Literary technology

In 1850, Britain was producing about 100,000 tons of paper per year.

By 1900, that had increased to 800,000 tons per year. Printers started setting type by machine, which was five times faster than setting it by hand and allowed page proofs to be easily shared and corrected.

Soon authors were guiding their books through a long and potentially fertile process - first a manuscript, then a typescript, perhaps a magazine serial, and finally a series of proofs for the book.

Such technology allowed for a different kind of revision that handwriting didn’t. It was a massive structural and literary transformation.

The most important technology at the beginning of the twentieth century was the typewriter. Today we equate a keyboard with speed, touch typing, the fastest way to get words down.

But a typescript offered modernist writers a chance to slow down. Most modernist writers wrote by hand and then painstakingly typed up the results.

That took time. But seeing their writing in such dramatically different forms - handwritten in a notebook, typed on a page, printed as a proof - encouraged these writers to revise it aggressively.

W.H. Auden loathed the typewriter but welcomed its capacity for self-criticism. He found typescript impersonal and hideous to look at.

But he also found if he typed out a poem, he could immediately see defects which he missed when looking over a handwritten manuscript.

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