Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another Sign of the (Literary) Apocalypse

The Orion Group in the UK (under Malcolm Edwards, whom I'd always regarded as one of the Enlightened Ones of publishing, since he's an old SF hand) is editing down classics to make them easier to read.

One quote (about Edwards):
He admitted that he had never read Middlemarch and had tried but failed to get through Moby Dick several times, while a colleague owned up to skipping Vanity Fair.
OK, I am officially not going to consider British educations as superior to my own anymore, since I've read all three of those books, and loved two of them. I even read Moby Dick for pleasure during the second half of my senior year of college, since I suddenly realized that I wasn't going to get it assigned anywhere. (And I'll accept that Middlemarch has its virtues, even if I found it difficult at best to discern them.)

The launch titles of the Compact Editions (the first of 50-100 titles, if these folks get their way) are Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, The Mill on the Floss, Moby Dick and Wives and Daughters, all coming in June. The second batch -- Bleak House, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo, North and South and The Portrait of a Lady -- follow in September.

Let's see: I've read at least seven of those (assuming North and South is the Elizabeth Gaskell novel, and not the John Jakes one), which makes me some kind of literary whiz-kid, I guess. Actually, I'm amazed to think that anyone feels the need to read even one Elizabeth Gaskell novel in this day and age -- let alone two of them -- but it takes all kinds to make a world. She must be more popular in the UK than over here, I guess.

And perhaps I'm being too harsh on this series; if they concentrated entirely on Henry James novels, and edited them down to a page or less, they would perform a valuable service to the world. (Have I mentioned my favorite literary joke in this context? James was such an unrepentant Anglophile that it's only fitting that his career can be divided into three phases: James the First, James the Second, and the Old Pretender.)

But, all of my attacks on that old loser aside, this project just looks silly: who wants to read half of David Copperfield? If the point of reading classics is to have the enjoyment of them, then you've missed that. And if the point of reading classics is to recognize references to them and feel smarter, than a good "Cliff's Notes" would be much better than reading an edited half of the book.

This is just too bizarre for words.

[via Editors Unleashed]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ages ago, when Dick Cavett had a talk show (& people actually *talked*) he had Edward Gorey on. Much was discussed. Including Gorey's covers for some Henry James reprints. Cavett enthused about how it have been so great to do cover art for works by The Master.

Gorey responded along the lines of "Reading Henry James is a lot like watching a bathtub empty. The longer you're there, the less there is."

Cavett hastily moved to a new subject.

Michael Walsh

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