A few days ago I was talking books with a reasonably educated and definitely adult acquaintance – and, on saying that I’ve read a good deal of Dickens through the years, I earned a raised eyebrow and this question: but isn’t Dickens a children’s author?
Right then I raised an eyebrow in turn – but I have to admit that my acquaintance had reasons to think so. Very Italian reasons that have little to do with the audience Dickens wrote for…
You see, to the average Italian reader Dickens is not the literary giant he is to the English-speaking world. He is, mostly, the author of Oliver Twist. And never mind that Oliver Twist is the so-and-so work of a promising by still green writer, while A Tale of Two Cities is a much more mature and polished work: in Italy everyone knows and many have read Oliver Twist, while AToTC is, generally speaking, a quote in a schoolbook at best.
This is because Italian publishers have decided, at some point in the past, that OT is a classic for children – so much so that almost no year goes by without some new heavily abridged edition, with or without some kind of teacher’s guide. I remember counting some twenty new translations between 2000 and 2012 (without counting quite a few re-issues of old ones), against one edition of A Tale of Two Cities over the same period.
See what I mean? No wonder that Dickens is generally perceived as a children’s author here, when most Italians only know him through slices of Oliver Twist, and perhaps some similarly treated bits of David Copperfield, and some film version of A Christmas Carol – and never bother to read more when they grow up, because he’s a children’s author…* Oh – and I remember finding in my school’s library an abridged and sugarily illustrated Little Dorrit, too. Who ever thought that such a grim, bleak tale should make good reading for middle graders, I can’t imagine. I guess it was because a book titled “Little XY” must of necessity be children’s fare?
Then again, through the years, I’ve also seen an unabridged Moby Dick for children, and even Conrad’s Lord Jim – recommended minimum age from 10 up – so I truly have to wonder: what are Italian children’s publishers thinking? How many potential readers have they deprived of the pleasure of really reading Dickens? Or Stevenson? Or Conrad? Or Melville – or any other writer unwisely labeled as kid’s stuff?
* Unless they read English Literature at the university, or they develop a specific interest in the author, of course – but that makes for a narrow slice of the population.
Davide Mana said:
Well, it’s Dickens, sure, but what about Stevenson?
Isn’t Treasure Island a kid’s classic?
And Jules Verne, of course! Stories about strange machines and wild adventures and it must be for children.
And what about that guy Wells? Martians and whatnot? Children’s books.
And of course there’s Edgar Rice Burroughs. C’mon, Tarzan has to be for children, right? Only then they decide it’s not suitable for children because, you know, he lives in the jungle with Jane, and children are not supposed to know there’s both men and women out there…
And finally, Dumas. The Three Musketeers, what a wonderful romp for young readers. Granted, you have to cut about 300 pages and tweak the story around and drop a few characters, but hey… children’s book!
It’s a horrid malpractice, and it shows no sign of going away.
la Clarina said:
Well, I still think that one can have a lot of fun with Verne, and Dumas, and some Stevenson as a kid – especially, perhaps, with the mediation of a sympathetic adult. The trouble is, Italian publishers and readers don’t seem to possess the notions that a) not all that is adventurous and/or has a child in it is children’s fare; b) some books that can be read as childhood adventures don’t because of this make their author a writer for children… Sigh.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Victoria Blake said:
Lord Jim for those 10 years and up! I found it turgid reading it when I was 40!
la Clarina said:
Yes, well… I love it to bits – and still I wouldn’t dream of springing it on a kid. What were they thinking is beyond me. Besides, it was an awfully bad translation, sloppy and wooden at the same time, and peppered with glaring mistakes…
LikeLiked by 1 person