underspecification, and ambivalence.41 A sentence is “indeterminate or unspecified, if it is definitely true or false, but could be made more specific” (Poesio 161n1). The utterance ‘I saw the pony grazing on the meadow’, for instance, is indeterminate with respect to the breed and colour of the pony, the size of the meadow, etc. What is important is that “these additional facts do not affect the truth value of the sentence” (Poesio 161n). By contrast, underspecified utterances “may have different truth values depending on the way the facts are ‘filled in’” (Poesio 161n). Satirists (including Pope and Byron) often play with underspecification, e.g. stating that ‘some foreign secretaries are real idiots’, where the expression ‘foreign secretaries’ is not ambiguous as to its meaning but underspecified with respect to its potential referent(s).42

While ambiguity, indeterminacy, and underspecification are properties of an utterance, ambivalence is a psychological state denoting the “simultaneous occurrence of incompatible emotions, cognitions or intentions in a person” (Bross and Ziegler 122).43 There is, however, a strong connection between ambiguity and ambivalence in that an ambiguous statement can be used to express ambivalence (cf. Bauer, “Ambiguity and Ambivalence” 144). For example, the ambiguity that is created when a facetious note is appended to a (seemingly) serious passage may be employed to hint at a certain ambivalence towards the issue that is being described in the annotated passage (see chapter

1.4.2 Different Research Questions – Different Concepts of Ambiguity

The definition of ambiguity as the co-existence of two or more clearly distinct but not mutually exclusive meanings steers a middle course between very broad notions of ambiguity (e.g. by William Empson, Roman Jakobson, and Christoph Bode) and very narrow ones (e.g. by Shlomith Rimmon). Empson’s classification of ambiguity phenomena is not concerned with the exact textual strategies that react to, employ, and result in ambiguity (which is my concern) but with the different relations in which the meanings of a textual element can stand to each other as well as with what ambiguity suggests about the author’s (and, to some extent, the reader’s) state of mind.44 By partly moving away from the notion of ambiguity as a textual phenomenon and locating it, at least to some extent, in the psyche of the author (“indecision”, “intention”), Empson diverts attention away from the concrete properties in an utterance that make this utterance ambiguous and opens the way for speculations that are not necessarily grounded in the text. Jakobson45 and Bode46 even go a step further in their approaches to ambiguity. For them, ambiguity is a property of literature in general. This concept of ambiguity – even though it raises intriguing questions about the nature of literariness – is unsuited for a close analysis of ambiguity as a trait of specific textual phenomena (cf. Mittelbach 14). In other words, if we perceive all literary texts as ambiguous in their entirety, we run the risk of overlooking those elements in a text that can be called ‘ambiguous’ in the narrower sense of the word, neither examining what exactly it is that makes them ambiguous (locally) nor what role their ambiguity plays for the meaning of the text as a whole (globally). For instance, if we argue that Pope’s Dunciads are ambiguous because they are works of literature, attention is diverted away from instances in which specific aspects of the texts can be (and have been) interpreted in different ways, e.g. the editorial persona ‘Scriblerus’, who has been both read as a helpful interpreter and an inept fool (see chapter 2.3.1).

At the other end of the spectrum, we find Shlomith Rimmon’s narrow concept of narrative ambiguity which exclusively deals with ambiguity as a property of a very limited number of utterances and literary works. She argues that ambiguity is a “‘conjunction’ of exclusive disjuncts”, explaining that exclusive disjuncts are the

‘finalized hypotheses’ (i.e., the hypotheses the reader has attained at the end of the reading process), and their conjunction is the most abstract equivalent of the coexistence of two mutually exclusive fabulas in one sjuzhet. (Rimmon-Kenan, “Ambiguity and Narrative Levels” 21)

An example from her study The Concept of Ambiguity is that in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw readers can either arrive at the finalised hypothesis ‘there are ghosts at Bligh’ or at the finalised hypothesis ‘there are no ghosts at Bligh’. These two interpretations are brought about by “two techniques, the balance of singly directed clues and the presence of doubly directed ones”, meaning that throughout the text we can find both clues that unambiguously suggest one of these interpretations as well as clues that are ambiguous and that can be read as pointing to either interpretation (Rimmon, The Concept of Ambiguity 83).47 The result is what Rimmon terms “narrative ambiguity”:

When the two hypotheses are mutually exclusive, and yet each is equally coherent, equally consistent, equally plenary and convincing, so that we cannot choose between them, we are confronted with narrative ambiguity. (Rimmon 10)

The importance of “mutual exclusiveness” for her concept of ambiguity is stressed numerous times throughout Rimmon’s book. For instance, she explains that

[a]mbiguity differs from double or multiple meaning in that its component alternatives cannot both be true, nor can they be subsumed in a larger unit which they conjoin to create or in which they are reconciled and integrated. Therefore ‘double meaning’ or ‘multiple meaning’ do not call for choice, while ‘ambiguity’ simultaneously calls for choice and makes it impossible. (Rimmon 14)

Rimmon’s narrow concept of ambiguity is problematic insofar as it is mainly concerned with global ambiguities – i.e. ambiguities that are relevant for, and never resolved throughout, the text as a whole (cf. Münkler 127; Ebert 16) – and with ambiguity as the prime aim of a text, not with ambiguity as a strategy to achieve other aims. True, she acknowledges that ‘doubly directed clues’ (i.e. local ambiguities that pertain to one word, sentence, or paragraph) have a central role in bringing about the global ambiguity of a text. Nevertheless, she argues that these smaller elements can never be “subsumed in a larger unit which they conjoin to create or in which they are reconciled and integrated” (Rimmon 14) and emphasises that there is no ambiguity if the different meanings “operate together, modify and enrich each other” (23). Thus, for Rimmon, local ambiguities can never contribute to the meaning of a text other than by rendering it ambiguous in its entirety. Even though this is not explicitly stated in her book, her approach implies that it is not really worthwhile to analyse local ambiguities as ambiguous elements in their own right but only with reference to the ambiguity of the text as a whole. For Rimmon, hence, a close-reading approach to ambiguity is primarily concerned with analysing how exactly global ambiguity is produced, not with how ambiguity (be it global or local) reinforces certain other themes or concerns in the work at hand (e.g. an author’s self-presentation as both moral satirist and as immoral but witty libeller). In her view, ambiguity is an aim, not a strategy to achieve other aims. Rimmon’s analysis usually runs along the lines of ‘in this text the following strategies are used to produce a global ambiguity with respect to the question …’, rather than ‘in this text the following ambiguities are used to draw attention to … or to contribute to the satire on …’. Rimmon’s approach to ambiguity is thus not designed to investigate how exactly texts employ ambiguities to generate meanings that go beyond mere either/or questions.

The approaches to ambiguity of Empson, Jakobson, and Bode on the one hand and Rimmon on the other are not suited for the objectives that I am pursuing in this study: Empson is concerned both with classifying the relationships between the different possible meanings of a textual element and with what the presence of different meanings in a text suggests about the author’s state of mind; Jakobson and Bode use a very broad concept of ambiguity in order to describe how literary texts differ from other texts and, in the case of Bode, how modern texts (i.e. after 1900) differ from earlier texts. And Rimmon, after all, is concerned with works that revolve around the very fact that they give rise to two or more mutually exclusive interpretations, i.e. with ambiguity as an objective rather than a strategy of literary texts.

1.4.3 Analysing Self-Annotation Through Ambiguity & Ambiguity Through Self-Annotation

For the purposes of the present study, it is important to describe how exactly ambiguity is created and for which purposes it is used. Both of these aspects are covered by the Tübingen model of ambiguity which covers a great number of parameters that are indispensable for an in-depth analysis of different ambiguity phenomena (for an overview, see Winter-Froemel and Zirker passim; and S. Winkler, “Exploring Ambiguity” passim).

On the most basic level, one can distinguish between ambiguities in the language system and ambiguities in concrete utterances (cf. Winter-Froemel and Zirker 286). The first “represent a characteristic of the abstract linguistic items […] which may – or may not – materialize in human communication” (286). In actual communication, these ambiguities are usually not even noticed because they are disambiguated by context (cf. 286). For instance, the word ‘bat’ is ambiguous in the language system and can either refer to an animal or to an implement used in baseball. However, if a baseball coach were to say ‘we have a game tomorrow, so don’t forget your bat again’, the potential ambiguity of ‘bat’ would, most likely, not be noticed because the context disambiguates the word. Nevertheless, one of the players might joke: ‘I didn’t forget it; it flew to Transylvania’. In this case, the ambiguity in the language system would be actualised in discourse. Yet, ambiguity in concrete utterances does not always rely on ambiguities in the language system. For example, the sentence ‘while you were sleeping, I cleaned the whole flat’ is not ambiguous in the language system. Nevertheless, it is ambiguous because it can be interpreted either as mere statement or as a reproach (cf. 287–88). In a similar vein, self-annotations can, among other things, (1) react to an element in the main text that is ambiguous in the language system but not in this concrete utterance and draw attention to/actualise its ambiguity, (2) address an element in the main text that might be read as ambiguous (either in the language system or in this concrete utterance) and in some way react to its ambiguity (e.g. by disambiguating it), and (3) give rise to ambiguities that do not exist in the language system at all but depend on context.

In the ‘bat’ example above, the coach (who unintentionally utters something ambiguous) and the player (who deliberately reacts to an ambiguous utterance) epitomise two further aspects: (1) the production and the perception side of ambiguity and (2) the difference between strategic and non-strategic uses of ambiguity (cf. S. Winkler, “Exploring Ambiguity” 3). Even though in this concrete situation the coach was not aware of the fact that he uttered something ambiguous, he can be seen as the producer of ambiguity in this example. This means that the moment of the production of ambiguity always refers to “its first appearance in the given context […], no matter whether its first appearance reveals the ambiguous nature of the item” (Hartmann et al. 12). The coach produced the ambiguity, but he did so unwittingly; thus, his utterance can be seen as an example of non-strategic production of ambiguity. Strategy here refers to the question whether the ambiguity of an utterance “serves the function of a means to reach a particular goal in communication” (Hartmann et al. 12). Especially in literary studies, it is often a matter of debate whether the ambiguity of a given textual element was strategically produced by the author (and hence, intended to be understood as ambiguous by readers), or whether the text’s audience is reading more into the work than there actually is. This problem is sometimes satirised in self-annotations, which, among other things, can suggest deliberately outlandish interpretations (thus finding additional meanings in a passage that, at first sight, looked quite inambiguous) or, in turn, claim that an annotated section only has one completely unequivocal meaning (thus feigning ignorance of this section’s actual strategic ambiguity).

The question of interpretation shows that the percipient (i.e. hearer, reader, beholder48 etc.) of an ambiguous utterance also has to be taken into account when analysing ambiguity. There are many different ways in which percipients may interact with ambiguity:

Like the producer of ambiguity, the percipient may thus strategically or non-strategically react to the producer’s (likewise strategically or non-strategically) ambiguous utterance. Non-strategic perception refers to all cases in which percipients are not aware of strategically produced ambiguities (case 1.1) and to cases in which they remain unaware of a non-strategically produced ambiguities (cases 2.1 and 2.3). In all other cases, i.e. when percipients either in some way recognise, and react to, a strategically produced ambiguity or deliberately misconstrue a non-strategically produced ambiguity, they are engaging in strategic perception. Example 2.5 is a special case because here the strategic perception of ambiguity still accidentally leads to a (non-strategic) misunderstanding.

The perception-side is especially intriguing with regard to self-annotations because these contain different kinds of perceptions of ambiguity. Examples include (1) authors’ strategic self-perceptions of the ambiguities they strategically produced in the annotated text, (2) perceptions (both strategic and non-strategic) by fictional annotator personas (e.g. finding absurd additional meanings in the annotated text that are quite obviously precluded by the context), (3) notes quoting actual critics as percipients (who may have found ambiguities that were not strategically produced or missed some that were), and (4) notes that anticipate and try to guide perceptions by real-life critics (e.g. by clarifying the meaning of a certain passage to prevent misunderstandings). In all cases except the third, the author takes on the double role as the producer and the percipient of ambiguity.

An especially fascinating point about self-annotations is that, in their enactment of the perception of ambiguity, they often employ a great deal of irony. For instance, they may claim that a certain passage was by no means intended to be ambiguous and that it should only be read in some way, while the great majority of readers recognise that this passage is actually highly (and strategically) ambiguous. Pope’s ‘innocent’ annotation on “Still Dunce the second reigns like Dunce the first” quoted above is an example of such a note – unconvincingly disambiguating a passage that may both plausibly be read as an intertextual reference and a dangerous political remark.

Such cases highlight the need for an analytic parameter that is not yet included in the Tübingen model of ambiguity: the difference between overt and covert strategic productions and perceptions of ambiguity. ‘Overt’ here means that the producers and percipients of an ambiguous utterance are explicit about their strategic (i.e. conscious and intentional) use of, or reaction to, ambiguity. ‘Covert’ means that they are not. An example of a covert use of ambiguity is (1.2) named above. The producer says, ‘Wow, you’re being really diligent today’, thus strategically producing an ironic utterance49 that is ambiguous with respect to the question whether it is a genuine compliment or a hidden reproach. The percipient is aware of this ambiguity but only answers ‘Yes’, disguising this awareness. The producer may then respond, ‘Don’t get me wrong, this was not meant as a criticism. I really appreciate your help’, again disguising the fact that the initial utterance was indeed meant as a reproach. Both producer and percipient here try to hide their strategic use of ambiguity, and – just like Pope in the example above – maintain the ambiguity by pretending to disambiguate. In many of such cases (both in every-day communication and literature) it is difficult and sometimes even impossible to conclusively decide whether an ambiguous utterance was (1) strategically but covertly produced/perceived, or (2) indeed non-strategically produced/perceived. This problem can be termed the ‘ambiguity of ambiguity’– the ambiguity of whether or not something was intended to be ambiguous by a speaker.

Especially in literary texts, questions of perceived/non-perceived, strategic/non-strategic, and overt/covert productions and perceptions of ambiguity have to be answered both with respect to the external level of communication (between author and readers) and the internal level(s) of communication (between narrators and narratees or characters among each other) (cf. Winter-Froemel and Zirker 303–04; 322–23). For instance, authors may strategically produce an ambiguous utterance, while the characters in the work remain unaware of the fact that they utter (or, rather, are made to utter) something ambiguous.

The examples that I have used in this section have been concerned with ambiguities on the word- or sentence-level only. However, the textual elements that can be ambiguous range from a mere morpheme to a whole complex of “thematically, structurally and/or functionally linked texts” (e.g. a whole discourse tradition) (Hartmann et al. 14–15). Likewise, as briefly alluded to in the discussion of Rimmon’s approach to ambiguity, an ambiguity can be local or global; this concerns the question up to which level the ambiguity is relevant (cf. Hartmann et al. 13; Ebert 16). For instance, a single self-annotation, appended at the very end of a literary text and saying ‘but this was all hackneyed nonsense’ has bearings on the interpretation of the text as a whole, ambiguating it with respect to the question whether readers should still interpret it as a serious literary endeavour or rather as mere nonsense or a parody. This question about the range of an ambiguity is often, but not always, intertwined with the question whether the ambiguity is resolved at some point (e.g. through context or through metalinguistic strategies by which the ambiguity is explicitly addressed) or whether it is maintained throughout the text (cf. Winter-Froemel and Zirker 315).

The summary of the Tübingen model of ambiguity has shown why this fine-grained approach is helpful for analysing self-annotations and, in turn, why the field of self-annotations is particularly intriguing when one sets out to study how ambiguity is used in literary texts. Self-annotated works contain both the strategic production and the strategic perception of ambiguity; they show how authors pretend to explain the meanings of their works, how authors react to critics’ interpretations of their works, and how authors try to (mis)guide future readings of their works. Self-annotations are the confined spaces where many different ambiguities interact and even the briefest annotation is able to ambiguate a whole work, discourse, or genre. Pope’s and Byron’s self-annotations use and create ambiguity in numerous highly inventive ways. However, both the strategies in, and the function of, their ambiguous as well as ambiguating notes are still understudied.

1.5 Ambiguous Self-Annotation: The Cases of Pope and Byron

1.5.1 Why Pope and Byron?

Pope and Byron lend themselves extremely well to a study of ambiguity in and through authorial annotation – for analytical as well as for literary historical reasons. For one, only very of few of their contemporaries use such a variety of different ambiguating strategies in their notes (as will be shown in chapters 2.1.1 and 3.1.1). Likewise, the extent to which Pope and Byron employ their annotations to ambiguate entire works as well as their own public image is unparalleled among authors of their respective periods. Thus, the focus on these two authors allows for an analysis of how different kinds of ambiguities are made to interact with one another as well as of how local ambiguities are strategically employed to create global ones.

Furthermore, Byron’s and Pope’s uses of self-annotation are especially intriguing in that they are so variegated and completely unpredictable. When referring to any one of their notes, readers can never be sure how this note will relate to the discourse conventions of xenographic annotation. They have to anticipate everything – from a note that provides them with reliable, factual information, to one that sets out to provide this kind of information while actually performing very different functions, and even to a note that explicitly subverts the conventions of editorial annotation. By contrast, for example, the notes in Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh provide readers with factual, explanatory information throughout (thereby always closely following xenographic conventions), while readers of Thémiseul de Saint-Hyacinthe’s Chef d’œuvre d’un inconnu are aware that the notes contain deliberately nonsensical explanations (thereby consistently violating the rules of xenographic annotation). In these two works, readers have a rather clear understanding of what awaits them in every single note, whereas the only thing that readers of Byron’s and Pope’s notes may expect is the unexpected. Their annotations, hence, are prime examples of the playfulness, creativity, and variety of the discourse tradition of authorial annotation.

Lastly, Pope and Byron occupy a central position in the roughly one hundred years in which poetical self-annotation was in its heyday. As will be shown in chapter two, it was Pope who made self-annotations an almost indispensable feature of satirical poetry for the century following the publication of his Dunciads. Authorial notes existed long before Pope, but it was him that later satirical self-annotators would credit as the populariser of the genre (see chapter 2.1.3). As for Byron, he was, of course, among the best-selling writers of his day: while Wordsworth’s self-annotations were read by a few hundred contemporaries in Britain and still fewer elsewhere, Byron’s reached tens of thousands throughout the world (and those in his Don Juan even millions; cf. St. Clair, The Reading Nation 333). His notes were eagerly discussed by crown princess Charlotte (p. 325 below) and Austrian reviewers (p. 238 below), by Venetian salonnières (p. 340n below) and German translators (p. 239n below). In his capacity as one of the most successful poets of the day and as an avid self-annotator, Byron had an immense influence on how contemporaries encountered the discourse tradition of authorial notes. Thus, Pope and Byron prominently frame the time span between the publication of the Dunciad Variorum in 1729 and the end of the Romantic age – a period during which the practice of adding notes to one’s own literary texts was more prevalent than at any other point in time before and after (see chapters 2.1.3 and 3.1).

Thus, the focus on Pope and Byron allows for (1) an extremely broad overview of the different kinds of ambiguities that are used in, and created through, self-annotations; (2) an exceptionally detailed outline of the possible functions of self-annotation; as well as (3), due to the popularity of Pope’s and Byron’s works, an insight into the practices of authorial annotation that were best-known to their contemporaries.

1.5.2 Previous Studies of Pope’s and Byron’s Self-Annotations

As has been hinted at above and as will be shown in more detail in chapter two, the copiousness, complexity, and creativity of Pope’s authorial notes in the Dunciads was unprecedented even though the tradition of literary self-annotation dates back to the 1300s. But despite its ground-breaking nature and its enormous impact on later self-annotated satires, James R. Sutherland’s 1943 remark that the Dunciads’ “whole prose apparatus deserves more careful study than it usually gets” still holds true (Sutherland, “Introduction” xl). Even though Pope’s annotations are generally briefly mentioned whenever the Dunciads are discussed, one can find only a handful of longer studies on them.50 In his Pope’s Dunciad: A Study of its Meaning, Aubrey Williams mainly focuses on the notes’ depiction of the dunces, the ways in which the notes (mis)use quotes from Pope’s enemies, and the question to what extent they can be seen as factual references to the reality outside the poem. James McLaverty’s “The Mode of Existence of Literary Works of Art” is concerned with how the Dunciads parody Dutch variorum editions and the scholarly editions prepared by Lewis Theobald and Richard Bentley, as well as with how they strive to emulate Claude Brossette’s 1716 Boileau edition. The fourth chapter of McLaverty’s Pope, Print, and Meaning builds on these analyses, furthermore discussing the Dunciads annotations in the context of Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia, examining the role of the fictional annotator Scriblerus in the notes, and investigating Pope’s use of Giles Jacob’s Lives of the English Poets as a source for his annotations. Valerie Rumbold’s “Interpretation, Agency, Entropy” is concerned with the evolution of the Dunciads annotations from the sparsely annotated 1728 edition up to the 1743 four-book Dunciad.51 Claude Rawson’s article “Heroic Notes” discusses the annotations in the Dunciads in the context of the mock-epic tradition, and William Kinsley’s “The Dunciad as Mock-Book” argues that “the Dunciad as book has useful real notes, and as mock-book it has ludicrously inept and overgrown mock-notes” (Kinsley 38). Most recently, Anthony Ossa-Richardson argues that some critics underestimate Pope’s strategic use of ambiguity and claim that he mainly employed it for puns and easily resolvable equivocalities rather than to complicate the meaning of his works as a whole (cf. Ossa-Richardson 263). To counter this argument, Ossa-Richardson discusses two of Pope’s punning annotations in detail (Dunciad 1.203 and 4.202n; cf. Ossa-Richardson 264–66) but mainly focuses on how the dunces reacted to, and exploited, some of Pope’s ambiguities not only in the Dunciads but also in his other works (cf. 267–76). Ossa-Richardson also discusses some of the notes that William Warburton contributed to the posthumous 1751 edition of Pope’s Works (cf. 277–82). Hence, as of yet, Pope scholarship has mainly dealt with four aspects relating to ambiguity in the annotations on the Dunciads: (1) how some of the dunces reacted to the various ambiguities in Pope’s notes, (2) the question whether the annotations are factual explanations or fictional continuations of the poem, (3) the question how the notes ambiguously imitate, transform, and subvert the notes in some of the scholarly xenographic works that Pope drew on, and (4) the question whether the notes ‘contributed’ by Scriblerus are to be seen as accurate, helpful explanations that more or less express Pope’s own views or as outlandish misinterpretations that are being ridiculed by Pope.

On Pope’s annotations for his other poems, there is still less material to be found, the only major exception being McLaverty’s overview of the notes that were included in the 1735/1736 Works (Pope, Print, and Meaning, ch. 8). There are also a few essays on the notes in Windsor Forest and Sober Advice from Horace.52 Despite the scarcity of literature on Pope’s self-annotations, their importance – especially for the Dunciads – has been stressed time and again (cf. Emrys Jones, “Pope and Dulness” 231–33; Rawson, “Heroic Notes” 100–01; Weinbrot, Menippean Satire Reconsidered 252; Weber 8–9; Griffin 219–23; Sutherland, “‘The Dull Duty of an Editor’” 204; McLaverty, “The Mode of Existence of Literary Works of Art” 96; Rumbold, “Interpretation, Agency, Entropy”, “Interpretation, Agency, Entropy” 186; 194; Rumbold, “Editor’s Headnote” in 1729 Dunciad 114; Deneau 210; Atkins, Quests of Difference 159).

The main reason why the annotations in Pope’s Dunciads (as well as his other poems) have been rather neglected for so long is probably the often-repeated argument that Pope was completely opposed to annotation and only used his notes to mock, parody, and vituperate this discourse tradition. For instance, in his The Devil’s Details: A History of Footnotes, Chuck Zerby claims that the Dunciads show “the fierce antagonism with which [Pope] sought to confront annotators and stamp out annotation” (Zerby 57). In a similar vein, Peter Cosgrove asserts that the

intention of Pope’s notes is to supplement the thrust of the verse satire on Grub Street authors and poor pedants, and to incorporate the satire against scholarship in a parody of the structure of the footnote itself. That is, the footnotes to Pope’s poem are written and appended by Pope not in order to clarify or authenticate, but in order to satirize the footnote as apparatus. (Cosgrove 134–35)

Seth Rudy and F. R. Leavis even go a step further and argue that readers should disregard Pope’s self-annotations in the Dunciads altogether. Rudy claims that most of them “add nothing useful to the forming of a correct understanding of the poem proper” and that “[t]he whole truth – the complete truth – resides in the poem” (Rudy, Literature and Encyclopedism in Enlightenment Britain 66; 68). And Leavis contends that “to read [the Dunciad apparatus] all through will be worth no one’s while[.] […] [N]otes are not necessary: the poetry doesn’t depend upon them in any essential respect” (Leavis 88). Both the argument that the notes in the Dunciads exclusively serve to satirise the discourse tradition of annotation as a whole and the argument that they are not worth any attention at all will be refuted in the course of this study. Thus, I agree with Sutherland who argues that the notes in the Dunciads are “all very much part of Pope’s joke, and to ignore the critical apparatus is to miss a good part of his satirical intention” (Sutherland, “‘The Dull Duty of an Editor’” 204), as well as with Daniel Deneau who quotes two annotations signed by the fictional editor Scriblerus as proof that “the notes of the Dunciad are essential for a proper understanding of the poem” (Deneau 210).53

In comparison to Pope’s annotations, Byron’s have received considerable scholarly attention. However, with a few exceptions, this attention has often focused on the same works and rather similar research questions. Charles Robinson’s “Byron’s Footnotes” offers an extensive overview of the layout of Byron’s notes throughout his career, while Alice Levine’s “Byronic Annotations” presents a broad summary of their functions. Yet, Levine does not provide close readings, which in many cases obscures the complexity of the annotations she discusses. Ourania Chatsiou’s two contributions to the study of Byron’s notes are both concerned with deconstruction, digression, and Romantic irony. Her essay “Lord Byron: Paratext and Poetics” focusses on The Giaour, while her unpublished PhD thesis Paratext and Poetics in British Romantic-Period Literature also discusses examples from English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (EBSR), The Waltz, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (CHP), and The Bride of Abydos. By drawing on manuscript evidence, Chatsiou furthermore provides insights into when exactly Byron added the notes during the composition process. Alex Watson, Julia Coole, Timothy Webb, Ruth Knezevich, and Naqaa Abbas offer a postcolonial perspective on the notes in CHP and, in the case of Abbas, also on the annotations in The Giaour. Furthermore, Watson discusses the importance of John Cam Hobhouse’s allographic notes for Byron’s CHP. Stephen Cheeke’s Byron and Place, though not explicitly dedicated to a study of Byron’s annotations, often refers to the ways in which Byron uses his notes to authenticate and support the main text. Lastly, both Barbara Ravelhofer and Christoph Bode examine the interplay of the different voices that can be found in both the poem and the notes of The Giaour. This brief overview shows that, even though there are numerous studies of Byron’s annotations, they focus on one function exclusively (Cheeke), do not offer a sufficiently detailed analysis of his remarkably intricate notes (Levine), or, if they do, primarily concentrate on The Giaour and/or CHP. Furthermore, in studies that indeed provide close readings of Byron’s notes, there is usually either no focus on their ambiguity at all or the focus is mainly restricted to the tonal clash between the poem and the notes in The Giaour and what this means for the interpretation of this work as a whole.

1.5.3 Focus of the Present Study

Given the scarcity of studies on Pope’s annotations in general (and even much less on their creation and use of ambiguity) and the fact that most works on Byron’s notes are concerned with the same poems and ambiguities, the present study has five aims. Firstly, it strives to embed Pope’s and Byron’s authorial notes in a larger literary and cultural context. Hence, chapter 2.1 highlights different models for Pope’s self-annotation in the Dunciads and shows how he introduces a great number of innovations to the discourse tradition. This chapter will also provide proof of the enormous impact that the Dunciads notes had on later (satiric) practices of self-annotation. Analogically, chapter 3.1 focuses on authorial notes in the Romantic age, puts emphasis on the ubiquity of poetic self-annotation around 1800, and demonstrates that such notes were indeed widely read and discussed by contemporaries. The chapter will also lay the groundworks for showing that Byron’s notes creatively transform and flout the discourse conventions of xenographic annotation to a much greater degree than the notes of most of his contemporaries. Chapters 2.1 and 3.1 hence add to our understanding of the practices of, and contemporary responses to, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literary self-annotation in general.

The second aim is to closely analyse a great number of examples from Pope’s and Byron’s self-annotations in order to arrive at a systematic overview and categorisation of the textual strategies used in their notes as well as of the (literary, satirical, social, etc.) purposes for which Pope and Byron employ these notes. In other words, how do Pope and Byron make use of their self-annotations to support, complement, enrich, challenge, alter, and undermine the meaning(s) of isolated passages in their poems, of entire works, and even of their œuvre and their public image as a whole? Pope’s and Byron’s strategic use of ambiguity in these notes as well as their manner of creating ever new ambiguities through self-annotation will lie at the centre of these close readings.

Based on these close readings, a third aim can be achieved, namely to use Pope’s and Byron’s self-annotations in order to see certain aspects of their works in a new light. For instance, an analysis of the authorial notes in Byron’s “Lachin Y Gair” (1807) shows that his penchant for self-subversion and self-contradiction can be found even in his earliest works, not just in the notes on The Giaour (1813) and in the main text of Don Juan (1819–1824) (see chapter 3.4.1).54 And in Pope’s case, the analysis of a cluster of annotations will address some of the central research questions regarding the Dunciads, i.e. whether Dulness indeed triumphs in the end, whether the dunces are really presented as a threat to culture and society at large or rather just as fools who are too incompetent to do any harm, and, based on this, whether the Dunciads are ultimately optimistic or pessimistic works (see chapter 2.3.4).

The fourth aim is to further the study of self-annotations in general – be it by conceptualising how they differ from xenographic annotations, by discussing matters of their layout history (e.g. their gradual move from the margins to the bottom of the page and later to the end of the volume), or by emphasising that they are indeed an integral part of the works that they are appended to and, hence, have to be taken into account when analysing these works. The tripartite categorisation that I employ in my systematic approach to Pope’s and Byron’s annotations – first dividing them according to the function(s) of xenographic notes that they mimic, then further breaking them down depending on the textual strategies used in them, and lastly subdividing them according to the actual function(s) that they serve – can be adopted for self-annotations of all kinds, regardless of their period, author, or genre. Furthermore, my ‘External Appendix’ provides the groundworks for a study of the history of self-annotation by providing the titles and selected further metadata of more than 1100 self-annotated literary works published between 1300 and 1900 (; for a brief introduction, see p. 391 in the present volume).

Lastly, but not less importantly, the study seeks to contribute to the study of literary ambiguity, especially with regard to satirical works and to cases in which multiple ambiguities reinforce each other.

The examples analysed here will be drawn from a wide selection of Byron’s published works and his Hints from Horace55 as well as from Pope’s Dunciads. The focus on the Dunciads is warranted by the fact that, of all of Pope’s works, they offer the widest range of self-annotatorial strategies and functions, and the most diverse and far-reaching of uses and creations of ambiguity. However, particularly noteworthy examples from his other works will also be briefly addressed.

There are three aspects regarding Pope’s and Byron’s self-annotations that this study will not cover: a detailed insight into the economic motives behind adding annotations, a comprehensive discussion of the question of censorship with regard to self-annotations, and a step-by-step comparison between individual notes by Pope and Byron. Regarding the first, it should nevertheless be kept in mind that authors also sometimes had monetary reasons for annotating their works (cf. Edson, “Introduction” xvii). As William St. Clair notes, “after 1774, if a text were revised sufficiently, it could qualify as a new intellectual property”; adding a substantial number of notes to an older work could thus enable the author to claim a new copyright (St. Clair, The Reading Nation 182; cf. Edson, “Introduction” xvii). This has been named as one of the reasons why Walter Scott decided to add copious notes when preparing the Magnum Opus edition of his Waverly novels towards the end of his career. By extending the copyright, he “secure[d] a future income for his surviving family” (Hughes 53). Likewise, it appears that publishers could use the fact that a work was heavily annotated as a reason for selling it at a more expensive price. When Byron was preparing the first two cantos of CHP for publication, his publisher John Murray and his friend and adviser Robert Charles Dallas urged him to write more notes, possibly to justify why a bound copy of the work of a yet comparatively unknown author cost a forbiddingly high 50 shillings – half the weekly income of a gentleman (cf. BLJ 2: 107, 110; St. Clair, “The Impact of Byron’s Writings” 4).56

As regards the issue of censorship, notes could either fall victim to it, or could, on the contrary, even be a means of avoiding an indictment for libel. The first case can be observed in Byron, who was sometimes urged by Dallas, Murray, and others to change or omit certain notes, often on religious or political grounds (cf. Dallas, Recollections 34, 39–40, 179–81; Murray 177–78, 187, 202).57 In at least one instance Murray also took the liberty to omit a note without Byron’s permission – an incident that resulted in two furious letters from Byron to his publisher and contributed to the deterioration of their business relationship (cf. BLJ: 8: 192; 194). In Pope’s case, however, a few of the Dunciads notes may be seen as a creative way of preventing the possible legal repercussions of some of the most dangerous satiric passages (for a brief discussion, see chapter 2.1.2).

The last point, the decision not to offer a detailed comparison between Pope’s and Byron’s strategies and uses of self-annotation may appear surprising at first sight. Given Byron’s boundless admiration for Pope58 and the fact that his early satire English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (EBSR) constantly evokes Pope’s heavily annotated Dunciads as its model,59 one might expect that the notes in EBSR and perhaps even in Byron’s œuvre as a whole bear a great similarity to those in the Dunciads. Alice Levine, for example, argues that “[i]f Gibbon was Byron’s model for the scholarly note, Swift, Gifford and, especially, Pope provided models of the mock-scholarly note” (A. Levine 128), while Frederick Beaty contends that, for instance, Byron’s satire The Waltz is placed “within the Popean tradition of mocking couplets and caustic footnotes” (Beaty 67). If this were true, the present study could set out to provide an in-depth analysis of how Byron’s practices of self-annotation are influenced by, and perhaps also transform, those of his great idol.

However, this is not the case. Even Byron’s satirical annotations in EBSR and his other works bear hardly any similarity to Pope’s (as shown in the “Interlude” on p. 217ff.). His non-satirical notes are even farther away from Pope’s practices of authorial annotation. In fact, Pope’s and Byron’s strategies and functions of self-annotations are too different to provide much common ground on which individual notes can be compared. For instance, Pope’s continued revision of his annotations and his incorporations of real readers’ reactions to earlier versions of the poem and notes has almost no parallel in Byron. In turn, the aspect of autobiography – so important for Byron’s annotations – barely appears at all in Pope’s Dunciads. The only way in which their annotations can be compared is by focusing on rather broad categories, which will be developed through the close reading of individual notes (one such category would be the degree of self-subversion, another the question what sources, i.e. written texts or the author’s own life experience, are being used in the notes). These broad categories help to juxtapose vastly different practices of self-annotations and even authorial notes from different periods and genres. Based on these criteria, a more general comparison (rather than an in-depth comparison of individual notes) between Pope and Byron’s strategies and functions of self-annotations will be presented in the conclusion of this study (see chapter 4.1).

Furthermore, even if providing a detailed step-by-step comparison between single notes by Pope and Byron were feasible and fruitful (which it is not), this would misleadingly suggest that Pope’s strategies in, and uses of, self- annotation were the greatest single influence on Byron’s notes. Such an approach would obscure the fact that Byron’s annotations are informed by a great variety of models. To name only a few, these include Sterne’s ludic annotations in Tristram Shandy, Rousseau’s self-subversive ones in the Nouvelle Héloïse, Henley’s factual (and allographic) ones in Beckford’s Vathek, Scott’s antiquarian ones in nearly all of his poems, as well as Rogers’s and Moore’s faux-editorial ones in, for example, The Voyage of Columbus and Intercepted Letters, Or, The Twopenny Post-Bag. (Byron’s models will be discussed in more detail throughout chapter 3.)

Lastly, it is exactly because the notes of Byron and Pope fundamentally differ from each other that a combined study of these two writers enables me to arrive at a more comprehensive (though by no means complete) overview and categorisation of the possible strategies and functions of literary self-annotation. Thus, Pope and Byron have just as much been chosen for their similarities (the unpredictability of their notes, their creative use of the conventions of xenographic annotation, their preoccupation with satire) as for their differences.

All things taken together, this study will add to the revaluation that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century self-annotations (and paratexts in general) have received in the past few years. Through the combination of close reading and historical contextualisation, it will become clear that self-annotations were designed to be read, that they were indeed read by contemporaries, that they were strategically employed to perform a vast number of intratextual and socio-pragmatic functions, and that, as a consequence, to ignore them in literary analysis is equivalent to reading only half of the chapters of a work.


For a diachronic overview of xenographic annotations on classical literature, see Kraus and Stray (eds.), Classical Commentaries as well as Gibson and Kraus (eds.), The Classical Commentary. For xenographic annotations in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, see Montanari et al. (eds.), Brill’s Companion to Ancient Greek Scholarship; Sluiter, “The Dialectics of Genre”; Sluiter, “The Violent Scholiast”; L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars; Most (ed.), Commentaries – Kommentare; Goulet-Caze (ed.), Le commentaire; Geerlings and Schulze, Der Kommentar in Antike und Mittelalter; and J. Assmann and Gladigow (eds.), Text und Kommentar. For medieval commentaries, see Minnis and A. B. Scott (eds.), Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism; and Sandkühler, Die frühen Dantekommentare und ihr Verhältnis zur mittelalterlichen Kommentartradition.

For xenographic annotations and textual criticism in the Renaissance and Early Modern Age, see Besomi and Caruso (eds.), Il commento ai testi; Buck and Herding (eds.), Der Kommentar in der Renaissance; Enenkel and Nellen (eds.), Neo-Latin Commentaries; Enenkel (ed.), Transformations of the Classics via Early Modern Commentaries; D. Parker, Commentary and Ideology; Häfner and Völkel (eds.), Der Kommentar in der Frühen Neuzeit; Mathieu-Castellani and Plaisance (eds.), Les commentaires et la naissance de la critique littéraire; Pade (ed.), On Renaissance Commentaries; Regn (ed.), Questo leggiadrissimo Poeta!; Gaisser, Catullus and his Renaissance Readers; Grafton, Joseph Scaliger, Vol. 1; Slights, Managing Readers; Stadeler, Horazrezeption in der Renaissance; Stillers, Humanistische Deutung; and White, Jodocus Badius Ascensius: Commentary, Commerce and Print in the Renaissance.

For annotations, both explanatory and emendatory, in the eighteenth century, see Walsh, Shakespeare, Milton, and Eighteenth-Century Literary Editing; Haugen, Richard Bentley: Poetry and Enlightenment; Edson, “Annotator as Ordinary Reader”; Edson, “Romantic Juvenal”; and Edson (ed.), Annotation in Eighteenth-Century Poetry (the latter focussing on both xenographic and authorial notes).


Textual emendation as one form of annotation dates back to the fifth century BC (cf. Novokhatko 38). For theories and practices of textual criticism in the Renaissance and the Augustan Age, see the beginning of chapter below as well as pp. 148–150.


Enenkel, for example, explains: “Different from scholarly commentaries from the 19th century until today, early modern commentaries were not primarily or exclusively focused on explaining […] the supposedly authentic meaning of works of the past in a historical sense. […] In their commentaries they tried to mediate the classical text in a way that would guarantee a maximum profit with respect to general knowledge […], moral education, knowledge of facts in various fields and disciplines, identity formation […], school and university education, mastery of the Latin language […], and so on” (Enenkel, “Introduction” 4). Similarly, Francesco Venturi notes that “early modern running commentaries tend to incorporate matter unrelated to the source text: they are constantly stopping to make space for heavy-handed digressions or personal observations, and often expand to the extent that they become encyclopedic repositories of knowledge across disparate fields” (Venturi, “Introduction” 6). Also see Enenkel and Nellen, “Introduction” 17–31; Grafton, “Renaissance Readers and Ancient Texts” 618–19; Moss 234–47; D. Parker 45–49; East 130–34; Sandy 56; Leonhardt 209; and Jeanneret 36.


To name only one example, Renaissance scholar Cristoforo Landino’s commentary on the Aeneid heavily relies on an allegorical-philosophical interpretative approach (cf. Kallendorf 201–06).


In his typology of ancient commentaries, Markus Dubischar mentions, for example, agonistic commentaries, in which the annotators “openly challenge the primary text’s validity (often also that of other commentaries that may have been written in the meantime) and the primary writer’s authority” (Dubischar 560). He also discusses zetemata, which “isolate[] and target[] passages that are particularly troublesome, this approach lends itself well to apologetic purposes, when certain features of the primary text must be not merely explained but in fact justified against substantial criticism” (Dubischar 564). For another kind of evaluative xenographic annotation – that of using the commentary for an aesthetic appreciation of the main text –, see Pope’s rationale for annotating his Iliad translation, which will be briefly discussed on p. 57ff. below.

For the important role that xenographic notes played in granting auctoritas and canonical status to a text (and, sometimes, also in calling this status into question) see Enenkel and Nellen, “Introduction” 15–17.


That the notion of relevance in xenographic annotation is not a new one is, for example, shown in Caspar von Barth’s 1664 edition of Statius, in which the annotator often feels the need to defend his digressive notes and which was criticised for being full of irrelevant information by other contemporary editors (cf. Berlincourt passim).


For instance, “early modern variorum editions and ancient scholia either string together citations with the intention of multiplying meaning (or multiplying authority?), or list alternative readings without necessarily privileging one over the other” (Gibson, “Cf., e.g.” 342–43).


The criterion of comprehensibility is, for instance, evoked by twelfth-century scholar Ioannes Tzetzes who, in his Hesiod commentary, reproaches one of his annotatorial predecessors for his obscurity (cf. Pontani 380).


For example, Michael Edson points out that many eighteenth-century editors of satires were less interested in identifying the persons that the author intended to satirise than to record how other readers identified them, often based on gossipy and unreliable newspaper articles (cf. Edson, “Annotator as Ordinary Reader” 44). Thus, notes that would have been seen as relevant three hundred years ago, are often seen as faulty, speculative, and superfluous today. Moreover, an annotation that would be relevant in an edition aimed at school students would often be perceived as superfluous in an edition aimed at scholarly experts. Hence, the correctness and relevance of a xenographic note are time- and audience-dependent.


The annotations of Beroaldo’s student Giambattista Pio likewise feature many personal anecdotes (cf. Passannante passim). The social function of early-modern xenographic annotations in general is also stressed by Enenkel and Nellen: “Another important feature of the commentary was its capacity to establish and confirm group cohesion. Commentaries on a canonical text were conducive to the formation and strengthening of the identity of a nation, religious denomination, scholarly community or any other distinct group in society. […] The commentary’s capacity for strengthening esprit de corps among its readers is closely connected to its use as a polemical tool” (Enenkel and Nellen, “Introduction” 35).


Of course, editors also sometimes inadvertently violate the rules of the discourse convention. For common problems and pitfalls to be found in xenographic annotations, see Bauer and Zirker, “Explanatory Annotation of Literary Texts and the Reader”; Bauer and Zirker, “Understanding (Through) Annotations”; and Goulden, “Approaches to the Contextual Annotation of Nineteenth-Century Historical Fiction”. For example, Bauer and Zirker mention ‘stating the obvious’, ‘presupposing (expert) knowledge’, and ‘sending the reader on the wrong track’.


See, for instance, sixteenth-century scholar Franciscus Floridus Sabinus’s scathing comment on Beroaldo’s edition of Apuleius: “Enimvero cum in eo, quem delegeris, enarrando id tantum proferre debeas, quod auctoris sententiam commode explicet, hic non ea solum passim effundit, quibus nullus sit apud eruditorum aures locus, sed bellorum, quae ipso vivente gerebantur, eventus docet, villarum situs describit, & multorum obitus in suis commentationibus deplorat”, i.e. “Even though one should only provide so much information as is needed to explicate his meaning when commenting on an author, this one [Beroaldo] often provides such stuff as would not interest the educated and also tells us about the outcomes of wars that were fought in his lifetime, describes the locations of villas, and mourns many deceased people in his comments” (my translation based on Krautter’s German translation; cf. Krautter 49). Sabinus’s comment is reprinted in Janus Gruterus’s 1602 Lampas, sive fax atrium liberalium (Gruterus 1: 1121; cf. Krautter 49).


This is the case, for example, in Thomas Moore’s self-annotations on Lalla Rookh (see p. 229 below).


In his damning review of Byron’s Hours of Idleness (the review that provoked Byron into writing English Bards and Scotch Reviewers), Henry Brougham comments on the mistake as follows: “There is a good deal also about his maternal ancestors, in a poem on Lachin-y-gair, a mountain where he spent part of his youth, and might have learnt that pibroch is not a bagpipe, any more than duet means a fiddle” (Brougham 288, original emphasis).


Another way of reading the incorrect note is that Byron deliberately mistranslated the term to emphasise his growing estrangement from Scotland – an aspect that is introduced through yet another self-annotation in “Lachin Y Gair” (see chapter 3.4.1). This is unlikely, however, since Byron was extremely concerned about the factual correctness of his works (see p. 247 n) and – if the note were incorrect on purpose – would have included an indication of this to prevent readers from attributing the mistake to his ignorance. His bitter reaction to the review that pointed out this mistake likewise hints at the fact that the blunder was indeed committed involuntarily (see p. 258 n).


There is tangible proof that contemporary readers were fully aware that Pope’s and Byron’s self-annotations were indeed self-annotations rather than xenographic ones. For instance, in Pope Alexander’s Supremacy and Infallibility Examin’d, Pope’s enemies George Duckett, Thomas Burnet, and John Dennis argue that Pope had “(like Caesar) written his own Commentaries, and given himself various Readings upon himself”, for which he had sometimes “borrow’d, and very properly, the Name of Martinus Scriblerus” (Duckett et al. 1; 2, original emphasis). And in a review of Byron’s The Giaour, the Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany (Oct. 1813) complains: “We do not think there is anything positively bad in this volume, except the notes. These Lord Byron seems to have studied to write in a manner the most opposite possible to that in which he has composed the poem” (“Review of The Giaour” 772).

There are two main reasons why it was rather easy for readers to recognise self-annotations as self-annotations. Firstly, xenographic notes are usually appended to older, canonised works. When encountering a recent (or even brand-new) literary publication with annotations, one can be rather sure that these were written by the author (or at least the author’s associates) rather than by a professional editor. And, secondly, in the case of xenographic notes, the scholarly editor’s name is usually mentioned on the title page (a convention already observed in Pope’s and Byron’s ages). The Dunciads mention their ‘editor’ Martinus Scriblerus on the title page, but he was an obviously fictional character, and Richard Bentley (to whom several notes and other paratexts in the post-1742 Dunciads are attributed) was known to be an enemy of Pope. Thus, readers could easily grasp that it was not the real-life Bentley who was writing notes praising and defending Pope’s poem and whose annotations often made fun of the actual Bentley’s approach to textual criticism. Nevertheless, some self-annotated works also make a more serious effort to obscure the authorship of their notes, see p. 13.


For an occasion on which one of Byron’s annotations indeed almost caused bloodshed, see p. 236 below.


The passage either refers to the annulment of the marriage of Mary Anne Hanson and John Wallop, 3rd Earl of Portsmouth, in 1823, or to the wedding of Anne Keppel and Thomas Coke in 1822 (cf. editor’s n in Byron, CPW 5: 754).

In 1814, Mary Anne Hanson had married the recently widowed Earl of Portsmouth, who had been mentally unstable since at least 1800 (cf. D. L.-L. Moore, Lord Byron 460). Mary Anne was the daughter of Portsmouth’s lawyer John Hanson, who controlled Portsmouth’s property and more or less acted as his guardian (cf. 461). Byron (who was likewise Hanson’s client) gave away the bride, without, as he later explained, being aware of the earl’s insanity and the Hanson family’s rather questionable motives for, and means of, contriving the union (cf. 462; BLJ 10: 124–25). Throughout the marriage, Mary Anne, her sister Laura, and Mary Anne’s lover W. R. Alder verbally and physically abused Portsmouth (cf. D. L.-L. Moore 464; Hobhouse, Byron’s Bulldog 325). After the annulment of the marriage due to the earl’s insanity, a lengthy report was issued (A Genuine Report of the Proceedings on the Portsmouth Case, 1823) which scandalised the public with its lurid details of Mary Anne and her lover having sex in front of the earl, of the countess regularly whipping her husband, etc. For more information on the scandal, see D. L.-L. Moore, Lord Byron 459–71; Suzuki 12–18; BLJ 4: 235–37; 10: 124–25; and Hobhouse, Byron’s Bulldog 146–47; 175; 325–27.

The marriage of Anne Keppel and Thomas Coke (later created Earl of Leicester) was a lot more harmonious but nevertheless caused considerable outrage. Twenty-year-old Keppel was supposed to marry Coke’s nephew but, on his refusal, became engaged to Coke himself, who was a widower and fifty (!) years her senior. Unsurprisingly, this development “created the greatest excitement” among the public in 1822 (Stirling 2: 283). John Wishaw, for example, noted that the “absurd marriage” was the “general topic of conversation” (Wishaw 244). What added to the outrage was that, in the same year, Keppel’s father (the 4th Earl of Albemarle) had married Coke’s niece; thus, Keppel became her own father’s aunt (cf. Stirling 2: 282). After the birth of the Cokes’s first child in 1823, Byron wrote to Leigh Hunt that their “Union [had] promised fewer births than jokes” (BLJ 10: 88). Unlike Portsmouth, Coke does not seem to have been “hazy”, and he was much older than “turned of forty’s sure”. Thus, it is likely that the passage in Don Juan primarily satirises the Hanson-Portsmouth rather than the Keppel-Coke marriage.


For a detailed discussion of another seemingly ‘failed’ self-annotation in Don Juan, see chapter


Throughout this book, I will use the plural Dunciads for all the different versions of this satire that appeared from 1728 onwards. When referring to a specific edition, I will cite the year and, when necessary, the version number given in Rumbold’s “Editor’s Headnote” in Pope, 1728/29 Dunciad 6; 117. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are drawn from the 1743 four-book Dunciad, which will be cited without giving the year. For more information, see “A Note on the Texts”.


As Eve Bannet points out, this was a very common strategy in eighteenth-century satire: “The rhetorical figure of recusatio, denying to affirm, was widely used in prefaces and prologues to protect the writer from prosecution by denying that any specific person or situation was intended while alerting readers to the hidden presence of politically dangerous allusions or ideas” (Bannet 233).


For the possible legal reasons for including such ironical disavowals of dangerous readings in the annotations, see chapter 2.1.2.


Also compare Anthony Ossa-Richardson’s comment on the Dunciads: “The meaning of any given note, and the degree of its irony, is different if we think it by Pope himself, his collaborator Warburton, or a third party, such as a later editor – or one pretending to be the other” (Ossa-Richardson 265).


Frank Zipfel, for instance, notes that self-annotations can be read as signposts of both factuality and fictionality (cf. Zipfel 119). Furthermore, regarding the annotations in the Dunciads, it has often been argued that they raise the question whether they provide factual information on the dunces or, rather, join the poem in creating fictional images of Pope’s enemies which do not correspond to their real-life incarnations (cf. A. L. Williams 60–64; Dürrenmatt, “Ce que les notes disent de la fiction” § 3).


For example, Genette points out that self-annotations “call[] into question [their] paratextual character. The original note is a local detour or a momentary fork in the text, and as such it belongs to the text almost as much as a simple parenthesis does. With this kind of note we are in a very undefined fringe between text and paratext” (Genette 328; also cf. 342). Also see Atkins, Quests of Difference 157; Griffin 219–20; Webb 136; and Sedlmeier 70.


Many critics argue that in self-annotations we can hear the real-life author speaking to us directly (cf. A. Levine 130–31; Labbe, Charlotte Smith 48–49; Chatsiou, Paratext and Poetics 108). However, as I will show throughout, many self-annotations raise the question whether it is indeed the ‘real’ author’s opinions and feelings that we can find in them (see esp. chapter 3.2.1). For this aspect, also see Archer 193.


For the letter in which Pope invites Warburton to become his co-annotator, see Pope, Corr. 4: 427–28. Warburton’s notes on Pope’s works have not found many admirers among contemporary readers and later scholars (cf. Evans 158–64, 174–77; Rumbold, “Interpretation, Agency, Entropy” 175; 188–194; Nichol xxxiv–xxxv). Byron was not a fan of Warburton’s notes either. In a letter to Octavius Gilchrist, he comments: “[h]itherto [Pope] has only been edited by his enemies or by Warburton who was a polemical parson and as fit to edite [sic] Pope as Pope to preach in Gloucester Cathedral. – The Attorney-bishop did him no good – & Warton & Bowles have done him harm” (BLJ 8: 201). For a positive modern evaluation of Warburton’s notes, see Knapp passim.


It is also possible that Swift and a few of Pope’s other friends contributed some of the notes to the Dunciads, without ever having been identified as their authors. In a letter from 28 June 1728, Pope requests Swift to write a few annotations for the Dunciad Variorum (cf. Pope, Corr. 2: 503). The “Letter to the Publisher”, which is prefixed to the Dunciads from 1729 onwards, likewise claims that the notes are by different authors, but it is impossible to assess the veracity of this statement (cf. Dunciad 31).


In the present context, I will treat as self-annotations notes that were definitely written by Pope and Byron, and such as were possibly written by someone else as long as these (1) were written at the behest of Pope and Byron and were authorised by them to be published among their self-annotations, and (2) did not (at least in the first edition(s) of a work) draw attention to the fact that they were actually written by someone else. In other words, notes that, to a work’s first readers, were plausibly presented as self-annotations will be analysed as such; if relevant, their authorship will be briefly commented on. Annotations composed by the author and jokingly attributed to a fictional character (e.g. Scriblerus) or a real person (e.g. Richard Bentley) will also be discussed as self-annotations, though the implications of their feigned authorship will also be analysed (see chapter 2.3).


For a prominent exception, see Thémiseul de Saint-Hyacinthe’s Le chef d’œuvre d’un inconnu (1714), the annotations of which serve almost no other aim but to parody xenographic notes. For a discussion of its possible influence on the Dunciads, see p. 65 below.


This is also observed by Slights: “While the announced and often achieved effect of the annotating procedure is to simplify, often by offering an epitome of the text, and sometimes by announcing one of the possible senses of the text as the authorized version, in other cases the annotations provide perspectives on the text that greatly complicate and in some cases radically destabilize it” (Slights, Managing Readers 19–20). Venturi follows a similar line of thought: “Self-commentaries combine authenticity with ambiguity, and thus profoundly differ in their rationale from standard commentaries as we understand them today. Due to the author’s privileged perspective on their own writing, they offer revealing insights and inevitably influence the work’s subsequent reading and interpretation. However, authorial commentaries may serve more than one purpose, easily veering off into self-praise, apologia, or retraction and thus ascribing a skewed meaning to the primary text or superimposing an entirely new articulation” (Venturi, “Introduction” 3).


For monographs providing a diachronic and/or international overview of practices of (self-)annotation, see Pfersmann, Séditions infrapaginales; Grafton, The Footnote; Zerby, The Devil’s Details; Eckstein, Fussnoten; and Stang, Einleitung – Fußnote – Kommentar.

For works concerned with a specific period, author, or work, see A. Watson, Romantic Marginality; Chatsiou, Paratext and Poetics in British Romantic-Period Literature; Edson (ed.), Annotation in Eighteenth-Century Poetry; Roush, Hermes’ Lyre: Italian Poetic Self-Commentary from Dante to Tommaso Campanella; Séité, Du livre au lire; Wirth, Die Geburt des Autors aus dem Geist der Herausgeberfiktion; Zubarik, Die Strategie(n) der Fussnote im gegenwärtigen Roman; Cronk et al. (eds.), Les notes de Voltaire; Corsaro and Procaccioli (eds.), Cum notibusse et comentaribusse; and Venturi (ed.), Self-Commentary in Early Modern European Literature, 1400–1700.

For edited volumes containing chapters on various topics relating to (self-)annotation that are not restricted to a certain time or author, see Barney, Annotation and Its Texts; Colin, La note d’autorité; Volpilhac-Auger, Le texte et son commentaire; Peron, L’autocommento; Bray et al., Ma(r)king the Text; Metz and Zubarik, Am Rande bemerkt; Metz and Zubarik, Den Rahmen sprengen; Dürrenmatt and Pfersmann, L’espace de la note; C. Jacob, Le livre annoté; and Bessire, L’écrivain éditeur.

Some of these works are also partly concerned with xenographic annotations, or, in the cases of Venturi and Peron, adopt a definition of self-commentary that goes beyond self-annotation in the narrow sense in which I am using the term in this book (see p. xxi above). For further secondary sources on self-annotated works, see the ‘External Appendix’ (


The texts that I will discuss in this subchapter all use different numbering systems for their categorisations, e.g. “A.1.a” or “1.I.i”. For simplicity’s sake, I will standardise them all to 1, or 1.1, or 1.1.1, and so on.


Besomi differentiates between metalinguistic notes (e.g. about dialect words, proverbs, or morphology) and metadiegetic notes. The latter are further subdivided into (1) addresses to the readers (e.g. pointing them to further sources or forestalling misinterpretations), (2) metanarrative comments (e.g. explaining stylistic choices or the inclusion of anachronisms and personal experience), (3) explanations (e.g. of names, places, customs), (4) textual variants, and (5) the identification of literary references (cf. Besomi, “L’autocommento” 54–55).


The purposes that he identifies are (1) amplification (“adding detail peripheral to the text”, e.g. examples or analogies), (2) annotation (providing references), (3) appropriation (“co-opting a text for purposes not explicitly intended by its author”), (4) correction (either of the author or of others’ interpretations of the text), (5) emphasis, (6) evaluation, (7) exhortation (“encouraging the reader to take to heart the author’s message”), (8) explication (clarifying meaning), (9) justification (“defending the author against his detractors”), (10) organisation (“dividing the text into parts”), (11) parody (“mocking the tone or substance of the text”), (12) pre-emption (filling the margins to prevent handwritten comments), (13) rhetorical glossing (identifying rhetoric figures), (14) simplification, and (15) translation (Slights, “Edifying Margins” 685–86).


These functions are: (1) indicating sources, (2) quoting sources, (3) referring to other passages within the same work, (4) naming variants, (5) containing a part, or the entirety, of the narrative of a work (e.g. in Nabokov’s Pale Fire), and (6) commenting. The last category is further divided into (6.1) comments that refer to the text, (6.2) comments that refer to the world, and (6.3) comments that refer to the author. These are again subcategorised into (6.1.1) word explanations, (6.1.2) explanations of allusions, (6.1.3) explanations of historical references, (6.1.4) comments on the personages of the text, e.g. their actions and thoughts, (6.1.5) aesthetic comments, (6.2.1) showing the link between the text and current political circumstances, (6.2.2) digressions on social issues or explicit calls for social change, (6.2.3) notes that anticipate readers’ objections, (6.3.1) notes in which we receive personal information about the author, and (6.3.2) dialogic notes, which strive to create a phatic relationship between author and reader.


He lists: (1) explaining facts about Clarens, (2) explaining language, (3) explaining cultural references, (4) correcting formal features, (5) internal references, (6) approving of the ideas of a person, (7) approving of the actions, language, or tone of a person, (8) disapproving of the ideas of a person, and (8) disapproving of the actions, language, or tone of a person (cf. Séité 292–93).


He names: (1) notes that facilitate reading, including (1.1) notes containing ‘editorial’ information about ‘missing letters’ or elucidations of (fictional) events that are alluded to but not explained in the letters; (1.2) explanatory notes about (1.2.1) Swiss geography and (1.2.2) language and culture; (1.3) notes that adopt a facetious tone which seems to subvert the sentimental main text; (2) notes that criticise or approve, including (2.1) notes addressed to real people, either (2.1.1) praising them or (2.1.2) attacking them; (2.2) metaleptic annotations addressing readers; (2.3) digressive notes used either to provide enriching information for readers’ instruction or to prevent them from becoming too involved in the sentimentalism of the letters; (2.4) notes that allow the inclusion of a narratorial voice otherwise excluded from an epistolary novel; (2.5) philosophical notes, including (2.5.1) discussions with an implicit reader, (2.5.2) notes that frame the letters in such a way as to turn the novel into a philosophical work, (2.5.3), notes that praise the characters in the novel, and (2.5.3) notes that criticise them (cf. Séité 299–350).


“There is one ultimate characteristic of the notes in La Nouvelle Héloïse that the table [i.e. the categorisation] does not take into account: the complexity of their structure, the fact that most of them do not fulfil one single function and, what is more, do not limit themselves to one single effect but often strive to achieve more. […] [I]f the apparent aim of a note is maybe indeed the desire to impart knowledge, its effect, i.e. its real aim, can be of a very different kind” (Séité 297; 323, original emphasis, my translation). The fact that even the (apparently) most simple note can have many different functions is also mentioned by Sveva Frigerio (cf. Frigerio 282–83).


For this framework, see especially Winter-Froemel and Zirker, “Ambiguity in Speaker- Hearer-Interaction”; Bauer et al., “Dimensionen der Ambiguität”; and S. Winkler, “Exploring Ambiguity and the Ambiguity Model from a Transdisciplinary Perspective”.


Vagueness is another concept related to, but by no means identical with, ambiguity. Since vagueness will not play a role in any of my analyses, it will here only be mentioned very briefly. “Ambiguous expressions have more than one distinct meaning; vague expressions have a single meaning that cannot be characterized precisely” (Wasow 32). Vague expressions are usually terms that are ‘relative’ or that have a “borderline-area of semantic indefiniteness” (Pinkal 185). Examples of vague expressions include colours (where exactly do we draw the line between blue and green?) and scalar adjectives (where exactly do we draw the line between cheap and expensive?).


Also see the example provided by Adam Sennet: an utterance may fail “to specify some detail without thereby being ambiguous with respect to that detail. […] [I]f I tell you that I am going to visit my aunt, I underspecify whether it is my mother’s sister or my father’s sister whom I am going to go visit. Nothing follows about the univocality or ambiguity of ‘aunt’. It simply means ‘aunt’ is true of things that are female siblings of your parent” (Sennet n. pag.).


For a more detailed study of ambivalence (and how it can be differentiated from ambiguity), see Bauer et al., Ambivalenz in Sprache, Literatur und Kunst. For Pope and ambivalence, see Emrys D. Jones, “An Appetite for Ambivalence”.


Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity famously defines ambiguity as “any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language” (Empson 1) and continues to state that “‘[a]mbiguity’ itself can mean an indecision as to what you mean, an intention to mean several things, a probability that one or both of the things has been meant, and the fact that a statement has several meanings” (Empson 5–6). Thus, Empson subsumes concepts like vagueness and indeterminacy under the heading of ambiguity, thereby further diluting the analytical Trennschärfe, i.e. discriminatory power, of the concept (cf. Potysch 185–86).


In his essay “Linguistics and Poetics”, Jakobson argues that literary texts are always ambiguous because they are primarily characterised by the poetic function of language (which renders them self-referential) without, however, losing their referential function altogether: “Ambiguity is an intrinsic, inalienable character of any self-focused message, briefly a corollary feature of poetry. […] Not only the message itself but also its addresser and addressee become ambiguous. […] The supremacy of poetic function over referential function does not obliterate the reference but makes it ambiguous. The double-sensed message finds correspondence in a split addresser, in a split addressee, and besides in a split reference” (Jakobson 370–71). By “split addresser” and “split addressee”, Jakobson refers to the fact that in literary texts there is communication on the internal level (characters communicating with each other) and on the external level (the author communicating with readers).


Bode agrees with Jakobson and likewise argues that what makes poetic language ambiguous is the fact that it is self-referential without completely losing its referential function and concludes: “Poetic language […] is always ambiguous language” and that “the poetic text [is] essentially ambiguous” (Bode, Ästhetik der Ambiguität 53; 71, my translation, original emphasis). The original German reads: “[p]oetische Sprache […] ist immer mehrdeutige Sprache” and “der poetische Text [ist] essentiell ambig” (original emphasis). Bode uses the term ‘poetic language’ with reference to Jakobson’s poetic function, with its strong emphasis on self-referentiality. This inherent ambiguity of language is what Bode calls “Ambiguity Mark I” (cf. Bode, “Aesthetics of Ambiguity” 75). He goes on to argue that what makes modernist literature (which is the focus of his study) especially ambiguous is its attempt to become almost exclusively self-referential and not restrained by considerations of mimesis, literary conventions, or the ordinary, every-day meaning of words (cf. 77–78). This is what he terms “Ambiguity Mark II”. For an excellent discussion of Bode’s concept of ambiguity, see Mittelbach 10–14.


Earlier in the book, she clarifies that, rather than always having only two meanings, “an ambiguous expression has two or more distinct meanings operating in the given context” (Rimmon 17, my emphasis).


On ambiguity in images and ambiguation through images, see Potysch, Wiederholt doppeldeutig in Bild und Schrift; and Händler, Zeichen – Erkenntnis – Kommunikation.


Irony is a special case of ambiguity since ironic utterances are often meant to convey only one meaning (rather than two or more like other ambiguous statements) while still giving percipients the chance to interpret the utterance in two ways – straightforwardly or ironically. As will be shown below, in many cases it is hence not the irony itself that is ambiguous but the question whether an utterance should be understood as ironic or serious in the first place. Another way in which ambiguity is relevant for irony is that ironical utterances are often voiced by two speakers – e.g. an author who is being ironic and a character who is being serious (and, hence, ironised by the author). Chapter 2.3 will discuss examples in which even this clear-cut distinction between ironic author and serious, ironised character is again ambiguated. For the relationship between irony and ambiguity, also see Bauer, “Ironie und Ambiguität” passim.


Apart from the works discussed here, one should also take notice of Donald Bourne’s PhD thesis A Poetics of Annotation: Alexander Pope’s Footnotes, which I unfortunately only discovered while preparing the present book for printing. I regret that this prevents me from engaging with his stimulating thesis in more detail.

Bourne discusses the annotations in a variety of Pope’s works, including those in the Dunciads. As regards the latter, I have two main disagreements with him. The first is concerned with his comparison of the 1729 Dunciad and the 1742 and 1743 Dunciads. Bourne argues that “[t]he text of the [1729] Variorum edition consists of both the verse and the footnotes, which should be read alongside the verse, while many of the footnotes in the later [1742 and 1743] Dunciads are paratext and – in many cases – not part of the satire presented by the verse. The later New Dunciad of 1742 and The Dunciad in Four Books of 1743 contain many allographic footnotes [by Warburton], where the rhetorical purpose of the footnotes is just to be present and not to amplify the verse, and if these footnotes are removed from the text then the satire present in the verse does not suffer – whereas the satire of the Variorum edition is weakened by removal of the authorial and actorial footnotes” (Bourne 140–41). As I argue in chapter 2.3, however, the introduction of ‘Bentley’ as yet another ‘annotator’ in the 1742 and 1743 Dunciads has a profound impact on the meaning of both the new four-book Dunciad and the older three-book Dunciad – especially due to Bentley’s fights with the ‘editor’ Martinus Scriblerus over the meaning of the poem. Many of the 1743 notes that – in the 1751 posthumous edition – are declared to be Warburton’s or the joint work of Pope and Warburton likewise engage with the poem in highly complex ways (see, e.g., the one discussed in chapter 2.4.1 below). Put briefly, the notes in the 1742 and 1743 Dunciads are just as integral to the meaning of Pope’s satire as those in the 1729 Dunciad Variorum.

My second disagreement with Bourne relates to his analysis of Pope’s self-presentation in his notes. He argues that, throughout his works, Pope uses annotations to position “himself as a gentleman-poet and classical author for both current and later readers” (27). Yet, as I emphasise throughout this book, Pope’s self-presentation in the Dunciads is very ambiguous, wavering between that of a high-minded moralist and that of a playful, irreverent libeller who relishes his dirty fight with the dunces.


For further analyses of the Dunciads notes, also see Rumbold’s introductions to The Dunciad (1728) & The Dunciad Variorum (1729) as well as to The Dunciad: In Four Books.


For Pope’s self-annotations in Windsor Forest, see Cleary, “Slouching Toward Augusta”. For the notes in Sober Advice from Horace, see Moskovit, “Pope’s Purposes in Sober Advice” and Atkins, “Strategy and Purpose in Pope’s Sober Advice from Horace”.


One might rephrase Deneau’s statement in accordance with my (and, incidentally, Deneau’s own) analysis of the ambiguity of these two notes (see chapter 2.3.4) and state that the annotations are essential for recognising that a ‘proper’ or unequivocal understanding of the Dunciads is impossible.


Chatsiou, for instance, sees the interaction between the sombre poem and the facetious notes in The Giaour as the earliest example of Romantic irony in Byron (cf. Chatsiou, “Lord Byron” 645). Studies that disregard Byron’s annotations altogether usually only focus on Don Juan as the example of Byron’s tendency for self-subversion and self-contradiction. Anne Mellor, for example, argues: “the poetry of Manfred, the Turkish Tales, and the first two cantos of Childe Harold presents a naive enthusiasm or mystifying ‘self-creation’ without a de-creative skepticism […]. Not until Don Juan, his never-ended master-piece, did Byron manage to combine the antithetical impulses of his being in a work of artistic irony” (Mellor 38).


Hints from Horace remained unpublished in Byron’s lifetime, but he prepared it for publication twice, once in 1811 (to be published by Cawthorne) and once in 1820–21 (to be published by Murray) (cf. Byron, CPW 1: 426). It was first published in the fifth volume of the 1831 Works of Byron.


Unfortunately, the letters that John Murray wrote to Byron between September 1811 and September 1812 are no longer extant (cf. Murray 7). Likewise, Robert Charles Dallas’s Correspondence of Lord Byron, With a Friend does not include the letters in which he seems to have asked Byron to write more notes. We hence cannot know which arguments exactly Murray and Dallas brought forward to convince Byron to add even more annotations for CHP I and II, but we can be sure that they did so from Byron’s annoyed inquiry whether he must really “write more Notes? are there not enough?” (BLJ 2: 111).


For the censorship of Byron in general, see Ashton, “The Censorship of Byron’s Marino Faliero”; Dowden, “Byron and the Austrian Censorship”; and Blann, Throwing the Scabbard Away. For censorship in the Romantic age in general, see Mee, “‘Examples of Safe Printing’”; Mee, Treason, Seditious Libel, and Literature in the Romantic Period; Harling, “The Law of Libel and the Limits of Repression, 1790–1832”; Conolly, The Censorship of English Drama; and Worrall, Theatric Revolution. For a discussion of censorship in the Augustan and Romantic ages in general, see Keymer, Poetics of the Pillory.


Byron argues, for instance, that “[n]either time – nor distance – nor grief – nor age – can ever diminish my veneration for him – who is the great Moral poet – of all times – of all climes – of all feelings – and of all stages of existence. […] His poetry is the Book of Life. – Without canting, and yet without neglecting, Religion, he has assembled all that a good and great man can gather together of moral wisdom cloathed [sic] in consummate beauty. […] A thousand years will roll away before such another can be hoped for in our literature” (Byron, “Letter to John Murray Esq.” CMP 158).


EBSR mentions Pope’s enemies Lord Hervey, Edmund Curll, John Dennis, and James Ralph (cf. EBSR 372; 380), claims that several of Byron’s contemporaries deserve to be put in the Dunciads as well (cf. 384; 751), and makes numerous allusions to Pope’s satire (cf. EBSR 32; 103–10; 127; 138; 306; 309; 532). In a cancelled ‘argument’ to the poem, Byron both imitates Pope’s practice of prefacing each book of the Dunciads with a summary of its contents and the archaic language of Pope’s fictional editor Scriblerus. The argument begins as follows: “[t]he Poet considereth times past and their poesy, – maketh a sudden transition to times present – is incensed against Bookmakers – revileth W. Scott for cupidity and balladmongering with notable remarks on Master Southey” (CPW 1: 401).

Byron’s letters also show that the Dunciads remained at the back of his mind throughout his life. For instance, in 1817, he claims that Coleridge is the “new Orator Henley” (a preacher who is attacked several times in the Dunciads) (BLJ 5: 267), and, in 1822, during the dispute with his publisher John Murray, Byron alludes to two publishers who were put in the Dunciads, explaining that he “had hoped that the race of Curl and Osborne was extinct”, and menacingly adds: “[p]erhaps you wish that of Pope to revive also” (BLJ 10: 28). (For other mentions of the Dunciads in Byron’s letters, see BLJ 4: 79; 6: 31). Furthermore, Byron’s public “Letter to John Murray Esq.” (1821, one of his contributions to the Pope-Bowles controversy) again shows his familiarity with the Dunciads. He jokingly alludes to the mud-nymphs featured in the second book of the satire (cf. Byron, “Letter to John Murray Esq.” 134) and later asserts that “Pope could have no more envied Phillips than he did Welsted – or Theobalds [sic] – or Smedley – or any other given hero of the Dunciad” (145).

The debt that EBSR owes to Pope’s Dunciads (and works influenced by Pope’s satire, like Thomas James Mathias’s Pursuits of Literature and William Gifford’s Baviad and Mæviad) has been noted by many contemporary reviewers as well as by modern scholars (cf. Chatsiou, Paratext and Poetics in British Romantic-Period Literature 44; Jump, “Lord Byron and William Gifford” 323; Lessenich 167; Hawley 83; O’Connell 56, 58; Fuess 70–73; F. Parker 66–69; and Bucknell passim). Ritchie Robertson even argues that Pope’s Dunciads are crucial for the story of Don Juan, but he unfortunately does not elaborate on this point (R. Robertson 1). Emrys Jones discerns a tradition from Erasmus’s Praise of Folly through Pope’s Dunciads and Sterne’s Tristram Shandy to Byron’s Don Juan (cf. E. Jones, “Pope and Dulness” 236).

For studies of Pope’s influence on Byron in general, see A. B. England’s Byron’s Don Juan and Eighteenth-Century Literature; Martin Maner’s “Pope, Byron, and the Satiric Persona”; Bernard Beatty’s “Continuities and Discontinuities of Language and Voice in Dryden, Pope, and Byron”; Bernard Beatty’s “Byron and the Eighteenth Century”; P. M. Yarker’s “Byron and the Satiric Temper”; Fred Parker’s “Byron’s ‘Popifying’”; as well as Nicholas Gayle’s Byron and the Best of Poets.

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