Mark Twain holds a special place in my heart because I used a quote from him as the epigraph for my PhD thesis. But actually I hadn’t read any of his books before. So in my newly evangelical admiration for audiobooks, and specifically Librivox books, I listened to The Prince and the Pauper over the course of a few trips to and from work (it’s about forty to fifty five minutes, so plenty of time to get a few chapters read). Although I knew the general thrust of the story, I had no idea of the specifics, so it was a journey of discovering extra aspects of a story which I thought I knew, and it turns out I didn’t know at all (like Frankenstein, which I listened to late last year, and it turns out I really didn’t know the story of).
I listened to Librivox version 2.
This treasured historical satire, played out in two very different socioeconomic worlds of 16th-century England, centers around the lives of two boys born in London on the same day: Edward, Prince of Wales and Tom Canty, a street beggar. During a chance encounter, the two realize they are identical and, as a lark, decide to exchange clothes and roles–a situation that briefly, but drastically, alters the lives of both youngsters. The Prince, dressed in rags, wanders about the city’s boisterous neighborhoods among the lower classes and endures a series of hardships; meanwhile, poor Tom, now living with the royals, is constantly filled with the dread of being discovered for who and what he really is.
I very much enjoyed the story in this book, and would happily recommend it. A classic satire, it’s the original rags to riches story, of two identical boys and their experiences after an accidental switch. Mark Twain’s satire of the excesses of the rich compared to the struggles of the poor, as well as his rich description and his humorous anecdotes as the prince (and then King) of England struggles to reclaim his rightful place make this an immersive and entertaining book. It’s definitely a classic for a reason, and well worth seeking out if you haven’t read it before, not least because of all the versions of it which exist (mostly the Disney one, if I’m honest).
But. There’s a big but for this. The Librivox version I listened to was, well… not good. Librivox audiobooks are voiced entirely by volunteers, so I understand that they won’t have the same level of professionalism attached to them as, for example, Bolinda or Audible audiobooks. These people are giving up their free time, for the love of books, and to share those books with other people. But this was a particularly bad version of a Librivox book.
Over the course of the last eight or nine months, since I got my car, I’ve listened to about twenty audiobooks. Maybe closer to thirty. And this is by far the worst recording. I’ve listened to about ten librivox books, and while some have been infuriating (the voice of Mrs Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice was a horror of upwards inflection), none of them have been as difficult or annoying as this version of the prince and the pauper.
I had so many little niggling annoyances about this audiobook that they combined to make for a very frustrating listening experience. It was a collaborative recording, meaning that different chapters were voiced by different volunteers. This isn’t really an issue for me, but each chapter had a different volume level. That’s all well and good, but meant that I spent some chapters straining to hear or, after turning it up for one particularly quiet chapter, had the ears blasted off me when I began the next. A small annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.
Secondly, several of the narrators were clearly reading from a book, as there were frequent pauses in the narrative for page turns. This was especially irritating where words broke over page turns. The slight pause in the middle of a word was an eye-roll from me, and a note to listen to a different version of this in future.
The final thing which rankled with me was lots of pronunciation errors. This was across the board, through all narrators. Some were clearly American/British differences (Lord Hertford, for instance, is consistently referred to as Hurtford, rather than Hartford), but some were just errors (kees instead of cease).
All in all, although I enjoyed the story, the annoyances of this particular audiobook recording made for a rather disappointing experience. I feel bad criticising a volunteer project, particularly as nobody made me listen to it, but certainly I would advise a different version to this.