Science Fiction Studies

# 68 = Volume 23, Part 1 = March 1996





Paul Alkon

Bowdler Lives: Michigan's Mummy

Jane (Webb) Loudon. The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century. Introduction and Abridgment by Alan Rauch. Ann Arbor, MI: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, The University of Michigan Press (313-764-4388), 1994. xxxix+299. $42.50 cloth, $17.95 paper.

If there were a Bowdlerization award, among top contenders for 1994 would be those "editors and readers" employed by the University of Michigan Press who, Alan Rauch reports in his Preface, "alike suggested that the novel might benefit from some minor pruning" (vi). But the Bowdlerization prize should go to Rauch himself. Instead of finding a press willing to publish the complete text of this important and very scarce book--a milestone in the development of futuristic fiction, and surpassed only by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the annals of early science fiction by female authors Rauch not only accepted Michigan's refusal to reprint the entire work but chose the least desirable method of abridgment to delete "a little over a hundred pages" (vi) by way of "minor pruning." Rauch never even specifies the copy to which he applied his shears.

1. Text. The British Library has an 1827 first edition published in London by Henry Colburn. The National Union Catalogue indicates copies of this edition at the Boston Public Library and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and also indicates that the Library of Congress and Yale University have what is described as a second edition published by H. Colburn in 1828. Readers of the Michigan version can only wonder in vain what collation of these texts might reveal by way of printer's variations or authorial revisions. If Rauch knows, he does not tell. If he does not know, how can he (or we) be sure that something crucial has not been inadvertently omitted from the Michigan version because it was not in Rauch's copy-text? He does not reveal whether the Michigan abridgment is based on one of the five exemplars mentioned above, on another copy, or indeed if there are any other known copies of the 1827 and 1828 editions. All one finds about the novel's textual history in the Michigan book is a statement (under its copyright notice) that Loudon's work was "Originally published by Henry Colburn, London, 1827" and an observation (in Rauch's Preface) that "the novel has been out of print since 1872 (when it was briefly reprinted by Frederick Warne)" (iv, v). What "briefly" means in this context is as vague as the disclosure that in Michigan's (brief?) version "a little" over one hundred pages of Loudon's text have been deleted.

More than a few readers of an abridged version of a book with major claims to historical and critical attention would be grateful for information on the textual basis of the edition in hand, and on where they could find copies of the complete text. There is no hint, although Rauch professes himself "intensely aware of the fact that the passages that struck me as unnecessary might prove very important to someone else" (vi). Alas that Rauch's commendable awareness of interests apart from his own was not sufficiently intense to stimulate a few helpful sentences that could facilitate other peoples' search for The Mummy. It is as though neither Rauch nor his editors thought that Loudon's entire text need ever again be examined by anyone besides its mutilator.

There are two opposite methods of condensing a text: (1) portions may be omitted with clear indication via ellipses or notes where something has been cut and with, for longer or otherwise significant omissions, summary of what has been left out; or (2), as in this edition of The Mummy, parts may be silently excised without any indication of where the cuts have been made, or what exactly has been omitted, and with occasional rewriting of the remaining text to paper over the cracks. Claiming that "this edition is as faithful as possible to the original text," but unwilling to specify his criteria for determining the limits of possibility or to divulge information about the provenance of his copy-text and whether it varies from other exemplars, Rauch only remarks that he "found the task of cutting The Mummy! down to its present size required very little sacrifice in terms of plot, character development, and even descriptive detail.... only on several occasions did I change the wording of a sentence to accommodate the abridgment.... Only rarely was it necessary to alter either punctuation or spelling for the sake of clarity" (vi). The truly depressing quality of these vague assurances might have been alleviated by an example or two of omitted passages to illustrate the nature of material cut, or at least some statement of the principles that governed Rauch's abridgment. There was, however, no need for Rauch to choose and Michigan's editors to approve the second method of abridgment, which renders this edition useless for almost all purposes of serious scholarship.

No one who picks up Michigan's version of Jane Webb Loudon's novel can tell whether any sentence, paragraph, or page is as she wrote it. Many are not. A nineteenth-century novel is transformed into a familiar twentieth-century genre: the Mummy's tale "as told to" a ghost-writer. Professor Rauch is thereby liberated from the dull duty of an editor and promoted to the more glamorous status of collaborator who strives via abridgment supplemented by a misleading "Editor's Introduction" to make the book harmonize with values now widely fashionable. The net effect is to minimize cultural differences that separate Loudon's time and place from our own. An interesting, distinctive, and pathfinding early modern narrative significant for the development of futuristic fiction and feminine appropriation of science fictional modes is here reduced to yet another tedious Ursula Le Guin wanna-be, oddly attired in Regency costume. The abridgment blurs Loudon's sharp eye for picturesque landscapes and dramatic storm scenes. It suppresses some of the narrator's moralizing reflections. It blunts her attack on the idea that social progress can be achieved by universal education and futuristic technology. It weakens Loudon's satire, especially of the lower classes and of females: targets more off- limits in our squeamish age than in her day.

Here I can remark only a few cuts and their consequences, starting with a missing episode. Early in the novel Sir Ambrose anxiously awaits arrival of an important letter enclosed in a cannon-ball fired by one of a chain of steam-cannons that provide Loudon's version of air-mail. He catches sight of the postal cannon-ball:

It gradually grew larger and larger--it rapidly approached! and in a few seconds a slight noise buzzed through the air as the long-expected balls whizzed past him. Sir Ambrose implored Father Morris to give him his ardently desired letter. "You are not yet equal to reading it," said Father Morris compassionately; "I fear the exertion will be too much for you." (28)

Thus the Michigan text. Why Sir Ambrose might be unequal to reading the letter is mysterious here, but clear after perusal of the eight paragraphs that are silently omitted between the sentence ending "whizzed past him" and the (abridged) sentence beginning "Sir Ambrose implored."

The deleted paragraphs tell how on reaching for the letter when a mail-bag has been extracted from the cannon ball after its arrival "the violence of his emotion overpowered" Sir Ambrose, who "fell senseless on the ground." In Loudon's narrative his collapse is notable: "The confusion produced by this unexpected incident was indescribable. The old duke walked up and down, wringing his hand, and exclaiming, 'What shall we do? What will become of us?' whilst the rest of the party endeavored to give assistance to Sir Ambrose." His voluble steward Davis--who, like other members of the over-educated lower classes in Loudon's future, "had an unfortunate propensity for making long speeches precisely at the moment when nobody was likely to attend to him"--makes a pompous pronouncement about the strength of "parental affection." To this Sir Ambrose's distraught son Edric replies "For Heaven's sake help me raise my father.... Give him air, or he will die!" Davis only responds to this plea with three sentences of aphorisms on the necessity and value of patience, whereupon "'Fetch me some water,' exclaimed Edric, 'or he will expire before your eyes.'" Immediately after this second desperate plea for help, Loudon's narrative continues as follows:

"It appears to me," said a labourer, who had been mending a steam digging- machine in a neighboring field, and who now stood leaning upon his work, and looking on gravely at all that passed, without attempting to offer the least assistance:-- "It appears to me that it would be highly improper to administer the aqueous fluid in its natural state of frigidity, under the existing circumstances. The present suspension of animation under which Sir Ambrose labors, is evidently occasioned by want of circulation. Now, as it is the property of hot liquors, rather than cold ones, to supply the stimulant necessary for the reproduction of circulation, I opine that hot water would answer the purpose better than cold." In the mean time Father Morris had brought some water from a neighboring fountain, and throwing it on the patient's face, Sir Ambrose opened his eyes; for some moments he stared wildly around him, but, as soon as he began to recollect what had passed, he implored father Morris to give him his ardently desired letter. "You are not yet equal to reading it," said Father Morris compassionately; I fear the exertion will be too much for you." [Jane Webb Loudon, The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (London: Frederick Warne & Co; New York: Scribner, Welford & Armstrong, n.d. [1872]), pp. 30- 31.]

The omitted passages contribute significantly to Loudon's themes.

Her scathing satire of the notion that universal education would benefit England is hammered home by doubling of Davis and the unnamed laborer. Both make amusingly redundant speeches that reek of the lamp. Neither does anything to help. Their moral inertia is one consequence of an education that has infected them with a love of making quasi-learned pronouncements to the exclusion of more useful responses. To further emphasize the morally debilitating effects of over-educating the lower classes, Loudon's narrator here explicitly notes that the laborer stands "looking on gravely at all that passed, without attempting to offer the least assistance." Moreover, and of even greater importance to Loudon's skeptical vision of future technology and the limits of progress, the morally defective but jargon-spouting worker has been busy "mending a steam digging machine." Attention to a futuristic machine is contrasted with indifference to a human in distress. It is a nice touch.

So is Loudon's depiction of Sir Ambrose's gradual return to consciousness as memories awaken, which Rauch suppresses by omitting, along with all the other material that I have just summarized and quoted, that part of the deleted episode's penultimate sentence explaining that Sir Ambrose after "staring wildly around him for some moments" only asked for the letter when "he began to recollect what had passed." Thus Michigan's readers miss an example of Loudon's inclination to vary the viewpoint of her narrative by taking us inside a character's mind, thereby adding some psychological depth ("he began to recollect") to the view from outside (of Sir Ambrose "staring wildly around"). Gone too without trace are other aspects of Loudon's characterization here of Sir Ambrose and Edric, along with vivid satire central to the novel's themes and effects. Rauch sends down the memory hole not only Sir Ambrose's collapse and recovery together with the appropriate response of his son, (a major figure in the narrative) and the defective response of two sharply satirized working people typical of what the novel later describes (and deplores) as "those days of universal education" (59). This deletion also deprives readers of an opportunity to appreciate Loudon's skillful conjunction of such plot business with that telltale but skillfully subordinated "steam digging-machine."

Robert Heinlein has been much praised for sentences like "The door dilated" which establish the presence of futuristic technology, thereby defining key. Subsequent quotations in my text of material deleted from the Michigan version refer to this edition, identified as W. I have used a copy in the Eaton Collection at the University of California at Riverside. I have not had an opportunity to collate the Eaton copy of the 1872 edition with any of the 1827 and 1828 texts mentioned in my second paragraph above, which are the only other copies of Loudon's novel known to me. Their locations far from Los Angeles precluded inspection for this review. If readers of SFS are aware of other exemplars, a letter to the editors for publication of that information would be a service to the community of scholars. features of a future setting, by inviting readers to exercise their own imaginations rather than himself clumsily interrupting the narrative flow to describe at length artifacts (such as dilating doors) that are to us unknown, strange, and estranging. Loudon deserves even greater credit as a pioneer in this technique, which is rightly regarded as indispensable to effective science fiction and a hallmark of its best narratives. But of course from readers of the Michigan text she won't get proper credit--or any credit--for her subtle inclusion of that symbolic steam digging-machine because Rauch has deleted it.

Inclusion of that particular detail would have allowed better appreciation of ways in which The Mummy genuinely anticipates techniques most characteristic of twentieth-century science fiction. Other deletions of varying lengths equally distort impressions of Loudon's purposes and techniques, but usually do so in ways that create a false sense of modernity by suppressing hallmarks of early nineteenth-century English literary conventions and social attitudes.

Thus when the novel's villain, a scheming Catholic priest named Father Morris, finally repents, readers of the Michigan version are given four short sentences from his account to Marianne of his belated attempts at expiation, culminating in the remark "yet still my mind remains unappeased" (287). Deleted is what immediately follows that remark in Loudon's text (starting with a continuation of Father Morris's confession to Marianne):

Remorse still gnaws my vitals! Oh, Marianne! how poor is earthly grandeur to a mind diseased"! [sic]

In this manner did these companions in iniquity confer; till at length, hating each other and themselves, they gave vent to mutual upbraiding, and parted with undisguised hatred and contempt. Such, indeed, is the disgusting nature of sin, that though a man may shut his eyes to his own defects, or rather, see them through the magic prism of self-love, yet he almost always abhors them when he sees them reflected in another. (W, 397)

Most twentieth-century readers of science fiction have little stomach for extensive moralizing about the disgusting nature of sin. To omit such passages makes the Michigan version more palatable to postmodern tastes, but prevents full comprehension of the cultural distance that separates us from Loudon. Such omission also denigrates her by implying that some of her deepest convictions as both a writer and a moralist hardly deserve our attention or respect. This is to treat the past with contempt except insofar as it mirrors and reinforces the present. But (to borrow the title of David Lowenthal's brilliant book) the past is a foreign country. As such its customs deserve respectful study not abolition when they are at odds with our own.

As a final example here of Rauch's inclination to diminish the differences between Loudon's attitudes and those prevailing in the United States today, consider a cut so small that it can hardly be justified on grounds that the deleted sentences could not be squeezed into the Michigan version without unduly lengthening it. At the conclusion of a tension-filled episode England's Queen Elvira, who has just dealt with a political crisis by sternly dismissing her advisors, is described thus:

The dignified manner in which Elvira waved her hand as she said this, prevented reply; and the lords of the council dispersed, without daring to utter a single syllable. The duke and Sir Ambrose alone remained. "My dear father," cried Elvira, throwing her arms round his neck, whilst the over strained feelings that had so long supported her, gave way, and she sobbed in agony upon his shoulder" (242).

Surely most twentieth-century readers, not just romance fans of a sentimental cast, could find this scene touching but in no way demeaning to Elvira, who gives vent to her emotions only after having dealt resolutely with the political situation confronting her. But I wonder how many readers nowadays could so easily accommodate to current ideologies the two sentences (following "sobbed in agony upon his shoulder") that Rauch deleted:

"Remove her to her chamber," said Dr. Coleman, who now appeared; "this agitation will destroy her--her exhausted frame is not able to endure it." In fact, the Queen was now completely overpowered, and was carried off by Emma and her attendants in violent hysterics. (W, 336)

Here--out of sight of Michigan's readers--Elvira sufficiently loses her grip upon affairs to come under the momentary control of a male who orders her away. Worse, she departs in what to most post- Freudians is the demeaning and deplorable, though of course (as we now know) illusory, condition of "violent hysterics." Has this bit been suppressed by Rauch so Michigan's readers need not blush for Loudon's acceptance of patriarchal notions about female illnesses? One can only wonder. The fact is that neither Michigan's Elvira nor Michigan's Jane Loudon is guilty of here indulging in so old- fashioned a disease as violent hysterics.

2. Introduction. Notes to the "Editor's Introduction" provide valuable bibliographical references for those who may wish to study the social and intellectual contexts of Loudon's novel. Rauch includes in his introduction some accurate statements about those contexts, but he is far less reliable as a guide to the novel itself. He is tone-deaf to its satire. He presents its cyclical view of history as an endorsement of the idea of progress. Despite Loudon's sharply satiric episodes dramatizing skepticism about the benefits of universal education, Rauch concludes that she "relies on an enduring confidence in the power of knowledge to improve the lot of humanity" (xxviii). Instead of dwelling on a prominent strain of technophobia signaled by the novel's grotesque robot lawyers, judges, and physicians along with its comical mad scientist named Entwurfen--who, among other blunders, incinerates people with his electrical apparatus--Rauch's introduction stresses utopian technophilia: "The inspirational quality of Loudon's scientifically improved future, suggests that England, given its current advancements in knowledge, might possibly realize Bacon's dream of a New Atlantis" (xx). It is hard to imagine many in Loudon's day or ours who could find altogether "inspirational" her devastating satire involving scientifically improved futures that include an "automaton steam surgeon," misprogrammed robot lawyers (which plead their client's case in French rather than English or run down just as they arrive at the peroration of their argument to the jury), and polluting steamboats on the Nile perceived by the title character as "strange, infernal vessels, vomiting forth volumes of fire and smoke" (78). Nor, perhaps, could many English subjects of George IV, Queen Victoria or even the present Queen Elizabeth find entirely inspirational Loudon's vision of a tunnel from Ireland through which an Irish army arrives to settle the question of who rules England.

Patriarchy becomes matriarchy when good deeds performed by the scary though benevolent resurrected Pharaoh Cheops persuade Rauch that "in spite of his gender, the Mummy acts as a kind of mother figure throughout the novel" (xxv). After correctly remarking that "Mothers are noticeably absent in the entire novel," Rauch attempts to repair Loudon's omission by insisting that "Though he hardly suggests the figure of mothers described in conduct books and didactic works for children, the Mummy's purpose is to instill the kind of values and to exercise the kind of discipline that would make those mothers proud" (xxv). Whatever mothers would approve of becomes feminine: "In his capacity as a kind of maternal influence, the Mummy fills a conspicuous void" (xxv). Ockham's razor is now disposable. There must be mother figures. If there are none, then hey presto! some handy male can be turned before our very eyes into a "maternal influence." Now you see him, now you don't. Good males are maternal. According to this curious school of interpretation there seems to be no such thing as an entirely masculine benevolent influence. Daddies are dysfunctional. If not, they become not images of paternal benevolence but of benign maternal influence. Patriarchy can apparently only be wicked.

This reading converts Loudon into a proponent of androgynous ideals acceptable to many in the twentieth century. That conversion, however, patronizingly denies her wit enough to know what she was about in omitting influential mothers in favor of Cheops. It obscures the far more interesting and original psychodrama actually enacted by her plot, in which the chief instrument by which good defeats evil is a resurrected man--a God-king of ancient Egypt--whose own dubious past actions include patricide and incest. Instead of fashionably pegging Cheops as a maternal influence so that postmoderns can feel more at ease with this strange novel from a remote culture, it would better illustrate the complex true history of science fiction's female writers to consider the implications of that weird father-figure that Loudon portrayed as a benevolent paternal influence not long after Mary Shelley had created the obtusely malevolent Victor Frankenstein and his doppelgänger the monster.

3. Moral of the tale. If there are abridgments it is imperative to indicate where and how cuts have been made, and on what copy-text. Only thus can scholars and critics write about any included passage with confidence that at least that passage (or a part of it) stands as the author published it, and that statements about it accordingly may claim a significant degree of historical validity or relevance to authorial intentions and accomplishments. Otherwise one is reading and interpreting a later collaborative effort of joint authorship (with all final decisions made by the surviving partner), not in any meaningful sense the original work or even a portion of it. The consequence of unmarked cuts is abolition of criticism's historical dimension--and indeed of reading's historical dimension.

For important and scarce early works there should be proper editions of the complete text, or at least a facsimile of some exemplar. Length is not necessarily an obstacle. Much can be done to manipulate typeface and book size without producing an unreadable or economically unfeasible book. Penguin's paperback Clarissa (1544 pp.) shows what can be done. Less daunting and more comparable to problems posed by Loudon, perhaps, is the 1988 paper back edition of Fanny Burney's The Wanderer published by Pandora Press for its Mothers of the Novel series in a volume of 836 pages measuring a bulky but quite manageable and legible 5" x 7-3/4" x 2- 1/8". Loudon's shorter work could easily have been designed by Michigan to accomodate those "little over a hundred pages" sliced by Rauch from what he describes as "a nine-hundred-page triple-decker" (vi). Since 800 or so retained pages of that triple-decker produce in Michigan's edition only 299 pages, it is evident that not many more pages, with perhaps slightly smaller typeface, would have accommodated Loudon's entire text. It is easy to see why a commercial press aiming only for a mass market might have balked at printing it all, or even an abridgment. It is hard to understand why an academic press of Michigan's stature consented to such a shoddy editorial procedure as it allowed for its edition of The Mummy. Ordinary readers no less than academics deserve a chance to see what early novelists actually wrote. For works of primarily historical interest and significance--especially rare early fiction by females --a reputable academic press that aims to perform a service rather than disservice to the community (and wants to stay reputable) should insist on the highest editorial standards. So should those who seek to advance understanding of science fiction's history. Science fiction will not be much respected or taken seriously if its foundational texts are treated with a casualness that amounts to contempt.

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