The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, November 21, 2014

65,000 Words

That's how much Anthony Trollope was required to cut from the Duke's Children:
It is a remarkable fact that one of the best-known novels by one of the greatest 19th-century English novelists has never been published in the form its author intended. Anthony Trollope wrote The Duke’s Children as a four-volume work but then reduced it to three, necessitating the loss of almost a quarter of his original text. The precise reason is lost to posterity but is likely to have been a demand from his publishers on the grounds of economy; it would not have come from Trollope himself, who had earlier written in his Autobiography: ‘I am at a loss to know how such a task could be performed. I could burn the MS., no doubt, and write another book on the same story; but how two words out of every six are to be withdrawn from a written novel, I cannot conceive.’

Yet this is precisely what he was obliged to do, and 65,000 words ended up on the cutting-room floor. As he wrote to John Blackwood not long after making the revisions: ‘I am bound to say that I have never found myself able to effect changes in the plot of a story. Small as the links are, one little thing hangs on another to such an extent that any change sets the whole narrative wrong. There are so many inīŦnitesimal allusions to what is past, that the whole should be rewritten or it will be faulty.’ It was meticulous, exacting and soul-destroying work.
That's over a quarter of the book missing. But here's another fact: It's also a hair beneath the recommended low end of length for a modern novel, with 115 as the high end and 90,000 as "the sweet spot."

Now, Phineas at Bay clocks in at 171,461 (including the Postscript and Table of Contents, so a bit less, really). That's still well under either of the two Phineas novels by Trollope.

The factor that tipped me in favor of self-publishing was just that--a length such as that recommended by agents would not have allowed for a Trollopian feel. You need details for that, what the Folio Society calls "the massive accumulation of details." There has to be a feeling of capaciousness, of breadth. Self-publishing meant I could avoid the dilemma that Trollope himself had to face.

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