New-Old Scribbles from Old, Old Authors

A curious trend seems to be spreading across the literary world whereby deceased authors’ previously unseen scribblings are being brought into the light. First we had Hemingway’s 47 alternate endings to A Farewell to Arms in print, then an uncovered and previously rejected short story by F.Scott Fitzgerald was published by The New Yorker. And this week brings with it the new-old scribblings of not one, but two famous authors, one thanks to science, the other to a private journal.

One of those whose work will be newly uncovered is none other than Charles Dickens. In this case, there is no freshly discovered, unpublished manuscript to be sent to the printers. Rather, the hidden treasure has been in scholars hands all along; Dickens’ manuscripts were written out by hand, marked by scribbles and crossings-out throughout. Now, thanks to a newly invented lighting device, scientists will be able to literally illuminate Dickens thoughts on the page.

Reports The Independent, “The technology, separating layers of text, involves combining two or more digital images – a frontlit and backlit image of a page. By digitally subtracting one from the other, differences are revealed.”

The technology has already been worked on Dickens’ Christmas-themed short story “The Chimes,” which has wielded some interesting results. One sentence that was published as “Years … are like Christians in that respect” was actually originally written by the author as “Years… are like men in one respect.” Seem like a small change? It is, but scholars of Dickens’ are more interested in figuring out why such changes were made. One senior curator describes the technology as allowing scholars to almost see Dickens “thinking aloud on paper.” It certainly has Florian Schweizer, Director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, excited, now that this science will be applied to longer manuscripts like Bleak House: “We’re talking of tens of thousands of manuscript pages that could potentially be unlocked.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the second infamous writer with a new work on the publishing circuit. The Sherlock Holmes author’s career seems undeterred by the afterlife. Perhaps it’s been spurred on by the recent movie and television adaptations. Either way, his newest adventure yarn tells the exciting story of a young medical student who runs away to become the ship doctor aboard an Arctic whaler for  one thrilling year. The difference between this and Doyle’s other stories? It’s actually his own. Yes, one of the earliest proponents of the mystery novel was actually studying to be a physician, until he put aside his education for a ride on the high seas. Luckily for us, he kept a journal on his travels, which has only now been compiled into a published work to be titled Dangerous Work. The Guardian had a sample:

I fell into the Arctic Ocean three times today, but luckily someone was always near to pull me out. The danger in falling in is that with a heavy swell on as there is now, you may be cut in two pretty well by two pieces of ice coming together and nipping you. I got several drags, but was laid up in the evening as all my clothes were in the engine room drying… after skinning a seal today I walked away with the two hind flippers in my hand, leaving my mittens on the ice.

Doyle was just twenty when that account was written. Over the course of his year-long adventure he would grow immensely, dealing with such sobering moments as the death of a fellow crew member in his very arms. The first Sherlock Holmes story would not be published for another seven years, but the Doyle biographer who co-edited the diary has said that he found a “direct link to the first tale” at the end of Doyle’s voyage.

What do you think of these authors’ secret works and edits coming to light? Is it fair to the legacy they intended to leave? Should we even be allowed to see them, or should they remain tucked away from the public’s eyes? Tell us your thoughts below!

 


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