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Sunday, January 01, 2012

There's a big difference between manuscript and proof

One of the best pieces of radio I heard over Christmas was The Tale of A Tale of Two Cities, in which Frances Fyfield looked at Dickens' original manuscript of the story. As she pointed out, there's something uniquely moving about reading Sydney Carton's words directly from the strokes of the pen which first brought them into the world, particularly when you know that Dickens would speak the words into the mirror before committing them to paper. As one of the commentators said, there's something immediate and intimate about a manuscript which is gone by the time the words are rendered on a proof. Once you read them on a proof they're public property.

I've blogged in the past about how Dickens reacted to first seeing his work "in print". Published writing is traditionally a series of stages, each of which sees the personality diminished as the seriousness grows. The editing, composing and proofreading stages that Dickens' works went through weren't valuable merely because they prevented him from making errors. They also gave him time to decide whether he really meant what he had written. I wonder how he would have got on in the world of blogs, where you simply have to hit "return" to send your most recent thought forth into the world.