Mar 15

Evertype is pleased to announce the publication of a new edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland retold in words of one syllable by Lewis Carroll, abridged and retold by Mrs J. C. Gorham.

From the back cover:

In the early twentieth century, great books were often “retold in words of one syllable” so that the language would be easier for beginning readers. In this adaptation, Mrs J. C. Gorham “cheats” only a little, hyphenating some longer words that couldn’t be avoided—but the text remains a lively and enjoyable retelling of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. Recommended for young readers and for adult literacy classes.

From the introduction:

Mrs J. C. Gorham, alas, is known to us only by her married name—and this means, by the usual practice of the time, that her husband was named J. C. Nevertheless, Mrs Gorham is notable for having written three books in “Burt’s Series of One Syllable Books”, Gulliver’s Travels (1896) and Black Beauty (1905) being her other two, with some eleven other books in this “series of Classics, selected specially for young people’s reading, and told in simple language for youngest readers”.

M. Sarah Smedman, in an article about Gulliver’s Travels as a children’s book, makes reference to Mrs Gorham’s adaptation:

Interesting if only because it evinces the challenge posed by a clever game, the book has a liveliness of style derived from varied sentence patterns and apt diction. Gorham cheats only a little when she divides the months of the year into hyphenated words.

Having read the Gulliver’s Travels retelling, I can say that it is a fine example of monosyllabic writing—Smedman makes no overstatement. Although Mrs Gorham “cheats” rather a bit more than this in her 1905 retelling of Alice—her style is still both vigorous and enjoyable. It is for this reason that Mrs Gorham’s “Alice imitation” (to use Carolyn Sigler’s term) deserves to be put back into print.

Quite unlike this is the rather dreadful 1908 version pub­lished by Saalfield, which, although claiming to be “in words of one syllable” is in fact no more than a hyphenated edition of Carroll’s text, which inexplicably omits two chapters entirely: “Pig and Pepper” and “The Lobster-Quadrille”.

Another version, genuinely monosyllabic, was published by Routledge & Sons sometime between 1900 and 1909. (The approximate date can be guessed from the publisher’s device on the title page.) Unfor­tu­nately, nowhere does the book inform us who did the retelling.

Retelling in words of one syllable is indeed a “clever game” and I dare say it isn’t easy to do—not convincingly, anyway. Mrs Gorham achieved it: her retelling in simple language for younger and early readers is still worth reading today.

“Do you like your size now?” asked the Cat-er-pil-lar.
“Well, I’m not quite so large as I would like to be,” said Al-ice; “three inch-es is such a wretch-ed height to be.”
“It is a good height, in-deed!” said the Cat-er-pil-lar, and reared it-self up straight as it spoke (it was just three inch-es high).
“But I’m not used to it!” plead-ed poor Al-ice. And she thought, “I wish the things would-n’t be so ea-sy to get mad!”
“You’ll get used to it in time,” the Cat-er-pil-lar said, and put the pipe to its mouth.
Al-ice wait-ed till it should choose to speak. At last it took the pipe from its mouth, yawned once or twice, then got down from its perch and crawled off in the grass. As it went it said, “One side will make you tall, and one side will make you small.”
“One side of what?” thought Al-ice to her-self.
“Of the mush-room,” said the Cat-er-pil-lar, just as if it had heard her speak; soon it was out of sight.

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