Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Myth of a "Censored" Jungle

In 2003 See Sharp Press, a small Tucson publisher came out with what was billed as "the Uncensored Version" of Upton Sinclair classic The Jungle. The only problem is that the claims appear to have been overblown. Historian Christopher Phelps discusses the issues in great depth on the History New Network.

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.

Phelps discusses the history of The Jungle in great depth and makes a most convincing case.

Before the Phelps posted his essay on HNN, Earl Lee defended the See Sharp edition from earlier criticisms from Phelps and others. But it seems to doesn't he doesn't really have much of case when he argues that The Jungle was "censored." Now, it is possible that the serialized version originally published in The Appeal to Reason in 1905--the basis for the See Sharp edition, is artistically superior, as Lee contends, but that's a different argument. Maybe the "original" version is the version that Sinclair should have preferred, but he didn't.

As Phelps notes there is value in having the 1905 version available. Moreover, See Sharp Press has made some important historical and current books available to the public. And, from reading the intro material to the See Sharp edition, it think it is easy to understand why that "censored" story resonated with Lee and Kathy DeGrave who prepared the edition.

Post a Comment