previous
next



  ― xxvi ―

Text

Bengala was published in a two-volume format by John W. Parker and Son of London and never re-published. Parker was printer for Cambridge University Press and official publisher for the Christian Knowledge Society, the company's standard works being Bibles, testaments and books of common prayer. But the firm also published Fraser's Magazine and included among its authors John Stuart Mill, George Henry Lewes, Charles Kingsley and Charlotte Yonge, so its program embraced atheist, agnostic, Broad Church and Tractarian writings.

In her autobiography, Catherine Helen Spence recalls that Parker agreed to publish her first novel, Clara Morison, after it had been rejected by Smith Elder, and that she had been forced to abridge the novel to meet the requirements of the two-volume series; Parker paid Spence £40 for the manuscript and then charged her £10 for the abridgement.note Presumably, Vidal would have been paid a similar amount for Bengala which was also part of this two-volume series, as were Charlotte Yonge's popular The Heir of Redclyffe (1853), her The Daisy Chain (1856), and Charles Kingsley's Hypatia (1853). As the two novels Vidal published before Bengala, Florence Templar (1856) and Ellen Raymond (1859) were both published by the prestigious firm, Smith Elder, the manuscript of Bengala may have followed a similar path to Spence's Clara Morison. Bengala was well-suited to a publishing program which included religious fiction as well as Spence's depiction of domestic life in the colony of South Australia.

In 1860 John Parker junior, who had sponsored Fraser's Magazine and the intellectual interests of the firm, died; in 1863, his father sold the firm to Longmans. The lack of critical attention given to Bengala may have been partly due to the death of the firm's more active partner in the year of publication. Certainly, Vidal's later books were published by less significant publishers, Deb Clinton being published in an illustrated edition recommended for church prizes.

No manuscript or proofs of the novel have been located. The text of this edition is an exact copy of the Parker text except that inverted commas, which appear in double but predominantly single form, have been standardised as single in this edition. In its original form the novel ran to 317 pages for volume one and 298 pages for volume two; resetting for a one-volume format has entailed different (and also continuous as opposed to Parker's separate) pagination. Some contextual signals


  ― xxvii ―
available to Vidal's contemporary readership have thus been removed, but facsimiles of the original title pages are provided at the appropriate places, and Parker's typographic design is followed as closely as practicable.

Inconsistencies in spelling have been allowed to stand where precedent has been found, but proper nouns have been made consistent (except when variant spellings were normal, e.g. ‘Woolongong’ and ‘Paramatta’); and obvious compositorial errors have been corrected. All alterations are noted in the List of Editor's Emendations.

previous
next