Thank you for the thoughtful push-back. I understand where you’re coming from. We are considering and weighing these very things as the editorial process advances and evolves.
We knew this would be controversial. Our desire is to help preserve Thoreau’s legacy and keep the story evergreen by clarifying his intent where it makes sense.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Dieter Rams’s mantra: “as little design as possible.” That’s our approach with the adapted Walden — as little rewriting as possible. Much of this book is still quite readable by today’s standards, even if it’s quite complex (which is a big part of the book’s value).
I think a lot of people are having knee-jerk reactions which prevent them from really looking into and understanding what we’re doing. Quite frankly, I think some folks are giving us too much credit! I don’t think we could possibly replace the original, and we don’t want to. I see both versions existing side by side — especially since this new version is a limited edition art object.
To your main point: I would argue that typically, when Thoreau says “men” or “man” in the plural sense, his meaning was mankind, people or humanity (and we’re using all three at different times). The goal isn’t to make Thoreau politically correct, but to clarify his intent according to contemporary reading standards.
I was talking with someone about this topic earlier today, and there are many times when Thoreau used a single male example to illustrate a point. We’re leaving most of those singular instances alone. I know some contemporary writers try to balance singular male and female, but in this case I believe that would be overt revisionism.
Billy said something recently that nicely encapsulates our dynamic as co-editors:
“I’m in a curious position, because my role in this project is essentially to play defense on behalf of Thoreau. I’ll read Matt’s edits side by side with the original text, and will resist changes that don’t positively add to a contemporary reading experience.”