I’m not sure the ‘intermediate’ edition of The Great Gatsby is the crime against literature it’s been declared. It can be very funny

Hark, hark at this righteous rage! Over at the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert is in a right tizz over his discovery of an “intermediate” readers’ version of The Great Gatsby. Rather than ending with Fitzgerald’s wonderfully evocative “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”, Margaret Tarner’s rewritten edition concludes, somewhat more prosaically, “Some unpleasant people became part of Gatsby’s dream. But he cannot be blamed for that. Gatsby was a success, in the end, wasn’t he?”

Ebert is furious. He calls it an obscenity. “Fitzgerald’s novel is not about a story. It is about how the story is told,” he says. “Any high-school student who cannot read The Great Gatsby in the original cannot read. That student has been sold a bill of goods. We know that teachers at the college level complain that many of their students cannot read and write competently. If this is an example of a book they are assigned, can they be blamed?” When he later found out that the Tarner edition was actually for foreign students, he was unrepentant: “Why not have ESL learners begin with Young Adult novels? Why not write books with a simplified vocabulary? Why eviscerate Fitzgerald? Why give a false impression of Jay Gatsby?”

While I am always happy to join in with censorship/bowdlerisation outrage, and while I am still chuckling at Ebert’s Gatsby pop quiz –

Was Jay Gatsby a success in life? (Choose one):

___ Yes, he got his dream.
___ No, he met some unpleasant people.
___ Words fail me.

– I think in this case it’s not particularly called for. I’m with Ms BookSlut, Jessa Crispin, who read adaptations as a kid and doesn’t feel they “prevented me from reading the real versions once I was ready, nor did it do any brain damage or put me off books. I read them for the story as a kid – murder and intrigue and violence and revolution – and then for the prose later on, when it wasn’t so off-putting.” Like Imogen Russell Williams, I read the Ladybird adaptations of the classics and loved them, coming amazed to the proper versions when I grew older, not put off in any way.

So I’m afraid I can’t join in the outrage, although I’m sure there’ll be plenty who can: there certainly were a few years ago, when Orion announced its new Compact Classics venture, described as a “disgrace” to publishing by Jenny Diski.

But I am nonetheless hugely amused by the new Gatsby ending. “Gatsby was a success, in the end, wasn’t he?” I wonder if we can do any better. How about a fresh take on A Tale of Two Cities? “Sydney felt that in dying he made up for all his previous nonsense” surely trumps all that “far, far better” talk, doesn’t it?

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