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Condensed Orthodoxy

A while ago I left a comment on Making Light quoting a passage from Chesterton's Orthodoxy, which a couple of other people seemed to like, and which (they say) has inspired them to go look up that book. In fact it is one of my favorites, not only for all the witty asides but also for constantly challenging a lot of my own easy assumptions. 

When I was teaching a class at Le Moyne I thought I might want to share this book with my students, but on re-reading I realized that, good as it is, it is very difficult for a modern reader to get into. Chesterton wrote more than 100 years ago as a journalist, filling his work with references that the readers of his time and place would understand but which can be mystifying or misleading today. And he never uses just one example to illustrate a point when five other ones also come to mind.

In order to make his work more accessible to my students I came up with the idea of producing a "condensed" version. Granted, it feels like desecrating a fine work of art to attempt to “improve” or “update” him. And, it is wholly unauthorized and probably illegal... though surely it is well out of copyright. (I got my copy from Gutenberg.)

I mostly edited it by removing extraneous text, adding words only when needed to make the text understandable in the 21st century. On occasion I have placed in his parenthetical meanderings within parentheses, because even when it doesnʼt add to the argument in question thatʼs often where he has the most fun. I also Americanized the spelling, to stop my computer from yelling at me about the original (correct) spelling... in retrospect I probably shouldn't have, but I am not going to go back now and change everything back.

So my question now is... what should I do with this thing? Is there someplace appropriate to post it? Or should I just forget about it, and let the modern reader do some work? (Darn kids nowadays got everything handed to them... not like in my day... grumble grumble).

It currently resides on my iDisk public folder, if you want to take a look at it.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 21st, 2011 06:55 am (UTC)
[A tedious but necessary disclaimer: this is not formal legal advice, but it does represent my best understanding of the issue as a lawyer with a specialist interest in IP law.]

Chesterton died in 1936, so in any state that adheres to the 'life plus 70 years' model of copyright (which includes the USA, UK, Italy and the Vatican) his works have been in the public domain since the beginning of 2007.

The USA does have some complex laws under which a work can remain in copyright for 95 years from publication, but Orthodoxy was published in 1908 so even if this term applied it would have expired by the beginning of 2004.

If a work is in the public domain, it is yours to do with as you wish, at least in terms of copyright. The only possible complication is that a few countries - France is an example - enforce moral rights indefinitely, but this seems to be confined to attribution. In other words, you can republish a work, but you must make the authorship clear. This is of course sound academic practice anyway.

So I would say that an edited, annotated version of Orthodoxy that clearly acknowledges Chesterton's original authorship is legitimate under any national copyright model that I am aware of.

Edited at 2011-07-21 06:55 am (UTC)
Jul. 21st, 2011 12:02 pm (UTC)
Orthodoxy is available for free download on the net, so the copyright has clearly expired, at least in the US. You can get it at the Kindle store, for example (along with much other Chesterton work; I particularly liked _Eugenics and Other Evils_, particularly given when it was published.)

Guy, I think you could put this up on Kindle, and you wouldn't even have to make it free. Your edits are creative content that would be subject to copyright, even if the orignal work is now public domain. Of course there's nothing stopping you from offering it for free if you so desire.

You might also consider a version in which the omitted passages are made available via hyperlinks to the original unedited text. I'm not sure this would work on an e-reader.
Jul. 21st, 2011 10:14 am (UTC)
Whatever happens to it on a broader sense, I would be interested in seeing it.
Jul. 21st, 2011 12:58 pm (UTC)
In the introduction to Fagle's translation of the Iliad, he says many folks asked him "Why translate the Iliad?" Everyone knows the Keats translation is the best." His response is that it surely was, but that all the people that translation was done for are now dead, and he is translating the work for everyone who is alive today.

I'd think of your work here as translating Chesterton for a modern audience.
Jul. 21st, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
I would post it wherever you're able--and then prepare yourself for the possible backlash of self-appointed cultural defenders who cry foul at any condensation!
Jul. 23rd, 2011 04:53 am (UTC)
Perhaps publish it back to Gutenberg as "Brother Guy's Annotated Chesterton"?
Jul. 25th, 2011 01:53 pm (UTC)
Is there a way for people without Apple accounts to get it?
Jul. 28th, 2011 08:29 am (UTC)
Clicking on the link at the end of my post should open a garden-variety web page. You can choose a file on the list it shows you, and a "download" button should appear.
Jul. 28th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC)
No, it takes me to a page telling me I have to log in with my Apple ID.

Correction: It does what you say for IE. It does what I said for Opera.

Edited at 2011-07-28 08:18 pm (UTC)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )