Monday, April 17, 2023

"I had assumed that what I was reading was what the authors had written"

More on "updated versions":
...[I]t simply didn’t cross my mind, as a normal book buyer, that publishers might in fact regard their authors’ texts as so much raw material, to amend at will. In my desperate sunny optimism, I had assumed that what I was reading was what the authors had written. I suppose we’ll have to abandon that premise now.

But it turns out that the expurgation is more pervasive than we thought: Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie have been amended to take account of current sensitivities too. As for John Buchan, the only chance he has of being left well alone is that Penguin simply hasn’t got round to reading his stuff. There’s a reference to, I think, ‘a dirty Jew’ in one of the Richard Hannay novels; as for Prester John, let’s just hope that Penguin doesn’t realise it’s one of theirs and still in print. In fact, by the time you’d removed all the offensive stuff in it, there wouldn’t be much left.

It’s come to something that, whenever you read older authors, you worry in case they fall into the wrong hands. GK Chesterton’s novels are littered with throwaway references to minstrels and blackface, which were – written as they were 100 years ago or so – intended without malice, but which would get short shrift in a modern edition. Yet that’s the thing about novels; they are of their time. And it’s precisely because they’re of their time that they’re interesting (emphasis added).

It was always one of the problems with Kindle that its texts were potentially amendable. But printed books had seemed a safer bet. Not now. ....

...[N]ow that we know that authors may be amended at will by publishers, especially those whose estates do not put up enough of a fight, there’s only one way to go: second hand. If you want to know that you’re actually reading what an author wrote, eschew modern editions, and seek out used copies of the work – I’d go back a decade or so. The books themselves will probably look nicer and be much cheaper. But the great thing is that you’ll be reading what the author intended, not what the publisher thinks you should be reading. There’s a difference. And if it means that the publishers concerned are that tiny bit less profitable, well, we can live with that too.
Melanie McDonagh, "The trouble with censoring Jeeves and Wooster," The Spectator, April 17, 2023.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.