As I complained about the ‘ouch’ that is necessary in the editing process of my novel (why yes, it was a brilliant scene but not for keeping the story moving along,) I had several folks remind me to save all those deleted sections. My father and another friend went so far as to suggest that I print off copies of my book at various times, sign and date them, then put them into storage.
Why, you ask? Consider the many benefits of finding original manuscripts for classic tomes such as 20,000 Leagues under the Sea or the newest Verne translation, The Golden Volcano (technically one of his last books.) What we have seen in print has gone through someone’s hands: and editor or a translator. In the case of Verne, some of those translations have been dreadful if not stunningly incorrect. 20K Leagues is actually under the Seas – yes, plural, because you can’t go down 20k leagues, but you can sail under the seven seas for a distance of 20k leagues. Verne, the scientist and sailing aficionado, knew this too. Also, how many of us thought Verne was only for children? Again, we were dealing with changes that the author may not have intended. English translators didn’t get what Verne was doing and thought all that silly science fiction-y stuff was for schoolboys: thus they translated the works with a childish flavor.
When we find these amazing originals, sometimes in the author’s own hand or notated in a way that suggests new meaning in a passage, we learn a great deal about the author, the work, and the process. Often we learn about the times they lived in. It provides a profound view of a masterpiece.
Now enter the computer age where a delete key has become a writer’s best friend. Backspace, backspace, backspace. In the future we will find the file that was edited and prepped for printing. Great. But what about all those changes? There is wonderful meaning in the things we remove – or humor. Yet in a nanosecond, fascinating detail is erased, never to be seen again. Sure, I do save all my major edits, but out of context and out of text, do they show anything?
Of course, this is a huge issue to history geeks like me who want to know what Jane Austen was thinking when she first created Mr. Darcy. I think it might be premature of me to be worried about someone looking back 200 years at my work, yet as authors can any of us afford not to consider the future and how we may be seen?
I leave you with that thought. While we are saving paper and being efficient, are we loosing something that speaks to our process and to history by not having ‘original’ manuscripts to peruse?