DWJ sans frontiers

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu Jun 9 07:28:26 EDT 2005

>On Tue, 7 Jun 2005 minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:
>> This doesn't always work.  One girl (too young to remember the days before
>> mobile phones, was how DWJ put it) was given the job of changing the
>> pre-decimal currency in *The Ogre Downstairs* to its modern equivalents,
>> and somewhat overstepped her brief.  Luckily the "corrected" proofs were
>> sent to DWJ -- this was the occasion upon which her son seriously
>> contemplated getting her a rubberstamp made of the word STET! to save her
>> from writers' cramp.  All the jokes had been revised, and the LPs had been
>> turned into CDs, and so on and on and on.

and Kyla shuddered:
>Ugh, how horrible! That's even stupider than assuming Americans won't ever
>be able to understand that jumpers are sweaters and chips are french
>fries. If a book is set in a particular time period, well, it should just
>*stay* there. And I'm sure there's stuff about scratching LPs, not just
>letting them get dusty; and who goes to a discotheque these days, anyway?

I suppose it is possible that one could scratch a CD if one really worked
at it, and maybe getting them covered in stickiness and dust isn't a very
good idea, but it isn't the same as the way it was for LPs, certainly.

>(Was changing the pre-decimal currency really necessary, too? I mean, you
>say "crown" and I go, "oh, that's a reasonable amount of money," and you
>say "sixpence" and I go, "oh, that's not so much in comparison." It
>doesn't really matter, even though I do admit to being distracted in a
>recent reading of...*April Lady*, I think it was, trying to figure out how
>much our heroine would still be in the hole, if she owed 300 guineas and
>got repaid 300 pounds, or something like that.)

The answer to that particular question is fifteen pounds, if you are still
vaguely wondering, and that was more than a year's wages for a housemaid in
the heroine's employ at the time of which Heyer was writing in that book
(1813).  :-)  But yes, I don't think -- and nor did DWJ -- that it is
sensible to change the money for a new edition, because if you do, where
does it stop?  Inflation means that change will be out-of-date by the time
the next edition comes out, and it will all have to be changed again.  At
most, one might put a conversion table in at the front, ("1/- (12d) = 5p"
and so on) and a note saying "5/- (five shillings) in the year in which
this story takes place would buy twelve modern-large Mars Bars, or forty
miles of travel by railway, or a pound of beef steak, or twenty pounds of

It occurred to me yesterday when I was reading *We Didn't Mean To Go To
Sea*, set in the 1930s, that when Daddy gives out shillings to each child
because they all sighted land at the same time and he had said "A shilling
for the first to sight land", this was a lot of money.  We know that from
context in other Swallows and Amazons books, though: they buy an amazing
quantity of rope for five shillings, at some point, and I remember being
quite envious when I read that bit in the late fifties.

>> And then there was "parking lot" for "allotment", which was tried on for
>> *Black/Aunt Maria* -- and the title itself: "nobody in America would
>> understand about "Black Maria" being a card game", they said.  It isn't as
>> if it were explained in the first paragraph of the book, right?
>And there are never, ever book titles that are confusing, right?

No, of course not.  See "Hints for Young Mothers" and the bewildered
juvenile would-be coleopterist.

>> They also asserted that nobody in America would know what "muesli" was --
>> so DWJ sent them the American muesli packet she happened to have in her
>> house, with the name writ large on it along with "Made in the USA" or
>> equivalent, and she won that argument.  Or at least I think she did.  Does
>> anyone have an American edition called *Aunt Maria*, and could they check
>> that what Mig is forced to eat in the orphanage is still muesli?
>I do, and I have, and although it's capitalized, Mig does eat Muesli. I
>think the first muesli I ate was in Sweden, but it's certainly available

I think DWJ may have been writing on behalf of a generation of British
children who'd been made to eat it because it was Healthy.  I vaguely
remember that it was thought to be Swiss and Good For You, unlike
cornflakes and rice crispies which were somehow Less Nutritional.  I was
spared because it made me literally sick, something which was later
explained by the presence of peanuts in the British version and the
discovery that those do me a whole lot of no good, but scads of my friends
hated the stuff with a deep loathing and would rather even have had their
oats as porridge.


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