The past decade has been a strange one for the Oulipo. For most of its existence, the Parisian literary collective has been, if not quite clandestine, then hardly in the spotlight. A rare survivor from the avant-garde movements of the last century, the Oulipo’s mission has always been to explore the possibilities of ‘constrained writing’, as in Georges Perec’s novel La Disparition, which avoids any use of the letter e. Unlike some of its antecedents, bound up with the revolutionary politics of the early 20th century, the Oulipo has never set out to change the world; rather, a certain retiring bonhomie – perhaps a reaction to its co-founder Raymond Queneau’s time in the fractiousness of the Surrealist movement of the 1920s – has been written into its structures from the outset.
As the Cambridge Edition of Virginia Woolf’s fiction slowly unfurls, this year will see the publication of Mrs Dalloway. It follows Anna Snaith’s edition of The Years (2012), which nestles Woolf’s 393-page novel in 600 pages of scholarly material: explanatory notes (144 pages), textual apparatus (220 pages), textual notes (50 pages), maps, chronologies, lists of illustrations, abbreviations, archival sources and editorial symbols, a bibliography and an (excellent) introduction. One paratext the Cambridge series doesn’t have, however, is an index.