Waaaa, I don’t want to read complex muddle!
Posted February 5, 2007on:
The Guardian books blog often suffers from a common newspaper malady. It likes to create controversy or at least something intriguing out of thin air or trash; therefore it encourages its writers to come up with asinine arguments poised to be little else but provocative. Inevitably the majority of these are weakly composed, the writer’s opinions meant to be taken seriously for no other reason than that she’s written it.
According to those who are anti this idea, the whole point about these works of genius – Mill on the Floss, David Copperfield and Wives and Daughters are also to get the W & N cut-off-at-the-knees treatment – is their ambling byways, baffling dead-ends and sudden jumps of pace and tone. It is this glorious “complexity” – some might call it “muddle” – that makes a classic, classic.
I don’t agree. 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. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot is a case in point. While the first two thirds of the book is a wonderful, if leisurely, evocation of a small English market town at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the last part is a rushed, breathless, melodramatic affair with an entirely unlikely tying up of plotlines. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, while sublime in places, also contains whole stretches of writing that, frankly, never rise beyond the workmanlike.
I can’t say I got too irate when I first read of W & N’s efforts. I was annoyed but abridged classics have existed for decades, no? From what I could tell this was hardly a new development. What made me irate was Hughes paltry effort to support this move. First she misrepresents the argument she linked to: Matt O’Rama made no declarations as to what features make a novel a classic, he stated that to abridge Moby Dick, for example, is to invalidate it’s claim of being Moby Dick. But her main problem is the way George Eilot and Thackeray wrote their works, so she logically concludes that this makes their abridgement perfectly alright. She does not like the “ambling byways”, therefore change them to suit her, and raise them above their “workmanlike” origins. She also mentions that neither author’s novel, in the glorious present, would be “commercially viable”. They would be hacked down to their lean, mean, best-selling machine form.
If you’re a professor or student don’t worry: you can still study the long, boring stuff in school to learn about how and why the authors wrote their novels that way. “Ordinary readers”, only wishing to be diverted, can do without those extra trimmings.
I believe it was at that point that I silently screamed to the ceiling.