War Over War and Peace

By Carmen Comment

What to do when there are two competing versions of a classic novel, one that purports to be the “original” and one that call itself “Tolstoy’s intended version” or whatnot? If one is 1400 pages and one only 900, which one do you buy? Is it like getting a bare bones DVD or the director’s cut, or the real thing and a panned-and-scanned version?

The arguments are endless and the Times’ Dalya Alberge reports on the sniping between HarperCollins—publishers of the streamlined WAR AND PEACE—and Penguin, purveyors of the original version in a new translation. Tony Briggs, translator of the Penguin edition, says that the HarperCollins version should not even be called War and Peace. He said that Tolstoy named his abandoned draft ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL; that it never went near a publisher and that 200,000 words are missing, along with the main ideas. The fates of the principal characters are radically different—Prince Andrei, Count Rostov and Petya do not die and Platon Karatayev does not even feature.

Professor Briggs, Emeritus Professor at Birmingham University, and a senior research fellow at Bristol University, decries the draft version: “If you sent the last chapter to Mills and Boon, they would not accept it. It’s silly and sentimental. It is an exaggeration to call this work ‘the original’. There were many drafts and this one, although more detailed, was rejected and superseded like all the others. It is of little significance, except to a small body of scholars.” But Clare Reihill, editorial director of Fourth Estate, a HarperCollins literary imprint, said that that they were not misleading anyone, that the writing was “not Mills and Boon” and that they had not copied the cover. “In publishing, there are always periods when jackets look the same. All classics look like this now. I don’t think [Professor Briggs] can claim ownership of what’s currently seen as marketable.” In the end, sales will matter most, so we’ll just have to wait and see what readers are more inclined to pick up…