The Fictitious Suppression of Upton Sinclair’s The JungleFact & Fiction
Mr. Phelps, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University at Mansfield, is the editor of the Bedford/St. Martin’s edition of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
When a small, Tucson-based publisher of anarchist and atheist literature called See Sharp Press issued a new edition in 2003 of Upton Sinclair’s famous novel The Jungle, it was not especially remarkable. Editions of The Jungle, from the scholarly to the mass-market, are abundant. Generations of readers have been transfixed by the misery of the novel’s protagonist, the Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus, in Chicago’s gruesome meatpacking industry. No publishing house, it seems, has ever lost money on The Jungle—something that cannot be said of many other works of socialist literature.
The See Sharp edition, however, is extraordinary for its fanfare. Its subtitle proclaims it The Uncensored Original Edition. A slogan on the front cover, complete with exclamation point, denounces all competing editions as “censored commercial versions!” The back jacket touts it as “the version of The Jungle that Upton Sinclair very badly wanted to be the standard edition—not the gutted, much shorter commercial version with which we’re all familiar.”
Inside is a foreword by Earl Lee, a librarian at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, who writes of “efforts of censors to subvert” The Jungle’s “political message” and states that Sinclair “changed The Jungle in order to get it published by a large commercial publisher.” An introduction by Kathleen De Grave, professor of American literature at Pittsburg State, suggests that Sinclair’s alterations were “not driven by a desire for artistic economy” but “produced under coercion, directly or indirectly.” The text restored by the See Sharp edition, she holds, is “closer to Sinclair’s true vision.”
Is it any wonder that reviewers have found it impossible to resist the romance of a forgotten, authentic, suppressed version of The Jungle? Library Journal, in classifying the See Sharp edition as “essential,” deplores the novel’s “butchering” and claims “Sinclair later wanted to reinsert the expurgated material for a full-length version but that never came to fruition” (April 15, 2003). The People’s Weekly World, newspaper of the Communist Party USA, states, “If you have never read The Jungle, don’t waste your time on the 1906 censored version. Go right to the original, now available, at a reasonable price, and feel and experience the real message that Upton Sinclair so deeply desired to convey to his readers” (May 29, 2004).
Just one problem: none of the sensational claims made on behalf of the See Sharp edition is true. The Jungle was not censored. Sinclair did not revise the text to meet the coercive demands of a commercial publisher. He never wanted the 1905 serial version to become the standard edition. And the novel, as eventually published in book form, has a political message that is perfectly clear.
First issued as a book by Doubleday, Page in 1906, The Jungle was a straightaway international bestseller. The See Sharp edition recuperates a lesser-known, earlier version of the novel. The Jungle was first published in serial form between February 25, 1905, and November 4, 1905, in The Appeal to Reason, a socialist newspaper with a nationwide readership edited by Fred Warren and published by J. A. Wayland out of Girard, Kansas. An almost identical text was published in three installments between April and October 1905 in One-Hoss Philosophy, a small-circulation quarterly also published by Wayland. The See Sharp edition reproduces the One-Hoss text.
The initial 1905 version of the novel had a different ending and was longer than the 1906 book known the world over as The Jungle. The former had 36 chapters, the latter 31. This redaction is the basis for See Sharp’s charge that the novel was “gutted” or, as Lee puts it, “expurgated.” According to De Grave, “since the socialists could not raise the revenue to adequately publish, promote, and distribute his book, the only alternative was to revise the novel in such a way that a capitalist publisher would accept it. ...Sinclair must have agonized over the revisions he made. They went against what he believed in, and what he’d seen for himself.”
If this is so—if The Jungle was censored, if corporate perfidy forced Sinclair to make changes he did not wish to make—then a question arises. Why did he permit a bowdlerized version to be reissued, decade after decade?
Across Sinclair’s ninety years, numerous editions of The Jungle were issued . Sinclair held the copyright. Yet every time the novel appeared, it followed the 1906 text. Sinclair self-published the novel four times (1920, 1935, 1942, 1945). He wrote introductory material for the Viking (1946) and Heritage (1965) editions. Further editions of The Jungle include Haldeman-Julius (1924), Vanguard (1926), Albert & Charles Boni (1928), Penguin (1936), Amsco School (1946), R. Bentley (1946), Harper (1951), World (1959), New American Library (1960), Dial (1965), Airmont (1965), and the Limited Editions Club (1965). If Sinclair yearned for the 1905 version and wanted to see it restored, why did he not insist upon its use in these many editions?
To settle this matter definitively requires passing beyond rhetorical questions, however, to a recapitulation of The Jungle’s circuitous publishing history.
After turning out hundreds of pages of fiction week after week in 1904 and 1905, Sinclair was exhausted. He disliked the end result, a work he considered long-winded and rambling. “I went crazy at the end,” he wrote in a personal letter in 1930 to a reader curious as to why many passages had been excised, “... and tried to put in everything I knew about the Socialist movement. I remember that Warren came to see me at my farm near Princeton, and I read him the concluding chapters, and he went to sleep. So I guess that is why I left them out of the book!"
Sinclair began to abbreviate the text. He corrected the Lithuanian references, changing, for example, the name of the main character from Rudkos to the more typical Rudkus. He sought to streamline the novel, making it less repetitious and didactic. At the same time, he ran into problems with Macmillan, a major publisher that had advanced him a contract for book rights following serialization. Macmillan, Sinclair later recalled, demanded that he eliminate the “blood and guts.” Although he strove to pare down the text, Sinclair was unwilling, on principle, to compromise the novel’s brutal realism. The Macmillan arrangement disintegrated by autumn 1905.
Next Sinclair tried to persuade the Appeal to issue the novel as a book, but Warren and Wayland, although phenomenally successful at publishing socialist periodicals, felt ill-equipped to enter into book promotion and distribution. Sinclair then submitted the book to “five leading publishing houses” and watched as every one rejected it, a story he first recounted in a 1920 brochure announcing a new self-published edition of The Jungle.
Frustrated, Sinclair resolved to publish the book on his own. In a letter published in the Appeal to Reason (November 18, 1905), Sinclair criticized capitalist publishing and requested that readers help subsidize the printing costs by ordering copies in advance. He began to trim the work according to his taste and to have the book set into type. Then a surprise turn of events transpired: Doubleday, Page offered him a contract.
Sinclair was satisfied that Doubleday would not pressure him to make changes he could not accept. In a follow-up letter published in the Appeal (December 16, 1905), Sinclair alluded to “an offer from a publishing house of the highest standing, which is willing to bring out the book on my own terms.” Because he had already accepted individual orders, however, Sinclair continued to invite donations and superintend the book’s typesetting. He asked Doubleday to permit him to publish his own small concurrent edition. Their memorandum of agreement was signed on January 8, 1906.
Just one month later, in February 1906, Doubleday, Page put out The Jungle, and the book took the world by storm. Simultaneously, an edition of five thousand copies appeared under the imprint of “The Jungle Publishing Company.” Its cover was nearly identical, except for an embossed addition: the Socialist Party’s symbol of hands clasped across the globe. Pasted inside was a label identifying it as the “Sustainer’s Edition.” The Doubleday edition and this special edition were both issued in New York and printed from the same plates, as prepared by Sinclair.
Sinclair’s memoir American Outpost (1932) corroborates this chronology: "I forget who were the other publishers that turned down The Jungle. There were five in all; and by that time I was raging, and determined to publish it myself. ...I offered a 'Sustainer's Edition,' price $1.20, postpaid, and in a month or two I took in four thousand dollars—more money than I had been able to earn in all the past five years. ...I had a printing firm in New York at work putting The Jungle into type. Then, just as the work was completed, some one suggested that I offer the book to Doubleday, Page and Company. So I found myself in New York again, for a series of conferences with Walter H. Page and his young assistants. ...Doubleday, Page agreed to bring out the book, allowing me to have a simultaneous edition of my own to supply my 'sustainers.' The publication was in February, 1906, and the controversy started at once."
The version that See Sharp Press disparages as “censored” and “commercial,” in other words, is the very version that Sinclair approved, the one that his socialist readers subsidized, and the one that he fought to bring before a wide public without sacrifice of “blood and guts.”
In her introduction, De Grave holds that the 1906 edition was politically vitiated, that it “skirted the realities of disease and death among the poor” and “apologized to the rich and powerful by its silences.” This misimpression arises from a grave analytical error. De Grave presumes that because, say, a given passage condemning capitalism was excised, the resultant novel somehow excuses capitalism. For the most part, however, Sinclair was pruning away duplicative material. It is an absurdity to allege that The Jungle, recognized by millions as one of the leading social novels of the twentieth century, apologized for the rich or overlooked disease and death among the poor.
Equally fanciful is De Grave’s contention that Sinclair watered down the novel’s “ethnic flavor” by modifying its Lithuanian spellings and terms. She makes a great deal, for example, of Sinclair’s adjustment of a minor female character’s name from Aniele Juknos to Aniele Jukniene. This “telling alteration,” declares De Grave, made “the name less Slavic by adding the Romance-language ending.” In actuality, Sinclair was rectifying a blunder. Jukniene is the married feminine form of Jukna; “Juknos” was erroneous. In his meticulous new linguistic analysis Upton Sinclair: The Lithuanian Jungle (2006), Giedrius Subačius, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes, “The Lithuanian language of the 1906 edition would have looked quite correct, accurate, and standardized to contemporary Lithuanians, unlike the first newspaper edition of 1905, which contained many more dialectal features, inconsistencies, and mistakes.”
The Jungle was revised, not suppressed. It was published precisely as Sinclair wished. Its refashioning was not ruinous, and Sinclair emended it voluntarily, not under duress. The 1905 text of The Jungle is best understood not as pristine and superior, but as an unevenly executed rough draft produced in great haste. Sinclair truncated it for aesthetic reasons. The result was a more concise text that retains the novel’s political, ethnic, and naturalistic sensibilities while eliminating some of the tedious didacticism of the first draft. (Most literary critics still believe there's too much of that in the novel, as it is.)
Rewriting abounds in literary history. Charles Dickens, for example, altered the ending of Great Expectations, serialized in 1860-1861, when it appeared as a book, yielding to the entreaties of his friend, the playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth all published different versions of identical works.
There is value, to be sure, in having the 1905 version of The Jungle available in print. It contains, for example, explicit elaborations upon the “jungle” as a metaphor for capitalist civilization, as well as a direct mention of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a model for The Jungle. We need an authoritative scholarly edition of The Jungle that would demarcate precisely which passages were cut or altered between its 1905 and 1906 versions, with an introduction explaining, in a measured way, the significance of the changes. In the meantime, we have the See Sharp edition, hyperbolic to the point of irresponsibility.
Ironies abound in this situation. A radical publisher betrays suspicion of change. A supposedly truer text is promoted with claims contradicted by the evidence. An edition of a novel that indicts capitalism repeatedly for fleecing gullible consumers is advertised misleadingly. A publishing house that accuses all others of crass commercial motives happens upon a cash cow it is unlikely to relinquish.
The failure of the American left is less a result of censorship than of a paucity of ideas capable of winning over new audiences not yet committed to the cause. The left will never transcend the culture of capitalism unless it forgoes stratagems that advance neither social justice nor historical truth. The fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves.
Author's addendum (July 19, 2006) This morning I was going over some old research files and came across a personal letter written by Upton Sinclair in 1958. Here Sinclair states in clear, unequivocal language precisely what I argued in my article"The Fictitious Suppression of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle." This letter provides strong--one might say conclusive--confirmation of the historical narrative I offered above.
"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." (December 1, 1958)
To recapitulate: After the serial version of The Jungle appeared in The Appeal to Reason in 1905, Sinclair, unable to find a mainstream publisher, decided to publish the book himself. He pared down the text and had"the plates made and paid for" himself. Then he received a contract from Doubleday, Page. That publisher, in turn, used Sinclair's self-prepared plates when issuing the book in 1906, while allowing Sinclair to issue his sustainer's edition simultaneously. In short, The Jungle was printed by Doubleday in 1906 not in a censored form but just as Sinclair wished--indeed, from plates he himself had prepared.
DeGruson, Gene. The Lost First Edition of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Memphis: Peachtree, 1988.
Harris , Leon . Upton Sinclair: American Rebel. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.
Shore , Elliott . Talkin’ Socialism: J. A. Wayland and the Role of the Press in American Radicalism, 1890-1912. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988.
Sinclair, Upton. A New Edition of The Jungle. Pasadena, California: Upton Sinclair, n.d. .
—. American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1932.
—. The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1962.
—. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1906.
—. The Jungle. New York: The Jungle Publishing Company, 1906.
—. The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition. Tucson, Arizona: See Sharp Press, 2003.
Subačius, Giedrius. Upton Sinclair: The Lithuanian Jungle. Amsterdam and New York: Editions Rodopi, 2006.
Upton Sinclair Manuscripts, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. [The specific letter cited in the main article is to William McDevitt, 3 September 1930, and is found in Correspondence, Box 13. The letter cited in the addendum is to G. L. Lewin, 1 December 1958, and is found in Correspondence, Box 59. Both letters are quoted courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University.]