Blogs > Cliopatria > Back into "The Jungle"

Jul 23, 2006 7:56 pm

Back into "The Jungle"

There has been a controversy, of sorts, over whether or not the standard edition of Upton Sinclair's muckraking classic The Jungle is the product of changes imposed on the author by his publisher. That is the claim of See Sharp Press, which publishes what it dubs The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition, based on the serialized version of the novel as it first ran in 1905. The book offered by See Sharp is somewhat longer than the text issued by a commercial press the next year. But more, it is -- so claims the publisher --"the version of The Jungle that Sinclair very badly wanted to be the standard edition."

When I say that there"has been a controversy" over this claim, the stress should be on has -- because the debate is now over.

An article by Christopher Phelps published last month by the History News Network reviewed the evidence and settled the matter pretty decisively. No grounds exist at all for See Sharp's claims that the 1906 text was censored. Sinclair reprinted that version himself and sold it for decades. Even the fanciest possible footwork by a defender of the See Sharp edition cannot quite get around the very inconvenient fact that he could have reprinted the serialized version, but didn't.

Well, there's a new bit of evidence against the bogus claim of censorship. And it comes from Sinclair himself.

Last week, in an update to the HNN article, Phelps cited a letter by the novelist written in 1958 that is worth the attention of anyone who has been following this matter. Here it is:

"The book was finished at the end of 1905," writes Sinclair,"and was not published until June of 1906. It started as a serial in the weekly Socialist paper, The Appeal to Reason, which at that time had a circulation of something like three-fourths of a million copies. It published large installments, I would say at a guess about a newspaper page; so all my revelations concerning conditions in the packing houses had been put before a huge public early in the year. I had been offering the manuscript of the book to publishers in New York -— I think to five -— without result. They were afraid of it, and finally growing desperate I decided to publish the book myself. I got Jack London to write his tremendous endorsement of the book. I announced the publication in The Appeal to Reason, and I was taking in several hundred orders a week. I had the plates made and paid for. Then -— I have forgotten how -— it occurred to me to offer the book to Doubleday-Page; and they immediately accepted it and agreed to take over my plates and to let me have and sell my own edition."

Okay, let's go over that again, m'kay?

Sinclair says he prepared an edition of the book after it ran as a serial, but could not interest a commercial publisher. He was ready to publish it himself....had the plates for it made....then got an offer from Doubleday -- which bought and used his plates.

So much for the damned dirty capitalist censors depriving the world of"the version of The Jungle that Sinclair very badly wanted to be the standard edition."

As I've said before, it is hard to believe someone has not yet prepared a variorum edition of the book: a scholarly text marking all the changes between 1905 and 1906. This might not be nearly as exciting has a halfbaked, fact-free story of" censorship." But it would be honest work, which counts for something.

At this point, the See Sharp crew looks as indifferent to historical accuracy as the slaughterhouses bosses were to hygiene back in Sinclair's day. They need to stop offering tainted goods to the public using false labels.

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Lorraine Paul - 7/26/2006

But they are being clever capitalists...offering an over-rated item to maximise their price!