Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Crispy Classics

Kathryn Hughes of the Guardian's books blog (my one-stop-shop for ready-made blog fodder) reckons Weidenfeld & Nicolson's plan to publish "slimline" editions of certain lengthy 19th C novels is a great idea.
Many of these books, while marvellous, also suffered from being originally produced in installments, which meant that each section had to end with a cliff-hanger, regardless of whether the narrative required it or not. Others had to be finished in a hurry to meet a publisher's deadline.

If any of these books arrived on a publisher's desk today, chances are that an editor would be dispatched to wield a very sharp scalpel before the book was considered commercially viable. What, then, is so wrong about Weidenfeld & Nicolson deciding to do just that, albeit 100 or so years later?
Because of course everything, including the works of long-dead authors, must conform to this nebulous concept of "commercial viability".
In schools and universities the full texts will still need to be studied - knowing how and why George Eliot rushed the ending of Mill on the Floss tells you a lot about the kind of writer and person she was. However, for "ordinary" readers - people who want nothing more than to be diverted by some of the greatest prose writing ever produced - I can't see why it matters if they opt for a crisper version of a rambling old classic.
As usual, commenter Bellona manages to cut through the bullshit:
Then there's the appalling implication that "long/meandering" classics, as they are, are only suitable for utilitarian study. Only the philistine gods know why persons who ever champion the masses persist in painting them as homogeneous children who only want diversions--books being the replacement for baby mobiles?--and don't wish their pretty brains to be bothered; only if you're in academe could you possibly be intellectually curious!
I'm glad somebody has the energy to yet again argue this point. I'm mentally exhausted just from cutting-and-pasting Hughes's drivel.


mindlessmunkey said...

It might interest you to read Jenny Liski's response to this issue at her excellent blog: http://jennydiski.typepad.com/biology_of_the_worst_kind/2007/01/compact_readssh.html

(Sorry I don't know how to do the clever linky things.)

Imani said...

Ha! Thanks for highlighting my comment. I also could not understand, though I did not mention it in the comments, why she looked so forward to these truncations when she admitted that the novels were "marvellous" anyway? What's the point? I'm convinced she composed and clicked submit merely to get a reaction. Which I was only too eager to provide being young and foolish.

Tim said...

I reckon you're right. They haven't had a "controversial" post for a while, although I laughed at (and was almost going to post about) Julie Bertagna's "Why aren't there more novels about climate change...oh, look, I've written two novels about climate change, what a coincidence!" post from yesterday.

lucy tartan said...

That Guardian books blog appears to be written by mongers.

There is a place for abridged novels, and it's the fireplace.

Ben.H said...

Every Guardian blog is written by mongers; mongers who are almost as desperate and attention-starved as the Guardian blog editors.

audrey said...

I don't understand this bit:

"However, for "ordinary" readers - people who want nothing more than to be diverted by some of the greatest prose writing ever produced - I can't see why it matters if they opt for a crisper version of a rambling old classic."

Why, if they want 'nothing more than to be diverted', would they opt to have less to divert them?

You can't see me, but I'm considering this idea and spitting on my two front fingers Catholic style.

Tim said...

Exactly. And haven't people heard of skimming through the supposed boring bits? Nobody's read every sentence of David Copperfield since the 19th century.