Well, not really a problem with Angela Carter, but with different versions of her work. A few years ago I read her collection, The Bloody Chamber, and loved it. So I picked up the collected stories for a future Halloween read, and this year decided to crack it open. I didn't read in order, but skipped around, and greatly admired a story called The Fall River Axe Murders, about Lizzie Borden. It's quite an accomplishment in terms of storytelling--we never see the actual murders, and the action, what little there is, takes place in the early morning hours of that fateful day, as Lizzie rises and reflects on her life. The narrator, who is not Lizzie, gives us more context. Little happens, but even though we all know the outcome of that day, it's suspenseful and dripping in dread.
So. I decided to look up more information about Carter and this story. Imagine my surprise when I found some indignant Amazon reviewers who--rightly--complained about this edition's brutal editing of this very story. Well! There was nothing for it but for me to try and find the original version, which was published in a British collection called Black Venus (and in the U.S. as Saints and Strangers).
Those Amazon reviewers are right. The version in Saints and Strangers is longer, and better. Saints and Strangers was published while Carter was still alive, Burning Your Boats three years after her death. Salman Rushdie wrote the intro to the collected works, and he singles out the Borden story for praise, but makes no mention of the cuts. Is this something Carter herself sanctioned before her death? If not, who did, and for goodness' sake, why?
Comparing the stories side-by-side, I found many cuts, and in other places, sentences and paragraphs that were entirely rewritten (and not for the better). On the chopping block (sorry):
"In this city of working women, the most visible sign of the status of the Borden girls is that they toil not. 'Clickety clack, clickety clack, You've got to work till it breaks your back!' the looms sing to the girls they lured here, the girls fresh from Lancashire, the dark-browed Portuguese, the French Canadian farmers' daughters, the up-country girls, the song whose rhythms now govern the movements of their dexterous fingers. But the Borden girls are deaf to it.
"Strange, that endless confinement of these perpetual 'girls' who do not labour in the mean house of the rich men. Strange, marginal life that those who lived it believed to be the very printing on the page, to be just exactly why the book was printed in the first place, to be the way all decent folks lived."
Why would you cut that?
Worse, an extended scene involving family meals is cut entirely, and that's a terrible loss. It ends this way: "In and out of the ice-box went the slowly dwindling leg of mutton until Thursday dinner was cancelled because corpses and not places were laid out on the table as if the eaters had become the meal."
It's shocking and disappointing that such a massive editing of an iconic story took place with no acknowledgement or explanation. My copy of Burning Your Boats has just tumbled onto the donation pile, and I'll continue reading the library copy of Saints and Strangers instead.