I have been reading the memoirs of Edna O’Brien, aged 82. Back in the late 1970s, I was the junior editor at William Collins (as it then was) who had to supervise an omnibus edition of her best-known novels, for which she wrote a special introduction. I read the page proofs carefully, and was horrified when Ms. O’Brien rang me, on receiving a finished copy of the book, to complain that the printers had missed out an entire paragraph from her preface. I rushed to the book, and there the paragraph wasn’t. I duly apologized for the error, and the storm passed. But as I read her piece, I saw that the proofreaders – and I – had missed a ‘literal’ in the very first sentence. Even now, I can recite that sentence from memory. ‘Would that I could write not only of love between man and woman but of love between man and man, woman and woman, even man and breast.’ Yes, an errant ‘r’ had got inserted into the final word. Ms. O’Brien did not notice; or maybe she did, and thought the addition an improvement.
Richard Cohen is the former publishing director of Hutchinson and Hodder & Stoughton and the founder of Richard Cohen Books. Five times U.K. national saber champion, he was selected for the British Olympic fencing team in 1972, 1976, 1980, and 1984.