I’ve been thinking a whole load about editing lately. This is partly because I’m editing two book-length projects of my own, and partly because I’m in the thick of writing a book about writing, and so I’m having to step back from the process to think a bit more broadly about what it means to write. So I thought I would share what is one of my favourite pieces on editing, the interview in the Paris Review back in 1994 with the great editor Bob Gottlieb. The interview is interesting in itself, in that interviewer Larissa MacFarquhar interviewed Joseph Heller, Doris Lessing, John le Carré, Cynthia Ozick, Michael Crichton, Chaim Potok, Toni Morrison, Robert Caro, and Mordecai Richler, asking them about working with Gottlieb; and then she interviewed Gottlieb himself, thereby getting both the writers’ perspectives on working with him as an editor, and his perspective as editor working with the various writers.
Here’s an extract:
The editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one. The last thing anyone reading Jane Eyre would want to know, for example, is that I had convinced Charlotte Brontë that the first Mrs. Rochester should go up in flames. The most famous case of editorial intervention in English literature has always bothered me—you know, that Dickens’s friend Bulwer-Lytton advised him to change the end of Great Expectations: I don’t want to know that! As a critic, of course, as a literary historian, I’m interested, but as a reader, I find it very disconcerting. Nobody should know what I told Joe Heller and how grateful he is, if he is. It’s unkind to the reader and just out of place.
The full interview can be found here.