Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mangling the Classics

A look at one of the more disreputable publishing ventures of Charles Henry Ross, creator of Ally Sloper. “The Editor” is Charles Dickens Junior and he lambastes both Mary Braddon and C. H. Ross for their chop jobs. The work referred to was “C. H. Ross’s Penny Library.” For one penny the buyer received the “cut and paste” version of popular works in 32 page pocket books. Titles included The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Confessions of Harry Lorrequor, The Mysteries of Paris and “Newgate” by Charles Dickens.

Household Words, 1881 Vol. p. 450

The Editor’s Note Book.

That Mrs. Braddon’s abridgement of Scott’s novels would be speedily followed by other mangled versions of popular books was only to be expected. Charles Dickens, Charles Lever, Lord Lytton and Captain Marryat are to furnish materials for the next series, which is also to deal with Sir Walter, and for the production of which the scissors of Charles H. Ross have been called into requisition.

As to the propriety or good taste of such a manner of dealing with the illustrious dead, I do not think it necessary to express an opinion. The personal interest which I have in the matter might lead some people to suppose that I approached the question with an unfair bias if I were to speak my mind as freely as I should like to speak it, so like the parrot in the story, I must content myself with “thinking a lot.”

But this, at all events, I must say. To publish a garbled version of a novel, and to let it go forth to the public with a title-page calling it “The Story of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens,” is nothing more or less than fraud. It should be enough for the publisher that he is able to lay hands on a story, owing to the expiration of the ridiculously short period of copyright with which the English Parliament rewards literary men. But, if we must have this sort of thing at all, the book ought at least to be honestly announced as “Oliver Twist, abridged by Charles H. Ross from the novel by Charles Dickens.”

*Illustration from original 1846 Oliver Twist in Monthly parts.

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