In 1997 Orwell Society member L J Hurst wrote the letter below to Geoff Bradley, the editor of specialist magazine CADS: Crime and Detective Stories.
Thanks to book searches by Jamie Sturgeon and Ralph Spurrier I now have the three editions of James Hadley Chase’s No Orchids For Miss Blandish. Three? you ask, but Al Hubin’s bibliography of crime fiction (1984) lists only two – the infamous novel of 1939, published by Jarrolds, and the revised edition published by Panther in 1961. Yes, but that ignores the second edition which was published again by Jarrolds sometime between 1942 and 1945 (the copy is wartime but with no date of publication given), which was a novelisation of the stage play. And the 1961 edition seems closer to the novelisation.
The Panther edition comes with a Publisher’s Note, and I think it is worth observing a couple of things: firstly, the reason for Chase’s revisions. These are quoted as the author’s “who feels the original text with its outmoded dialogue and its 1938 atmosphere would not be acceptable to the new generation of readers who may be curious to read the most controversial, the most discussed and the best known gangster story ever to have been written.” Secondly, the author and the publisher were aware of critical studies of No Orchids. They mention George Orwell’s “Raffles and Miss Blandish” (published in Horizon magazine in October 1944) and Persephone by D. Streatfeild (RKP 1959).
Now, I had read “Raffles and Miss Blandish” long before the novel, and I read the paperback, which was the only one available to me back in 1972, looking for the quotations Orwell gave, and cursing Chase’s 1961 revisions which cut them out. Now I can find them, and what have I found? That Orwell mis-quoted, and no-one ever seems to have noticed or bothered to comment.
Orwell says that Chases has “hundreds of thousands of readers who … understand at sight a sentence like ‘Johnnie was a rummy and only two jumps ahead of the nut-factory.‘” Let’s take that sentence as an example – it was not in the 1961 copy I read. It’s not in the novelisation. And it is not exactly in the original. Orwell had quoted from memory, abridging a long paragraph, and mis-spelling the name. It is on page 33 of the first edition: “Johnny was a rummy. He lived for drink and looked it. He lived by hiding anyone on the run. His place was known to most of the hoodlums in the district, but the Federal Agents had not got on to him as yet. He stood looking at Bailey with watery eyes. Drink had rotted him, and he was only one jump ahead of the nut factory.”
From the novelisation onwards the “nut factory” disappears, and in the paperback edition Johnny has been “ruined” by drink, not “rotted”.
Orwell says “the book sold, according to its publishers, no less than half a million copies”. My copy of the novelisation, on its title page says “510th Thousand”. Did Orwell have copies of both editions with him when he wrote, but ignored checking either when he quoted? Did the publishers keep the two editions in print simultaneously? Why have editors and critics not noticed the discrepancy between Orwell’s essay and the text in question? Can any CADS readers enlighten us? And why did Chase change his novel so frequently, and to so little advantage?
Wikipedia account of No Orchids For Miss Blandish (first edition).
A comparison of the 1939 and 1961 editions, without noting the intermediate edition, or the discrepancy in George Orwell’s essay (Tipping My Fedora blog, 2014).
A detailed analysis, cross-referring No Orchids to other works and to Orwell’s essay. Note that other works also includes Paul Cain’s Fast One, itself the subject of a review by Orwell.