The Einstein Option

There were two ways to earn an A in my high school chemistry class: you could maintain an average of 90 or more or you could impress our teacher, Mr. Kunselman, with your genius. He called this latter the Einstein option, explaining that he did not want to be in the position of Einstein’s physics teacher, inadvertently famous for giving a genius a D in chemistry.

I’ve been thinking about the Einstein Option today as it applies to spelling and grammar errors. I’m correcting my page proofs and today’s project was a chapter on Woolf and Byron. Ironically, then, I find myself poring over my own comma usage in a chapter full of quotations that preserve the charming, speedy genius of Woolf and Byron’s idiosyncratic punctuation.

But errors are neither charming nor a sign of genius in a first book, are they? It’s only posthumously, with fame secure, that an editor can opt—as Byron’s and Woolf’s have—to preserve the author’s idiosyncratic spellings etc., as evidence of the trajectory of their minds. My own errors, I fear, are more likely to be viewed with the skepticism that rightly greets Mr. Bingley’s admission of speedy, error-filled prose, in Pride and Prejudice: claims of sloppy prose are not confessions of error but boasts of a rapid (and thus occupied, intelligent, interesting?) mind. I hate my errors and hate having to comb over them; each one I find—and those that remain, I think, are minor—gives me the chills.