US scholars who work on British religious fiction face a number of logistical problems, but there's one problem in particular that causes considerable anxiety: relying on US editions of things. On the one hand, the Americans stole reprinted British religious fiction with considerable abandon, so there's a lot of it available to hand (and, in some cases, it may be impossible to find the relevant British text anywhere in the JK); on the other hand, the American publisher may have hacked, whacked, or otherwise revised the text without deigning to explain what's been altered. And, of course, since religious fiction is very much a niche field (although of late, the niche seems to be expanding), there are very few detailed attempts to track transatlantic changes.
As it happens, thanks to the joint efforts of eBay and GoogleBooks, I have an example to hand. The text in question was authored by Charles Benjamin Tayler (sometimes Charles B. Tayler or C. B. Tayler), an Anglican clergyman with strong tolerationist beliefs when it came to Protestant denominations and equally strong prejudices when it came to Roman Catholics. Tayler was a fairly industrious novelist, and quite a few of his works made it across the pond. They did not, however, always make it there quite intact. Such was the fate of The Child of the Church of England. A Book for Children (1834), which Tayler revised as Arthur and His Mother; Or, the Child of the Church of England. A Book for Children (1852). The first edition was reprinted in the USA by 1843 as The Child of the Church, but maintained Tayler's explicitly Anglican preface; I've not yet identified when the second edition put in its appearance. Unfortunately, there are no digitized versions of the UK first edition (which is only owned by the British Library, it seems), but the 1843 US edition ends on a rather glum note with a chapter entitled "Arthur in Sin and in Disgrace," in which poor little Arthur, who had been shooting "hating and hateful thoughts" (89) in his brother's direction, is led to discover that he has been violating commandment #6. The novel concludes with Mama explaining that he must first apologize, then spend some time in meditation and prayer. Arthur thus never quite makes it to the point of full repentance in the narrative. This may accurately represent the UK original; after all, the second edition is "enlarged."
Perhaps Tayler decided that little kids might find the original ending a little depressing (being accused of murder, even in the heart, could do that to you), or perhaps he thought that there were too many Romanists on the loose--more likely the latter. In any event, the revised version contains two more chapters, one on Dissenters (OK) and one on Roman Catholics (not OK, although good little Christians aren't supposed to be mean to individual Catholics). Instead of ending on Arthur meditating on his sins, it now ends with Arthur receiving a very special present: his very own Bible, "plainly but handsomely bound in dark Morocco leather, with small silver clasps," embossed in gilt (133). Although the novel spends much time showing us how Arthur's mother teaches him to read and interpret the Bible, this moment, in which the gift Bible replaces the Catholic (or Tractarian?) gift book sent to him by his aunt, symbolically marks his entry into the invisible church of Christ. However, the novel's emphasis on man's total depravity remains unaltered.
What happens in the American reprint of the second UK edition? First, it suddenly becomes anonymous, even though Tayler's other works had cropped up in the USA with his name attached. Second, it loses three of its eight engravings. Third, it gets some new chapter titles: "The Soul" becomes "A Talk about the Soul," "The Church" turns into "About the Church of Christ," and "The Chastening of the Lord" is now "The Death of the Baby." (Talk about avoiding euphemisms.) Fourth, and more seriously for the academic reader, the chapter on Dissenters vanishes entirely, although the Church of Rome stays put. Fifth, the publisher reworks the text in spots to make it more accessible to US Protestant children, although the target audience appears to be Methodists. Throughout, "clergymen" turn into "ministers." Arthur's definition of a church--"an old building of grey stone" (US 68)--has obvious problems in the US context, so instead it's "a large building of stone, brick, or wood,"1 without any spot for the clerk. The tone of the chastening/deceased infant chapter changes slightly, as the UK version includes a bar between the end of the mother's discourse and her suggestion that they leave the room (hinting that the two contemplate the dead child in silence for some time), while the US version has her immediately indicating that they should leave, followed by "[a]nd the mother and the boy walked slowly out of the chamber of death" (US 78)--found nowhere in the original. Some other alterations turn Anglican rites into their Methodist counterparts. For example, here's Baby's baptism in the UK edition:
"Not only," said Arthur's mother, "is this dear little Baby brought every day to God in our prayers, in the prayers of your father, and myself, and in the prayers of Edward, and Lucy, and in your prayers, but all the Church of Christ, and more especially our own Church of England are daily praying for him, for he has been admitted into the number of those who are called the people of God, and Christians after Christ by baptism. You remember, Arthur, when we went to Church with Baby, and the Clergyman prayed, and we all prayed; and then his Godfathers and his Godmothers promised, in his name, that he would 'forsake sin; that is, have nothing to do with any kind of sin, that he would believe God's word, and obey God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of his life.'" (UK 43)
The US edition erases "and more especially our own Church of England," along with the godfathers and godmothers ("we" make the promise instead) (US 38). By the same token, Arthur's trek to church with mom becomes a visit to "the old meeting-house" (US 85), moves the baptismal font from the entry to "inside the rails of the altar" (conceding in a footnote that one is not likely to find such a thing in a Methodist church...) (US 86), eliminates the chancel, has the Commandments painted directly on the wall instead of on wood, and axes Mom's Book of Common Prayer. (Other references to the Book of Common Prayer become "the hymn book" instead [e.g., US 31]). Even though the changes seem minor (aside, that is, from the completely missing chapter...), they totally transform the text's original Anglican affiliation--which is exactly the sort of change of which we need to be wary.
1 Arthur and His Mother; or, the Story of a Child that Belonged to the Church. A Book for Christian Children (New York: Carlton and Lanahan, n.d.), 57-58.