Science Reveals Unseen Passages And Early Versions Of Classics

Science Reveals Unseen Passages And Early Versions Of Classics

If you write your manuscripts by hand and plan to be a big deal in the literary world after you're dead, don't put anything stupid in those first drafts. Scientist Ian Christie-Miller, a former visiting research fellow at London University, has developed a technology that allows us to see beyond the scribbles and cross-outs to determine how a given piece of prose was shaped and reshaped from start to finish.

It works by separating layers of text using frontlit and backlit images of pages then digitally subtracting one from the other until unseen passages and the author's original words emerge. Charles Dickens is the first to have his screw-ups, revisions, and deletions revealed to the world, but the technique could potentially be used on all sorts of texts.

The pilot study took place at London's Victoria & Albert Museum using Dickens' Christmas story "The Chimes." While it didn't reveal any gasp-inducing plot changes, it did prove the technology and find minor differences such as a change from the original sentence "Years...are like men in one respect" to the published "Years...are like Christians in that respect."

It's a pretty nifty new tool for literary scholars. Which author's drafts would you like to snoop on?

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Kimberly Turner

News by Kimberly Turner

Kimberly Turner is an internet entrepreneur, DJ, editor, beekeeper, linguist, traveler, and writer. This either makes her exceptionally well-rounded or slightly crazy; it’s hard to say which. She spent a decade as a journalist and magazine editor in Australia and the U.S. and is now working (very, very slowly) on her first novel. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, two cats, ten fish, and roughly 60,000 bees.

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Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne August 8, 2012 - 11:42am

I guess now we get to find out that many of our favorite authors scribbled out "SON OF A BITCH I HATE THIS BOOK" and other such nonsense during moments of frustration. Or at least I really hope so.

Nathan Keniston's picture
Nathan Keniston from Mexico, Missouri is reading Devil's Waltz by Jonathan Kellerman August 8, 2012 - 11:53am

I'd like to see Stephen King's drafts.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer August 8, 2012 - 12:54pm

King would just burn entire pages. If he is cutting ten percent from an 800 page book, that's 80 pages!