Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The Mellifont edition

In my column “Late Reviews” in Wormwood no. 10 (Spring 2008), I reviewed one of Mark Hansom’s novels as follows:

Hansom, Mark.  The Wizard of Berner’s Abbey. (London: Mellifont Press, undated but 1944)
The Wizard of Berner’s Abbey is the second of Mark Hansom’s seven novels, all of which were published by Wright & Brown of London between 1935 and 1939. It came out in May 1935, following the November 1934 publication of The Shadow on the House, an unambitious but readable thriller.  Original Wright & Brown editions of the seven Hansom novels are extremely rare, as are the seven paperback reprints done by Mellifont Press between 1939 and 1951.  According to the British Museum Catalogue, at least some of the Mellifont Press reprints were abridged.  I have not been able to compare the texts of the two editions of The Wizard of Berner’s Abbey, but if the Mellifont edition (which contains approximately fifty-six thousand words in twenty chapters) was abridged, as I suspect (owing to the hazy details of certain aspects of the plot), the cutting was an act of mercy towards the reader.  The Wizard of Berner’s Abbey is a considerable step down from Hansom’s first novel, a descent into hackwork.
            It is the first person narrative of John Richmond, a student of medicine aged twenty-four, who comes unexpectedly to a little Surrey village to visit his cousin, Leonora, who had jilted him two years ago to marry Paul St. Arnaud, a sinister and much older figure completely absorbed in scientific inquiry. John hopes to come to understand why Leonora turned against him and towards the repellant St. Arnaud.  What John discovers is that St. Arnaud believes that his own will is so great that it works in complete independence of his body. St. Arnaud, however, is soon dead and buried, though his influence over his wife, via some sort of mind control, remains. And Leonora unwittingly continues her late husband’s nebulous experiments to create life—these experiments have something to do with the murders of two young women, for evidently brain matter is an essential part of St. Arnaud’s methodology.  Meanwhile John explores St. Arnaud’s library, which contains various occult books, and after reading in one of them John decides that some kind of vampirism is involved with regard to St. Arnaud’s strength of will.
Much of this kind of exposition is padding and deflection. It turns out that St. Arnaud has faked his own death, but is in the end killed in a struggle, leaving John and Leonora to marry.  The reader reaches the final page with relief that this tedious novel, poorly executed and entirely without thrills, is at last finished. 
            Nothing is known of the author. It is possible that the byline is pseudonymous.  Though there are many people with the last name of Hansom in England (particularly in the north), there is no “Mark Hansom” of the appropriate age to be found in the death records for England and Wales from 1938 through 2005.

I am now able to confirm, by comparison with the Wright & Brown original (courtesy of James Doig), that the Mellifont edition of The Wizard of Berner’s Abbey is, as I suspected, significantly abridged, and I am able to make some generalized statements about Mellifont’s process of abridgement, which (presumably) is common with other Mellifont texts.  Basically, what the editor at Mellifont seems to have done is to cut whole paragraphs throughout the book, mostly of narrative description. In some instances, a sequence of paragraphs, including some dialogue, might be excised wholly, even running to a number of pages; but for the most part, it was common for a paragraph or two  to be snipped out here and there in each chapter to reduce the amount of text enough to fit in the standard Mellifont 96-page format.  Additionally, all italics in the original Wright & Brown edition are dropped from the Mellifont.

As an example, here are my notes about the cuts from the twenty chapters of the Wright & Brown edition of The Wizard of Bernard’s Abbey. Very occasionally one sentence might be cut out of a paragraph otherwise retained in the Mellifont edition (marked with a + below), or a sentence from a paragraph otherwise excised might be retained (such instances are marked with a - below).

Chapter I:  6 paragraphs cut
Chapter II: 2 paragraphs cut
Chapter III:  3+ paragraphs cut
Chapter IV:  4 paragraphs cut
Chapter V:  5- paragraphs cut
Chapter VI:  10 paragraphs cut
Chapter VII:  no cuts
Chapter VII: 3 paragraphs cut
Chapter IX:  47 paragraphs cut (including one stretch of 6 pages)
Chapter X:  16 paragraphs cut
Chapter XI:  16 paragraphs cut (including one stretch ~ 3 pages)  
Chapter XII:  18 paragraphs cut
Chapter XII:  17+ paragraphs cut
Chapter XIV:  20 paragraphs cut (+ one new transitional sentence)
Chapter XV:  no cuts
Chapter XVI:  5 paragraphs cut
Chapter XVII:  6- paragraphs cut
Chapter XVIII:  16 paragraphs cut
Chapter XIX:  1 paragraph cut
Chapter XX:   5+ paragraphs cut

I think it’s safe to call the Mellifont edition hacked to pieces! The currently available edition published by Ramble House is reproduced from the Mellifont edition, and thus identically abridged. Potential readers are hereby alerted!   


  1. And was the cutting an act of mercy to the reader?

    1. Not really! To show actual mercy the editor would have needed to cut a lot more!

      More seriously, Hansom's first novel was intriguing and showed potential. This one, as his second novel, is a real step downwards in quality.

  2. No wonder I could not finish reading many of the Hansom books I purchased from Ramble House. I knew something was wrong with them. Thanks for alerting us, but I wish I knew before I shelled out over $80 for four of those books.

    1. Let me clarify that, so far as I know, only the Ramble House edition of THE WIZARD OF BERNER'S ABBEY is a reprint of the Mellifont edition. I believe the others are reprinted from the original Wright & Brown editions. May I suggest that the problem lies in the fact that Hansom was not a very good writer!