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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: bowdler, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. More Book Meddling...Sort Of

Today is July 11th, which means it's Bowdler Day. You know: Dr. Thomas Bowdler, the 19th century English dude who infamously changed the words in books - most notably the words of Shakespeare. Wait...you've never heard of him? No worries. Click on that red link above and read all about him.

While you're there, you'll also read about a man named Reverend James Granger: the 18th century English dude who infamously put extra stuff into books. When you've finished reading, come back here.

...All done then? Right. So, it was while researching Rev. Granger that I came across this quote: 

"There is one member of the Fraternity of Book Collectors who has of late years rather fallen in the estimation of his brother Bibliophiles. This knight of the shears and paste jar...is known in bookman's parlance as the Grangerite. The title never has been understood to indicate exalted bibliophilic rank, and now, alas! the individual who bears it appears to be upon point of losing all honorary distinction whatever in the little world of the book collector."  

- W.L. Andrews, from Of the Extra-Illustration of Books    
Source: With Deft Knife and Paste: The Extra-Illustrated Books of John M. Wing, by Jill Gage
(Well. Tell us how you really feel, Mr. Andrews.) 

Anyhow, when I read that quote, what stuck in my brain and refused to leave was the phrase "knight of the shears and paste jar." Seeing as this little phrase seemed determined to take up such stubborn residence in my head, I decided to get out my art supplies and breathe a little life into it:

Perhaps if I go a bit further and fashion Sir Cutandpaste his very own noble steed, he'll finally decamp from my brain and ride off into the sunset, searching for books to Grangerize. 

Or, maybe he's come to like living in my head, and intends to hang out a while longer, steed or no steed, cutting and pasting new stuff into the other thoughts living in there.

I'm cool with either.

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2. Book Meddlers. Or, Folks Who Fiddle With Books

Bowdler Day occurs annually on the 11th of July - the anniversary of the birthdate of one Dr. Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), an Englishman who became famous for his expurgation of Shakespeare.

In other words, he changed the words. And then he published them.

Image from: Amazon.com
Why would someone meddle with such classic literature? To bring the works of Shakespeare more in line with what was generally deemed appropriate reading/listening material for women and children in the 19th century. He called his first edition the Family Shakespeare, and by 1850 he had completed 10 more Shakespeare editions. And he didn't stop with rewording the Bard. He also published what came to be known as "bowdlerized" versions of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and even the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. 

Thomas Bowdler was, in general, criticized and ridiculed for meddling with the classics. However, his edited editions made it possible for Shakespeare's works to be appropriate enough for 19th century women, children, and families to enjoy them, and affordable enough for the 19th century middle class to buy them.

Yet, whether he be literary demon or protector of decency, surely we can forgive the good doctor some of his zeal. One could argue that his actions were a natural extension of his own childhood: When Dr. Bowdler was young, his father would nightly read Shakespeare aloud to the family. When he came to a word or passage he deemed unsuitable for women or children, he would either: a) not read it aloud, or b) alter it on the spot. And who among us, in the 21st century, hasn't committed similar extemporaneous omissions or edits, in order to (at least for the time being) shield the littlest ears among us from fare deemed not-yet-suitable for their tender ages?

* * *

Well. Every yin has its yang, does it not? And so this discussion of book meddling would not be complete without consideration of the Reverend James Granger (1723-1776) - Dr. Bowdler's countryman, yet literary polar opposite. Reverend Granger didn't take things out of books. He pasted extra stuff in: words, lithographs, portraits, engravings, letters, maps - anything that even remotely related to the text, the author, the illustrator, or the illustrations.

2 Comments on Book Meddlers. Or, Folks Who Fiddle With Books, last added: 7/8/2011
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