5 Writers Who Edited Their Books After Publication


The image of writers as always true to their own spirit and invulnerable to the words of critics is powerful – yet the history of literature shows that sometimes even the greatest authors are not completely immune to outside criticism. .. or the impulse to keep polishing. Here are five authors who have rewritten previously published books, either because they received critical responses, their views changed, or because they restored their original vision.

A portrait of Mary Shelley sitting at a writing desk.

Mary Shelley. /Hulton Archive/GettyImages

by Mary Shelley Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus—first published when she was only 20 – has become one of the most famous works of supernatural fiction. What is less known, however, is that the book has been altered in several ways between this original publication, published anonymously in 1818, and a revised edition written by Shelley in 1831.

Part of the reason for the changes was contractual: the publisher of the 1831 edition had made a business of buying books near the end of their copyright, asking the author to write new material if possible, then trying to extend copyright protections.

But modern scholars tend to agree that what played a greater role in the changes was personal tragedy. According to Professor Anne K. Mellor of UCLA, between 1818 and 1831, two of Shelley’s children, along with her husband Percy, had died, and some of her closest friends had turned their backs on her, which, writes Mellor, “convinced Mary Shelley that human events are not decided by personal choice or free will, but by fate or indifferent fate. The result is that, while in the 1818 edition, Victor Frankenstein choose to make the creature a sense of pride and free will, in the 1831 edition he is at the whim of forces beyond his control [PDF].

A portrait of George Eliot;  the author is looking to the side and has his hand on his cheek.

George Eliot. / Stereoscopic Society of London/GettyImages

George Eliot’s Conclusion Middle-walk (1871) is one of his most famous writings, including the eloquent description of its central character Dorothea (“His full nature, like that river whose strength Cyrus broke, was spent in channels which did not had no great name on earth”), and the last lines, which inspired the title of the film by Terrence Malick A hidden life (“[F]or the growing good of the world depends in part on non-historical acts; and that things are not as bad between you and me as they might have been, it is half due to the number of those who faithfully lived a hidden life and lie in unvisited tombs”). But the version people know today is not the original: the first version of Middle-walkThe end of was significantly longer and contained a number of details not found in the text we read today. So why did Eliot change the ending after it was originally posted?

Influential critic Richard Holt Hutton wrote in mostly laudable terms about Middle-walk when the final episode was released, but he criticized some aspects of the ending, particularly a comment that the community in the novel had “smiled” at a marriage between an elderly man and a young woman, whereas earlier sections of the book had actually described their disapproval of the union.

“[T]his remark about the ‘smile on a proposal’ of marriage from a sick man to a girl less than half his age, really has no basis in the story itself,” the reviewer wrote. [PDF]. “When Mr. Brooke, Dorothea’s uncle, weakly bears Mr. Casaubon’s offer to Dorothea, he goes with it with as much sloppy deterrence as it is possible for such a helpless nature to use. Dorothea’s sister Celia hears about it with ill-disguised horror of disgust, which bitterly offends Dorothea. If the rector’s wife, Mrs. Cadwallader, represents the opinion of the county (and who could represent it better?), all of society has frowned upon her.

Hutton had praised Eliot’s earlier novel Romola– a fact that pleased him very much [PDF]- and his respect for his opinion probably influenced his decision to rewrite Middle-walkends to remove these inconsistencies, which had also been noted by others.

A portrait of Henry James

Henry James. / Reginald Haines/GettyImages

by Henry James The portrait of a lady (first published in book form in 1881), tells the story of idealist Isabel Archer, her disastrous marriage, and the other men who love her, including the good Caspar Goodwood. It ends on a seemingly ambiguous note, when Caspar comes to visit Isabel only to be told by his friend Henrietta that she has already left to travel abroad, ending with the following exchange between Henrietta and Caspar: “’Look here, Mr. Goodwood,’ she said; ‘hold on!’ Whereupon he looked at her.

The meaning of this is doubtless subject to interpretation, but Richard Holt Hutton, writing in The viewer, thought James was making it clear that Isabel would eventually leave her husband for Caspar: he just has to “wait”, as Henrietta promised. At the time, many considered it outrageous for a wife to leave her husband (no matter how horribly the husband treated her), and Hutton was outraged by what he believed to be the meaning of the ending .

James was known to have read Hutton’s reviews, and when he finally revised the novel in 1906, he made a large number of changes to the text. One of the most striking changes is that the ending was changed to clarify that there was no prospect of Isabel uniting with Caspar, and Henrietta’s words only serve to reassure him on the fact that he will eventually move on. The final ending reads, “Whereup he looked at her, but only to guess from her face, with revulsion, that she merely meant he was young. She stood brilliantly at him with this cheap comfort, and he added, on the spot, thirty years to her life. She took him with her, however, as if she had now given him the key to patience.

Novelist Evelyn Waugh seated at a desk, writing, with her glasses in her hand.

Evelyn Waugh. /Library of Congress/GettyImages

Brideshead revisited is arguably the novel for which Evelyn Waugh is best known, but the first edition, published in 1945, was different in some respects from the current version. Initially, Waugh had been pleased with much of the critical and dismissive response from those who disliked him, stating that “most criticism has been flattering except where soured by class resentment.”

However, Waugh’s doubts gradually surfaced, and he later wrote to a friend that “everything those nasty critics had said was right” and vowed to revise the novel, which he did in 1959. He altered the structure of two books to three and changed a few notable lines, among them his original description of Oxford as having “the sweet vapors of a thousand years of apprenticeship”, which was replaced in the revised version with “the sweet airs of centuries of youth”. Moreover, this version dampened some of the nostalgia of the original, in part because the way of life that Waugh believed in 1945 was coming to an end (like the upkeep of large estates in England), had remained surprisingly resilient. in the late 1950s.

A photograph by Joan Lindsay.

by Joan Lindsay Picnic at the hanging rock (first published in 1967) tells the story of a group of students and their teacher who disappear while visiting a rock formation in Victoria, Australia on Valentine’s Day in 1900. All but one of the victims are never found, and the mystery of their disappearance is never solved.

But the original version of the novel was different. Lindsay had originally written an extra chapter that stated the reason for the women’s disappearance: a mystical event caused a hole to open in the rock; three of the girls went inside, after which the crack in the rock closed. When Lindsay took the book to the editors for review, one of them suggested that the novel would actually be improved by omitting this explanation. Lindsay agreed, and the book was published without him.

However, Lindsay herself was always keen to reveal the solution and eventually gave her agent the manuscript of the missing chapter, asking that it be made available after her death. In 1987, the final chapter, originally intended to be Chapter 18 of the original novel, was published as a stand-alone work titled The Secret of the Hanging Rock. But critical opinion was divided on the propriety of explaining the mystery, and the extra chapter was never reinstated into the overall story. The most widely read version of the novel today remains the version that omits chapter 18 and leaves the story unresolved.


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