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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Is Literature Supposed to be Convenient?

John Liechty has a piece about the Orion Publishing Company’s decision to edit a series of classic books, stripping them down to around 30% to 40% of their original length.

Ray Bradbury foresees a time when books will be burned, or changed, or “corrected” – when Poe and Shakespeare will have the soul cut out of them. It is a frightening and sad thought, and frightening and sad as well to consider how prophetic Fahrenheit 451 has already shown itself to be. While Orion’s decision to cut the classics is hardly a fulfilment of Bradbury’s prophecy, one wonders if it might not be a nod in that direction, a nudge towards a time when our greatest authors will not be given enough consideration to keep their books as they were written.

One of Orion’s planned publications is Moby-Dick. “We realized that because the books were so long we were never going to read them,” Malcolm Edwards, deputy CEO at Orion, explained. Other publications will be Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, Portrait of a Lady and David Copperfield, followed by still more “long, slow, and repetitive” texts.

“Moby-Dick must have been difficult in 1850 – in 2007 it’s nigh-on impossible to make your way through it. But with our 350-page version the story and the characters emerge.”

The silly things people say when they’re dumbing down heritage and patronising their customers . . .

4 Responses to “Is Literature Supposed to be Convenient?”

  1. Andrew says:

    If only Melville had these fine fellows’ incisive intelligence. Though I do wish he’d been more inclined to write a separate scientific treatise on whales. I admit, though I was otherwise very into the book, it eventually caused me to give up on Moby Dick. Which is nowt to do with the length of the book, though.

    jb says: Me too. And it also wasn’t to do with the length; and I certainly won’t be reading the cut-down version.

  2. Suzan Abrams says:

    Oh no, John! I’ve cherished every word of the classics. Today, I still stay mesmerised by the quaint charm of a timeless appeal. Me too! Won’t be reading the cut-down version.

  3. Mikeachim says:

    The horror. The *horror*.
    The point about the ‘classics’, and indeed Art in general, is that it entertains by challenging, surely? We change ourselves to fit it – not the other way round. That’s how we glean cultural value from the whole exercise. That’s how we grow.
    ‘Moby Dick’ is a wonderfully challenging read, with its strange initial focus on a character abandoned by the author halfway through….
    The classics should be appreciated in the same way as quality contemporary or recent fiction, certainly. And they should enjoy the same rights.
    If a publisher blundered in and hacked great lumps out of Lord Of The Rings to make “the story and the characters emerge”, much of the western world would burn for a few unpleasant days. Same for ‘Moby Dick’, in a fair world.

  4. Mikeachim says:

    Following these thoughts, I saw this:

    jb says: Great link, Mikeachim. Thanks for passing it on.