Why are they publishing so many of the rough drafts of great writers' works?

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WE are a nation of grad students, or that’s what people in the book business seem to be hoping as they race to sell us not only the finished work of famous authors but also the rough drafts.

To compete with Knopf’s new translation of “War and Peace,” by the husband-and-wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, for example, HarperCollins has brought out a translation, by Andrew Bromfield, of an earlier version of the novel, completed three years before the final text but never published in Tolstoy’s lifetime. This version, which includes more peace than war, eliminates nearly all the conversations in French and allows Prince Andrei to survive the Battle of Borodino. It’s also hundreds of pages shorter than the Knopf doorstopper, which may recommend it to slackers as well as to Tolstoyans.

On the other hand, the draft of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel” — called “O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life” in the original — published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2000 is some 66,000 words longer than the later version. To bring it out, the editors, Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli, another husband-and-wife team, essentially undid all the work of Maxwell Perkins, the legendary Scribner’s editor who toiled for months cutting and reshaping Wolfe’s trunk-size manuscript. Wolfe was grateful at first — as most readers of the book continue to be — but then grew resentful and eventually switched publishers.

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