30/11/2009

Happy As A Censor

Given that Harlequin - yes, that Harlequin - has been squewering romance for decades, it's not surprising they now apply the same treatment to mystery. What's more, they are proud of themselves!

"Remember, our intention was to publish the stories in their original form. But once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior—such as hitting a woman—that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership. Also, grammar and spelling standards have changed quite a bit in sixty years. But that did entail a text edit, which we had not anticipated. AND, we had to clear those adjustments with the current copyright holders, if we had been able to locate them. And of course, the covers: Though we used the original covers, they had to be scanned and touched up."

I don't dispute that vintage mysteries often include stuff that is hard for the modern reader to stomach, and while I don't think it should necessarily invalidate the corpus delictii's artistic value, I can see why readers and publishers might prefer to stay away from it. Had Harlequin finally decided not to reprint material it deemed offensive, I wouldn't have minded - more adventurous publishers might have taken the relay and it was just fine.

But this is not  what Harlequin chose to do, instead they decided to butcher books from another era to make them palatable to modern readers deemed too stupid or too sensitive to tackle "hot stuff" from the past.

Yes Virginia, the past is a foreign country, people do - and write - things differently there and you won't change that by deleting words and editing content. What you will do, however, apart from a disservice to both literature and history is emasculating a story and thus depriving it from a vital part of its interest and importance. That the whole thing seems to have been done without asking anyone's permission is further testimony to the moral quality of the enterprise.

I said in a recent post that preservation of the classics of the genre was up to fans, be them readers, critics or independent publishers, and that story provides further confirmation of it. That mystery is now the top-selling genre in the world doesn't mean it's taken more seriously and respectuously by people with money (and nothing much else) on their minds and will resort to anything to make some bucks - the kind of people, in short, who run the publishing industry.

2 commentaires:

Jojo Lapin X a dit…

This comes as quite a shock, as I purchased the two James Hadley Chase volumes. And they are so lovely, too, with the edges of the pages stained red, a practice that I really would like to see return more generally.

David a dit…

If you would like to see specifically what they did to one of the Chase volumes, go here:
http://noirboiled.blogspot.com/2010/01/harlequin-bowdlerizations.html
Best, David