Updated 2019 04 30, to add postscript and links to related articles.
Slovenly Peter attracts attention
“There is no such thing as bad publicity.” — unknown origin
On Dec. 14, 2010, I received a complaint from Lisa McShine, who, according to what she wrote in the ensuing e-mail exchange, is an occasional proofreader for Project Gutenberg.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Project Gutenberg, abbreviated as PG, is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of November 2010[update], Project Gutenberg claimed over 34,000 items in its collection. Project Gutenberg is affiliated with many projects that are independent organizations which share the same ideals, and have been given permission to use the Project Gutenberg trademark. (Link to Wkipedia article on PG)
Lisa McShine complained that the web page by Fathers for Life on a mid-19th century German-language children’s book, Der Struwwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffmann (Slovenly Peter, translated by Mark Twain) misrepresents the intentions of PG and its proofreaders. She wrote:
Thanks so much for adding the Mark Twain translation of Der Struwwelpeter. I enjoyed reading Twain’s much more close translation from the German.
However, I want to point out that the preamble of the e-book in Project Gutenberg says the English translation dates from 1848 and it certainly dates before 1927, the published date of my physical copy of a volume of extracts for children including the Der Struwwelpeter translation and illustrations shown in the Project Gutenberg e-book. Thus, I highly doubt that the bowdlerization was intended to make the translation politically correct, as you state.
Lastly, as someone who occasionally volunteers time to proof-read for Project Gutenberg, I would like to reassure you that PG NEVER re-translates or tries to change the meaning of anything it makes available online. Our Primary Rule (http://www.pgdp.net/c/faq/proofreading_guidelines.php) is “Don’t change what the author wrote!”: we only transcribe from the image of the printed page.
I hope you will consider revising “In the translation provided by Suzanne Shell, Sandra Brown and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team of the Project Gutenberg those lines came to read as:” and “Project Gutenberg’s politically-correct translation reads:” so that it does not imply that PG and PG proofreaders had anything to do with the existing content other than to make it available in plain text form.
Depending on what I will eventually find out about what caused the enormous increase in traffic to the web page by Fathers for Life on Der Struwwelpeter, concurrently with or subsequently to Lisa McShine’s complaint, I may at some time publish all of the e-mail exchange between us. Nevertheless, it was not on account of anything I had done. My responses to Lisa McShine were sent only to her, and until today I had not done anything to make anyone aware of the discussion. Regardless, my closing remarks in my second message to Lisa McShine (Dec. 15, 2010) proved to be prophetic, at least in part, the one pertaining to publicity.
Nevertheless, not all is lost. An often-used maxim by an unknown individual states: “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” That principle brought fame, power and fortune to many people. Let’s hope that the discussion of the book at Fathers for Life will help to encourage improvements to the good work by Project Gutenberg and that thereby the quality of that work will become even better.
It remains to be seen whether the remaining part, about the good impact that publicity may have, will come true.
The increase in the number of daily visits to the web page is remarkable. After having been read for years by from four to 21 visitors a day (each remaining on the page on average for a little over eight minutes), the number of daily visits increased to 95 (Dec. 13), then to 1,110 (Dec. 14, the day Lisa McShine sent her complaint), after which it fell off to 556 (Dec. 15), and to 310 (Dec. 16), with the average time each visitor remained at the page still being a little more than eight minutes — enough time for most to have read all of the page.
A screen shot showing the daily number of visits at https://fathersforlife.org/hist/der_struwwelpeter.htm, for the 30 days ending Dec. 16, 2010 (thanks to Google Analytics)
The conclusion is inevitable and unavoidable, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
P.S. 2019 04 30: Looking at this page once more, I cannot escape the impression that Lisa McShine’s complaint had been motivated by her impression that I had blamed Project Gutenberg for the bowdlerization in the version of the translation they had chosen for publication.
There had been no intention on my part to do so, wherefore I did not. My critique aimed at nothing other than the fact that Project Gutenberg had chosen to publish a bowdlerized translation of Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann’s book, Der Struwwelpeter.
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