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Fruits of the MLA

In response to:

The Fruits of the MLA: II. Mark Twain from the October 10, 1968 issue

To the Editors:

Mr. Wilson’s article shines with good intentions, but he has got some of his facts wrong and his basic assumption is false. I am also sad that he has swallowed whole M. Malraux’s propaganda pill. Sancta simplicitas! How can Mr. Wilson have overlooked the strings attached to the French government’s literary subsidies?

One of the mistakes Mr. Wilson has made is to reproduce M. Malraux’s claims without checking them. For instance, I am mildly surprised to learn that among the projects he is patronizing is a critical edition of the complete correspondence of Voltaire. This edition was in fact published by the Voltaire Institute of Geneva in 1953-1965, without help or subsidy of any kind from any French organism. A new edition is now in the press as part of Voltaire’s complete works, again undertaken without subsidy of any kind.

And this brings me to the essential defect of Mr. Wilson’s reasoning. He has swallowed hook, line, and sinker the notion that no major editorial job can be undertaken without the help of a “factory.” Pray forgive me for mentioning that my edition of Voltaire’s correspondence was a fairly substantial undertaking—20,000 letters, hundreds of appendixes, tens of thousands of notes, 107 volumes. Yet it was planned and carried out single-handed, with one secretary and, for part of the time, one assistant. Why then all this fuss about councils and foundations? A World’s Classics or Pléiade type of edition would be a sound commercial venture, well within the capacity of any major publisher, if only the “factory” syndrome could be cured.

Theodore Besterman

London

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