– generally speaking it is an elaboration on the same text, or a different solution to the same problem. At least that’s the definition of a variant in “Słownik Języka Polskiego PWN” [Polish Dictionary PWN – tr. JK]. It might seem as if the explanation given above is clear enough, and would be easy to apply into an academic research method; and yet within some fields of philology the concept appears to be quite problematic, as it presents a complex and nuanced background.
Origin of the concept
The concept of a variant started within the field of Classical Philology, to which we also owe latter interest in author’s manuscripts. Further research on this subject made the philologists realize that they lack certain definitions – a more precise philological take was necessary in order to enable possible relations between certain manuscripts; meaning the particular status of manuscripts popularization in ancient and medieval eras, as it was based on copying.
Let’s take a closer look at the simple scheme of intertextual relations in La Génétique des textes by Pierre-Marc de Biasi. Imagine we would analyse a manuscript D, which is another copy of a text contained in manuscript A. It is not however a direct copy [of manuscript A]. The scribe used two other copies, which have existed besides manuscript A and D – a somewhat different manuscripts B and C. Thus, manuscripts B and C are the source text to manuscript D, and manuscript A is a source text to B and C. Within all of these copies there are certain variances caused by problematic reading of an earlier copy, or caused by the damaged source of a manuscript paper, or a scribe’s decision to express themselves or just the simple, unintended mistakes which have happened to everyone who would transcribe any text. These various forms of message contained in the piece of writing, more or less different from the source text, were named “variants” by classical philologists.
Manuscripts would gradually loose their meaning and usability since the revolution caused by Gutenberg – however, this process was a very slow one, and its development was non-aggressive. There surely was domination of printings in the 18th Century. Manuscripts lost the status of a primary knowledge medium, and yet they still were meaningful to spreading contents which were not welcomed in primary circuit, i.e. the ones where an author would share political, social or religious opinions, especially vastly different ones from how the reality was perceived by the most. That way manuscripts, in regard to the process of creating a piece of writing, became a mostly private thing. Writer’s private archives started to appear, and they became more popular in 19th Century.
This research field, which have just been discovered, needed a conceptual apparatus that would allow unrestricted movement in research on modern or contemporary manuscripts. The easiest solution seemed to be – even though it was not the best possible one – transferring certain definitions from Classical Philology dictionary, which was already well established, as its research subject appeared to be exactly the same. Such simple and careless transfer of the term “variant” was discredited by the French Genetic Criticism, still the concept managed to spread amongst most European researchers earlier on.
The classic understanding of “variant”
Until now Polish researchers understood the “variant” to be every single new edit of a piece of writing, both at the level of a rough copy, as well as latter prints. Such term could be used to describe every single change made in the analysed text – every crossed out and overwritten word, every note suggesting different intention of the author, every single interference that overturned the meaning of a literary piece of writing. The primary claim is that a modification read by researcher cannot bear the characteristics of a mistake, so that it could be recognized as a conscious decision made by the author. Pinpointing this is not easy, the attempt to guess author’s initial “intention” turns out to be quite a problematic issue.
In Polish textological research the term “variant” was often interchanged with many other definitions of a similar phenomenon (i.e.: a variant, an alternation, a version, an edit) and could refer to units of various scope (from a single word up to whole chapters). Such multitude could possibly lead to a terminological chaos. Roman Loth, amongst many other researchers, tried to narrow down this diverse terminology, while using previous editing practices. He claims that variants belong to the family of “side texts” – that would be every single piece of writing somehow different from the text recognized as an origin of the print. This is how Loth describes complexity of variants terminology:
The narrowed scope of applying [certain] names can be used with two completely synonymous phrases: “an alternation” and “a variant”. It seems to be, that editing practice is relating them solely on the level of alternations placed within a piece of writing – and a level lower than that. Hence we would not talk about two alternations (variants) of a novel or an epic poem (which we would name “two edits”), but we would talk about two (variants) of a stanza or an epilogue. And call two lower levels of a text accordingly to that: alternation of a verse, a sentence, a phrase or even a word (i.e. an epithet).
As we can see, this statement places the “variant” within the zone of changes made in time of creating the text not on a general level, but rather on the level of a [textual] detail. However, the key problem is that amongst editing practices, variants have always been referring to the state of a rough copy. It isn’t far from the approach of academics related to one of main fields in researching manuscript origins: specifically, the one started by Gianfranco Contini – a “variantistica”. The name itself already suggests an exquisite status of such concept. Alfredo Stussi, when explaining the “Italian School of Genetic Reading”, describes variants as modifications of segments on a different stages of writer’s work. These modifications can get overbuilt by any further change made within the phrase, while at the same time they could be creating a layered variant. Stussi understands variant as a change made in the manuscript on its lower level (that is a paragraph, a sentence, a word).
“Variant” in French Genetic Criticism
French Genetic Criticism remains in the opposition to the term “variant” as we have understood it up until now. In the 70’s of 20th Century Jean Bellemin- Noël defined this concept differently. He classified it as a modification, which transforms a piece of writing into “another” piece of writing. What we can see here, is a wider understanding than just a change made by the author, which would also modify the intention of a text – instead it would be about constituting a new textual quality. However, one should not equate these modifications with revision of a text, as it does not constitute a “new” piece of writing, it is only another stage of writer’s work.
Pierre-Marc de Biasi, one of the main representatives of Genetic Criticism and a heir to Noël’s way of thinking, claimed that the concept taken from classical philologists does not have a rational purpose in describing a matter so fluid as an author’s rough copy. He suggests that textologists should stop naming changes within the manuscript “variants”, because the word is inadequate and looses its usefulness when compared with the distinctive research material. This is how Biasi supports his claims in Génétique des textes:
[In] the field of research on rough drafts, schemes, sketches and so on, the genetic criticism would talk about “another repeated writing”, “stages of writing” or “the history of writing process”, but never of variants. Why? Because its main focus is modification, within which everything is still possible, and yet nothing can be predicted: what have been modified is still not a text, but it is what preludes the text itself. For a long period of time, at the stage of making [a piece of writing] nothing is certain or stable, nor is it definitive – every single created element could disappear at any time, or transform into its opposite form, or evolve at the expense of another element, or destroy the whole writing process. If so, how could we possibly talk about “variants”. Variants of what? For the lack of any constant element (an invariant) – and it is a rule in the world of rough drafts – the idea of variants itself looses any kind of coherency.
Thus the specific character of Genetic Criticism’s approach means they would focus on evolution of a piece of writing, transferring researcher’s attention from the end product of the work onto the “path”, which have lead to said end product. This approach excludes concept of “variants”, because during the research on stages of “path’s” they do not end up constituted within the final piece of writing. Too much unpredictability and the lack of stability characterises phases of hand-writing process to allow us to think about variantivity. Zofia Mitosek, in one of the first Polish research papers on French Genetic Criticism, has already noticed that “variant” is not very popular amongst genetic critics, because it is inherently tied to the theology of a final text. Biasi claimed that we could allow use of such problematic name only in the case of relating modifications to the final form of a piece of writing, however it would be fake and a too far reach within the field of chronology, because it suggests “(…) establishing the existence of something not recognised by manuscripts, something they are still trying to invent”. Such approach is opposite to Biasi’s method.
The French critic does not completely negate a concept of “variant” and does not exclude it from the field of genetic criticism research. However, he is suggesting that the use of it should be more like how it was first used. Thus we could talk about variantivity in case of different versions of a text, appearing in-between another editions of a piece of writing. After we cross the boarder of first edition, the piece would gain a status of “point of reference”, yet it would not become permanently stable. It still could be modified by the author, or modified under different circumstances, but other than the rough drafts, such pieces of writing can be compared in a similar way – it is also how classical philologists would elaborate on said matter. Author of Génétique des textes calls that kind of research “printing genetics”. He claims that this approach would allow maintaining certain meaning the concept has, and clear up some of its terminological inaccuracies.
translated by Jolanta Kikiewicz
The paper focuses on the concept of a “variant”, which is deeply rooted in the fields of editing practices and literary criticism. The main goal is to show the concept the way it is understood by the classical textology and French Genetic Criticism, as well as to confront different ways of using it.
 „Variant”, Słownik Języka Polskiego [Polish Dictionary PWN – tr. JK], accessed on 30.09.2019, https://sjp.pwn.pl/sjp/wariant;2579566.html.
 See: Pierre-Marc de Biasi, La Génétique des textes, 2000 (Paris: CNRS Editions).
 For a broader take on this issue, see: Kamila Budrowska, „«Tekst kanoniczny», «intencja twórcza» i inne kłopoty. Z zagadnień terminologicznych tekstologii i edytorstwa naukowego”, Pamiętnik Literacki 97, nr 3 (2006): p. 109–121.
 Roman Loth, Podstawowe pojęcia i problemy tekstologii i edytorstwa naukowego (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo IBL, 2006), p. 122.
 Loth, op. cit., p. 123.
 See: Alfredo Stussi, Edycja genetyczna „włoska”, w Wprowadzenie do edytorstwa i tekstologii, tr. Mateusz Salwa, Piotr Salwa (Gdańsk: słowo/obraz terytoria, 2011), p. 139–165, translated from Polish by Jolanta Kikiewicz.
 Jean Bellemin-Noël, Le texte et l’avant-texte (Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1972), p. 14.
 Biasi, loc. cit., p. 35.
 Zofia Mitosek, „Od dzieła do rękopisu. O francuskiej krytyce genetycznej”, Pamiętnik Literacki 81, no. 4 (1990): p. 397.
 Biasi, loc. cit., p. 35.
 Biasi, loc. cit., p. 36.
Bellemin-Noël, Jean. Le texte et l’avant-texte. Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1972.
Biasi, Pierre-Marc de., La Génétique des textes. Paris: CNRS Editions, 2000. Polish translation: Genetyka tekstów. tr. Filip Kwiatek, Maria Prussak. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo IBL, 2015.
Budrowska, Kamila. „«Tekst kanoniczny», «intencja twórcza» i inne kłopoty. Z zagadnień terminologicznych tekstologii i edytorstwa naukowego”. Pamiętnik Literacki 97, no 3 (2006): p. 109–121.
Loth, Roman. Podstawowe pojęcia i problemy tekstologii i edytorstwa naukowego. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IBL, 2006.
Mitosek, Zofia. „Od dzieła do rękopisu. O francuskiej krytyce genetycznej”. Pamiętnik Literacki 81, no 4 (1990): p. 393–403.
Słownik Języka Polskiego PWN. „Wariant”. Accessed: 30.10.2019. https://sjp.pwn.pl/sjp/wariant;2579566.html.
Stussi, Alfredo. Wprowadzenie do edytorstwa i tekstologii. Tr. Mateusz Salwa, Piotr Salwa. Gdańsk: słowo/obraz terytoria, 2011.