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It is a truth universally acknowledged (within publishing, at least) that the relationship between editors and authors will always be misunderstood by the reading public.

Take the recent controversy about academic research into Jane Austen’s manuscripts. According to an article in the Telegraph, this is supposed to prove that ‘her finished novels owed as much to the intervention of her editor as to the genius of the author.’ (The editor in question is thought to have been William Gifford.) In rushing to defend Austen’s reputation, however, the Guardian manages to spread a myth of its own: ‘In the long war between writers and their editors (the secret war that readers never see), this looks like a major victory for editors.’

It is as far-fetched to suggest that Gifford (above) should be entitled to share equal credit with Austen as to assert that there is invariably conflict between editors and authors. Editing tends to be a collaborative process, not an adversarial one, and while we don’t appear to have documentary evidence to prove this was the case with Gifford and Austen, I’d be very surprised if changes were imposed on Austen’s texts by coercion rather than ‘persuasion‘.

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