Notes on Re-Reading: Dam and Damn in Noel Polk’s rewriting of The Sound and the Fury

I’ve been looking at the Norton Critical Edition of The Sound and the Fury today.  It uses the Noel Polk “corrected” text.  Laying aside other qualms, one thing I’ve tripped over, repeatedly, is that the Polk version of Faulkner consistently spells damn without the final n (Jason damns a lot of things), while the first edition that I’ve always read sells the word conventionally.

I am having a problem explaining what justification an editor might have for inserting a non-conventional spelling obviously accepted in the final text of a book?  Here’s a sentence that shows what I am talking about, from the Jason section:

I stood there and watched her go on past, with her face painted up like a dam clown’s and her hair all gummed and twisted and a dress that if a woman had come out doors even on Gayoso or Beale street when I was a young fellow with no more than to cover her legs and behind, she’d been thrown in jail.

The first edition has, here and elsewhere, “damn,” and also reads “go on down” instead of “go on past.”  Again, I wonder what justifies these decisions by Polk that somehow he has evidence of what Faulkner would have wished instead of the final published texts.

These things all may seem small, but they really accumulate, particularly in a text that, to my mind, seems as carefully put together as this book.  And I have no doubt that Polk’s restructuring of Sanctuary, which made much deeper and greater changes, was a mistake.

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