They are indispensable for serious literature students. They are also great to have for those who love individual works. Either way, they offer an amazing amount of information with each individual title. They are a good addition to any library.
As will probably come to no surprise, the first Norton Critical Edition I owned was The Sound and the Fury. It was actually the Second Edition (pub. 1994), and as you can see, I have two of them. That’s because one of them was Veronica’s. Early on when were first dating, she decided, after hearing me talk about it so much that she should own a copy and that the Norton Critical was the version that she decided to buy. I eventually picked up my own copy, and of course, being me, eventually picked up a copy of the First Edition as well (pub. 1987).
It functions as a perfect example of what the series offers, and how it can change over time. First we have the actual text of the novel. Then we have Backgrounds: various things written by Faulkner that put the work in context, including various introductions, letters that he wrote while composing the novel, his appendix that was included for The Portable Faulkner and some interviews. Then we have Cultural and Historical Contexts: essays that talk about Southern literature and this novel’s place in it. Finally, we have Criticism: various essays over the years that offer critical perspectives on the novel. For the second edition, several new essays written since the first edition were included, offering a wider array of modern critical perspectives on the book.
The titles that I own are just a small sampling of what Norton has to offer: two Shakespeare titles (Henry IV Part I, Hamlet – which was indispensable when I was in grad school writing various papers on the play), the four Faulkner books (As I Lay Dying in addition to the three copes of TSATF), two books that are great collections (Classic Fairy Tales and Blake’s Poetry and Designs), as well as Madame Bovary (the first copy I owned of the book) and Crime and Punishment and McTeague (two of those titles that I like to see what people have to write about it, as well as the book itself).
There are certainly a variety of titles that I would like to get at some point for the criticism attached (Heart of Darkness, Winesburg Ohio, Dracula, Brothers Karamazov, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners).
I don’t have as much in this post. I wanted to put it up because it has been a while since I have done a For Love of Books post and I just posted my McTeague review. But it would take a long time to come up with a definitive list. The list on Library Thing is missing several books, including both of the Faulkner titles. The page on the Norton website seems to be a couple of year out of date (listing things as coming in late 08 / early 09) and it doesn’t list As I Lay Dying, which came out in early 2010. And unlike the Portables, I can’t easily find them by title elsewhere and the list is much longer anyway.
I don’t quite know when the first Norton Critical Editions were released. My copy of Henry IV is from 1969 and is the Revised hardcover – the first edition originally came out in 1962. The front of the book lists 29 books in the series and the back dust jacket flap lists 7 of them (Apologia Pro Vita, Henry IV Part I Revised Edition, Wild Duck, Red and Black, Edmund Spenser’s Poetry, Lord Jim, The Return of the Native) as being new. Though several authors would eventually end up with a number of books in the series, at this time, the only ones with multiples are Conrad (Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim), Hardy (Return of the Native, Tess of the D’Urbervilles), Hawthorne (House of the Seven Gables, Scarlet Letter), James (Ambassadors, Turn of the Screw) and Shakespeare (Henry IV Part I, Hamlet). I’m not certain how they decided to have two editions of Henry IV before they got around to MacBeth or King Lear, but they did.