So the Cloud Atlas novel differs in the US and UK? No change there then …

From The Great Gatsby to The Martian to Harry Potter, American and English versions of the same novels have often been strikingly different

There was consternation in literary circles yesterday, when an academic revealed that David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a novel consisting of six, genre-hopping, interlocking stories, is quite noticeably different in its UK and US editions. Professor Martin Paul Eve of Birkbeck, University of London told the Guardian, “We’ve become accustomed to thinking that, in worldwide simultaneous releases of contemporary fiction, editions are the same, perhaps with only minor US spelling differences (‘color/colour’, etc)”. In fact, he found “an astonishing degree” of variance – so much so that he devotes 30 pages to comparing them in Appendix A of his paper, You Have to Keep Track of Your Changes: The Version Variants and Publishing History of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Mitchell added: “That will teach me for not leaving ‘finished’ manuscripts well alone.”

Eve concedes that Mitchell’s novel is not the only one to appear in significantly different editions, giving Andy Weir’s The Martian as another example. But history shows that several famous writers are also guilty of meddling with their “finished” manuscripts.

Virginia Woolf, for example, couldn’t seem to keep track of her edits. In Reading Virginia Woolf, the critic and biographer Julia Briggs describes how she would send one set of proofs to Donald Brace in New York, and another set to the Hogarth Press, resulting in sometimes notably different editions in Britain and the US.

Another long list of changes appears in the 2002 paper Differences Between British and American English in Two Versions of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Not only are words and punctuation switched between editions, but in the table “inexplicable alterations”, the paper lists changes such as “I had played no part in her past” (US) to “I expected no affection” (UK) and “Biloxi, Mississippi” to “Biloxi, Tennessee”.

More serious changes occurred in the US publication of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, which omitted the redemptive final chapter. So, therefore, did the film. Burgess forever regretted allowing his American publisher to make the decision, and eventually the chapter was restored.

Fans of the Harry Potter books have produced exhaustive lists of changes made for American editions – changes that make purists squeal at their favourite characters’ cookies, windshields and sweater vests.

As George Bernard Shaw apparently said, “The British and the Americans are two peoples divided by a common language.” That quote was probably changed for the US audience.

Katy Guest

The GuardianTramp

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