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January 13, 2015

British v. American: A Ngaio Marsh Dilemma

Publishing mysteries which have already been out in multiple editions often puts us in the position of having to choose between text variances, especially for books, like those in Ngaio Marsh’s “Inspector Alleyn” series, which have been published in both British and American editions. Here is an example: In Ngaio Marsh’s Clutch of Constables (the “Constable” in question being not the policeman you might expect in a mystery novel, but British painter John Constable), Agatha Troy, Inspector Alleyn’s painter wife says:

‘For pity’s sake,’ Troy said, ‘don’t take my word for anything. I’m not an expert. I can’t tell, for instance, how old the actual canvas may be though I do know it’s not contemporary and I do know it’s the way he signed his major works. “John Constable. R.A.f” and the date, 1830, which, I think, was soon after he became an R.A.”

In the British edition, the paragraph continues with Troy’s thoughts on whether the painting under discussion is a copy of an original Constable. The American edition, however, has one of Troy’s interlocutors, an American tourist, interrupt Troy with a question about the significance of the “R.A.f.,” adding a bit of dialogue, including a joke at the expense of the Americans (and how lucky that that most hapless of Brit fiction characters, the American tourist, happened to be present!):

“R.A.?” asked Miss Hewson.
“Royal Academician.”
“Hear that, Earl? What’s the ‘f’ signify, Mrs. Alleyn?”
There was a considerable pause.
Fake it!” Miss Hewson said in a strangulated voice. “Did you say ‘fake?’”
Dr. Natouche made a curious little sound in his throat. Mr. Lazenby seemed to choke back some furious ejaculation. Troy, with Caley’s devilish eye upon her, explained. There was a further silence.

Clearly this was written by Ngaio Marsh, probably at the request of American editors who assumed that their audiences wouldn’t know, offhand, what “R.A.f.” stood for (and they couldn’t google it either, in 1969). We had to decide which variant to use and, when it turned out that the staff of Felony & Mayhem, including our Anglophile publisher, were as ignorant of the significance of the Constable signature as poor Miss Hewson, we decided to go with the Little, Brown edition.

Tell us, dear reader, did you know what Troy meant? And would you have gone American, or British?



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