A Note on the Edition

 The serialized text of Sartor Resartus was first printed as a bound volume in August 1834. Only 58 copies of the book were produced for this initial run. The first public edition, issued in 1836 by James Munroe and Company, was initiated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who also supplied an anonymous preface to the volume. The first British edition was published in 1838 by Saunders and Otley and included an additional section entitled “Testimonies to Authors,” which we have included here for the reader’s reference. It was only upon the publication of this edition that Carlyle added the subtitle “the Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh,” a detail that would align the volume with the emerging genre of nineteenth-century life-writing, as well as with one of the volume’s most famous influences, Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.

The production of this digital edition was motivated in large part by a desire to make accessible to modern readers – especially advanced undergraduate and graduate student readers – a text that many find obscure, confusing, and even alienating. To that end, we have attempted to replicate (as much as possible) the reading experience of Carlyle’s Victorian audience. The text presented here reproduces the original text, as it appeared in Fraser’s Magazine between November 1833 and August 1834. The transcript includes several typographical errors, chiefly related to punctuation, spelling, and German transcriptions. We have preserved these errors, but select variations have been addressed in the annotations, chiefly where those errors might interfere with the reader’s basic comprehension of the text. 

While we have attempted to be thorough, this edition makes no claim to being exhaustive. Indeed, as the Editorial Introduction explains, Carlyle’s highly allusive prose seeks actively to resist either certainty or closure. In this spirit, the annotations to this edition seek instead to promote an active – and even interactive – reading experience by contextualizing Carlyle’s abundant historical and literary allusions; indicating suggestive connections between the text and other works written by Carlyle and his contemporaries; and elucidating Carlyle’s eccentric and frequent forays into German language and literature. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these annotations present hypotheses regarding how some of Carlyle’s idiosyncratic allusions, word games, and rhetorical flourishes might be interpreted. In the latter case, we have done our best to avoid making definitive claims about the text, preferring instead to point out the many possible directions one might take. In so doing, we seek to honor the speculative mode that Carlyle (and his fictional Editor) adopted in the construction of the text.

Carlyle’s description of Sartor Resartus as a “questionable little Book” in the “Author’s Note” to the 1869 edition is suggestive. After all, it is a work of indeterminate genre: speculative, mystical, allusive, and full of irony. Sartor Resartus is by nature a challenging text, and yet Carlyle’s repeated revisions to the volume suggest that he was committed to the project of making it accessible to his readers. If it is eccentric and even unsettling, Carlyle’s attempts at drawing the reader into unfamiliar terrain are deliberate and rhetorically savvy. It is in this spirit that we have approached translating Sartor Resartus into a digital medium. The present edition does not merely provide context for understanding the volume — this task has been ably accomplished in previous editions of the work, including H.D. Traill’s Centenary Edition (London: Chapman and Hall, 1896), that of C.F. Harrold (New York: Odyssey Press, 1937), the Oxford World Classics edition arranged by Kerry McSweeney and Peter Sabor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), and the Norman and Charlotte Strouse edition produced by Rodger L. Tarr (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). While we have not attempted to duplicate the work of these editions, we do occasionally direct the reader to notes that reflect especially insightful and original perspectives on Carlyle’s work.

By presenting this work in a digital format, though, we hope to provide the reader with an immersive experience. In that spirit, annotations frequently provide not only textual glosses but also hyperlinks that place the reader in direct conversation with the visual and textual sources Carlyle’s work invokes. The digital format is also appropriate to the discursive aims of Carlyle’s text, which he described in a letter to Hugh Fraser as “a Satirical Extravaganza on Things in General” (Letters, 365). Indeed, the book lends itself particularly well to digitization, since the reader can (like Carlyle, his German philosopher, or the English Editor) pursue intellectual threads at will, engaging in a non-linear reading process that mimics the narrative structure of the book itself. In other words, Carlyle’s work constitutes a kind of proto-hypertext – one that encourages associative, creative, even experimental forms of thinking. The irony of producing a collaborative and digital edition of a work that itself thematizes “editorial difficulties,” new print media, and the challenges of interpretation has not escaped us.