The Immaterial “Christabel”: Reading Revision Before and After Publication

This article takes up the act of retreating or withdrawal as a way of reading the unpublished and published versions of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Christabel." Although Coleridge intended to publish "Christabel" in the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads in 1800, the poem was withheld from publication until 1816 and further revised by Coleridge until 1834. Rather than reading revision as clarifying authorial intention, or seeing less revision as creating more indeterminacy, I see Coleridge's revisions to "Christabel" as representing revision in a third sense: considerable revision that appears insignificant but instead compounds the indeterminacy of the text's writing. Taking up Coleridge's addition of The Conclusion to Part the Second as well as the modifications to the primary scene of unreadability between Geraldine and Christabel, I argue that Coleridge's repeated retreating and returning to these scenes are symptomatic of a traumatic relation that cannot be read in terms of authorial intention, but rather, in the words of Catherine Malabou, as an involuntary retreat that "the psyche cannot stage . . . for itself" (Malabou 9).