Editing and Annotating “The Secret Battle”

We’re honored to have The Secret Battle editor Austin Riede as a guest author today. Riede is an associate English professor at the University of North Georgia, specializing in British modernism. His areas of expertise include British Literature, Modernism, World War I Literature, Film, and Science Fiction.

Working on The Secret Battle was the first time I edited an historical text. My approach to editing the text was to try and preserve the novel’s text in its original form, so I made up my mind to preserve the British spellings and only try to change errors. I soon found that the text had gone through many small changes in subsequent editions since 1919, and in almost all cases, I chose the original spelling or phrase.

I approached the novel by keeping in mind that its potential audience is broad. When reading an annotated novel, I’ve always found it annoying when some name or reference which I am unfamiliar with is not explained in a note. This is most likely to occur when reading a novel or text on an unfamiliar topic from an unfamiliar period or region. While the World War I literature and history buff may be familiar with a broad range of geographical and cultural references in the text, I chose to annotate with the first-year university student—born in this millennium rather than the last—in mind.

That said, the novel challenged my own knowledge on the war. While it was easy to explain things like the location of the Dardanelles, or where in London the Haymarket is, I soon found that Herbert was treating his topic with the immediacy and familiarity of someone who had just lived through the war. He was writing to an audience for whom the geography and the battles of the war would have been intimately familiar from newspaper accounts, as well as from accounts of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers revolving in and out of England on leave or those returned permanently due to injury. The painful details of the failed invasion of the Dardanelles would have been fresh in the minds of Herbert’s intended audience. They would have read accounts in the paper of soldiers staying on the Island of Mudros and would have had a clearer picture of the cliffs of Cape Helles in the Dardanelles or of Vimy Ridge in France. I tried to be as inclusive as possible in the notes, so as to give the 21st century reader a clear picture of where exactly the characters are and what they are experiencing.

Editing and annotating The Secret Battle was a wonderful experience, and hopefully my work will help bring the novel to a new generation of readers.

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