In 1930, two separate editions of James Branch Cabell’s The Cream of the Jest were published, each having distinctly different endings. One was the ninth printing of the Kalki edition, and the other a revised Storisende edition. Complications such as these have made studying Cabell’s literary corpus a complex and interesting task, aided tremendously by the work of scholarly bibliographers. Bibliography as a work of scholarship may be unfamiliar to students and general readers, and so a brief introduction is presented here.
A bibliography is a list – typically a list of books or articles—that’s organized in some useful way. The list might be ordered alphabetically by author or title, or arranged chronologically by date of publication. It might be a straightforward listing (an enumerative bibliography), or it might add comments and notes about the books (an annotated bibliography). Sometimes a bibliography can be a tool for analyzing and studying the group of texts it lists.
People who get interested in books and the history of books, and in studying and collecting books, often make lists. There are descriptive bibliographies that emphasize and precisely describe the physical characteristics of books (different dust jackets and variant title pages, for example). Textual bibliographies study the history of a book’s printing by examining textual variations and considering whether changes were the result of an author, an editor, a printer, or others involved in the bookmaking process. People who study the history of bookmaking itself create historical bibliographies. And, of course, once a significant amount of list-making has occurred, someone will create a bibliography of bibliographies.
James Branch Cabell wrote and revised and reworked and republished throughout his career. Like many authors, he would take a published short story and expand it into a book. Cabell would also make changes to books, and republish them years later with different titles. For his eighteen-volume Storisende edition of The Works of James Branch Cabell, the author revised previously-published novels, essays, and poetry into a grand narrative called the Biography of the Life of Manuel. Even during Cabell’s lifetime, bibliographers began creating lists to sort out the titles and editions written by the man they considered one of America’s great writers.