07 February 2009

Massachusetts Author

I picked up a mystery today, The Dante Club, which takes place in 1860s Boston. Someone is murdering people in ways taken from Dante's Inferno. The members of the Dante Club, and eventual sleuths, are three writers whose names you probably know: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, along with publisher James T. Fields (of Ticknor and Fields, which, among other things, published the children's magazine Our Young Folks, which was later absorbed into St. Nicholas). (For some reason, James Fields is mentioned in the 1994 movie version of Little Women as the publisher of Jo's book Little Women; the actual publisher was Brown Brothers.)

Some of the reviews say this book is rather plodding, but I'll reserve judgment until read.

Speaking of Little Women, I considered buying another, new copy of Little Women. Now, I have a perfectly serviceable copy of Little Women, the Grosset & Dunlap publication with the Louis Jambor illustrations. However, last night I noticed a hardcover version of Little Women in the literature section (rather than the children's section) of Borders, with old-style illustrations on the cover. I took it down from the shelf, noting the same illustrations in the text, and also a note at the front of the book about this particular edition.

Little Women was first published in 1868, what we now know as part one of the novel. The second half of the book was published the next year as Little Women, Part 2 (often known in England and other countries as Good Wives). In 1880, the two parts were united as one book and have been so ever since. In addition, however, this notation indicated, some changes were made. Alcott's original version had the girls and Laurie speaking less grammatically and more like children talked when Alcott wrote the book. However, when the volumes were united, Alcott went over the manuscript and corrected this dialog to fit with what publishers and educators said was better for children to read.

For example, at the opening of the book, Meg chides Jo about her tomboyish behavior and tells her she needs to start paying attention to her behavior, because she is now a young lady. In my Grosset & Dunlap (and most other) version, Jo's response is "I'm not! And if turning up my hair makes me one, I'll wear it in two tails till I'm twenty." In the original book, Jo says, "I ain't"! In the chapter where Beth is sick, Laurie asks Jo "Doesn't Meg pull fair?" [helping care for Beth]. In Alcott's original, Laurie says in the vernacular of the day, "Don't Meg pull fair?"

There are all sorts of little differences like that; I'm quite crazy about Louisa May Alcott's juveniles and may get the "original" Little Women anyway. Many of Alcott's novels went through editing after first publication and I love to read them "as written," not cleaned up.

I really want this book, too, but...oh, my, the price! I saw it today at Borders and just drooled, but even with a 30 percent off coupon...maybe when the used copies get more reasonable...

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