December 9, 2011

Dickens and the paper trail: What we lose when editing is electronic


It’s a Christmas miracle: Cambridge University Press is allowing us to see what the original manuscript of Great Expectations looked like. As The Guardian reports, it’s a charming, labyrinthine mess of corrections and crossings out:







Looking at that thick ink, it’s hard not to romanticise the Victorian editor’s job, and also hard not to regret all that’s lost in the modern editing process. I’ve had involved, heartfelt and impassioned exchanges in Word’s comments function that, once ‘Accept Change’ has been clicked, are lost for all eternity. There’s much to be learnt from these working processes, and two hundred years from now readers of today’s bestsellers, tomorrow’s classics, won’t have the luxury of returning to manuscripts in this way.

That said, though, the prospect of hand-editing a manuscript today brings me out in a cold sweat…





Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.