Abridge – shorten (a book, film etc.)
Bowdlerize – remove improper or offensive material from (a text)
Revise – examine or amend (text)
No matter how you say it (all definitions from the 2008 edition of the Colour Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English) the text is shifted and sifted. Here we'll be looking at how the publishers of Canadian paperbacks in the 1940s and early 1950s changed the source texts for their books. The recent examples from a modern Harlequin show that, not surprisingly, the practice hasn't disappeared.
We'll start at the top - Export Publishing Enterprises Ltd. and their 166 titles published between mid 1948 and early 1951. Export acknowledged two titles as "abridged" and one as "revised". The two abridged were Heed the Thunder by Jim Thompson (New York: Greenburg, 1946) and Dangerous Escapade by J. A. Park (London: Fortune Press, 1933 as Strange Occupation). The revised book is Her Mother's Lover by Peggy Gaddis (New York: Godwin, 1936 as Two Women).
Why only these three were acknowledged will never be answered when it's clear that many of Export's books were abridged - sometimes to extraordinary and bizarre degrees. Here are four books picked at random. Unlike Harlequin these abridgements are not an effort to clean up the text - they are all about fitting the book into the 160 pages of the Export edition. I can't imagine the original publisher and author either knowing about or agreeing to these cuts.
Desperado’s Showdown by William Hopson (New York: Phoenix Press, 1948 as NP Puncher) was abridged approximately 25% with three chapters excised and many of the rest losing anywhere from a paragraph to two or three pages. Even the back cover blurb was abridged from the Phoenix Press original.
News Stand Library 120
Nightfall by David Goodis (New York: Julian Messner, 1947) was abridged approximately 15%. All the chapters were kept but most lost anywhere from a few paragraphs to five pages. Some rewriting was done to bridge the excised passages.
Hope of Heaven by John O'Hara (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1938) was modified in an odd way. The final one page chapter was dropped. The rest of the book is uncut.
The Children by Howard Fast (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1947) was abridged approximately 10%. All the chapters remain but starting with chapter 9 anywhere from a few paragraphs to two or three pages are cut. The Export edition is 128 pages but the text could have fit comfortably in 160 pages without cuts.