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A Warning to the Curious Reader - Caveat Emptor!
on 20 March 2014
What a pity, when the Afterword is valuable and the fragmentary stories so rarely found, that the editor Stephen Jones has taken it upon himself to muck around with James's punctuation to make him more "accessible" - on the grounds that the original author was "not much of a stylist". Hmm.
Perhaps it had not occurred to him that many of us read these stories for the style as much as the substance. Mr Jones claims that he has not cut a word or altered the meaning. In the event, he often obscures James's meaning without clarifying it in the slightest. Sometimes he does worse. Here is just one, rather shocking example.
The original first paragraph of "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" reads:
'I suppose you will be getting away pretty soon, now Full Term is over, Professor,' said a person not in the story to the Professor of Ontography, soon after they had sat down next to each other at a feast in the hospitable hall of St James's College.'
Here is the "accessible" Jones version, which adds a full stop after 'now':
'I suppose you will be getting away pretty soon, now. Full term is over, Professor," said a person not in the story to the Professor of Ontography, soon after they had sat down next to each other at a feast in the hospitable hall of St. James's College.'
This introduces the baffling impression that the Professor needs to be told, rhetorically, that "Full term is over," rather in the manner of a bad Hollywood script. The extra punctuation turns James's elegant first sentence into bad writing. It destroys the rhythm and ruins the sense.
Such examples abound on nearly every page. Goodness knows what Mr Jones thought he was doing, but unfortunately his condescending and tin-eared interference has rendered one of the greatest ghost writers in the language down to the level of a penny-dreadful hack.
Add the fact that unattractive, modish and (in some cases) nearly unreadable italic and typewriter fonts have been used to let us stupid readers know when the stories quote "manuscripts" or "inscriptions", and we have a car-crash of the worst order.
The depressing series of own goals reduces the value of this collection to zero. What arrogance. How frustrating!