Thursday, June 5, 2014

All Quiet on the Western Front: Two editions

When we had Aion Bookshop on the Hill, one of our employees was reading All Quiet on the Western Front for a class, and since I had just finished it, we compared mental notes.  He asked what I had thought about the hospital scene in which the soldier's buddies kept an eye out for the nurse while he made love with his wife.  I said I didn't remember, but that I would look again.  Never found it. And here is why.

We know him as Erich Maria Remarque, but he was born in 1898 and named Erich Paul Remark.  Drafted into the army in November 1916, he was transferred to the western front on June 12 of the following year, where he was wounded on the last day of July during the "Battle of Flanders."  Given our knowledge of the fatality rates during The Great War, that probably saved his life.  After the war he did various things, about which you can read in the Wikipedia article.

He wrote Im Westen nichts Neues in 1927, and it was serialized in the Vossische Zeitung from November 10 through December 9, 1928.  A daring work, it made friends and enemies everywhere in Germany, but no doubt increased public demand for the subsequent book edition.  Here are the numbers:  the first trade edition of 30,000 copies, printed on January 19, 1929, led to a 2nd of 20,000 on February 12, and a 3rd on the 14th.  And demand didn't stop; 931,237 copies were printed by the end of 1929, and a million by June 1930.  There was even a Braille edition in 2 volumes, with about 1300 copies.  The German publisher, Propyläen Verlag, had to contract with six printing companies and  ten binderies.  They needed sixteen looms for the fabric that covered the boards.  And that was just in Germany!  By November 1929, the translation by A.W. Wheen sold 300,000 copies in the English edition, and 215,000 in the United States.

I found two copies in English (one from England and the other from the U.S.) earlier this year, both printed in 1929.  The English printing is the 17th, from July (the first printing was in March). The American printing is the first, from June.  The same person owned both, and penciled in his name and the year of acquisition, 1929.  He also penciled in notes, and many of them, because of differences between the two editions.  What were the differences?  The American version was expurgated.  No doubt because of censorship laws of the time, since the publisher was planning on a book club edition and didn't want to get in trouble with the U.S. Postal Service.  I have known this for some time, but I didn't realize how quickly the complete version was published America; Grosset & Dunlap published the uncensored version a year later, in 1930.

I will be selling the American and English editions-not the German one-as a set:  $40.00 at our bookshop in the Lafayette Flea Market (it is open every day).  Call me if you have questions:  303-819-8895

Jim Broaddus