Jane Austen and Her Editor…

Update:   read this very welcome response to this discussion by Geoff Nunberg at NPR here.

I am on the road, so not able to connect to all my Austen “feeds” on a daily basis, so I was grateful to hear from Janeite Marti who sent me the information on this latest kerfuffle in Austenland – it seems that Professor Kathryn Sutherland has, in her releasing the latest digital editions of Austen’s fiction manuscripts [see the link here Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts], made comments on Austen’s spelling and punctutaion and the need for a proper editor to clean everything up for publication – how the press has picked up on this in a world-class endeavor to bring Austen down a peg or two,  tossing her from her very high literary pedestal!  Vic at Jane Austen’s World has addressed the issue most adequately, so I send you there to read her near perfect defense of “Dear Jane.”

I will add this – we have long known that Austen was no Marian Grammarian – her spelling WAS appalling [thankfully spelling is not a requirement for imaginative thinking, brilliant characterization and comic timing] – and we do know, if you are at all conversant with her letters, that she worked diligently with her publishers [and likely an editor as well! alas!] correcting proofs of her novels. And those of us who have seen any of her working manuscripts, or indeed have read Sanditon or The Watsons in their unpunctuated, unparagraphed state have also long known how Austen wrote – we should also take into account her need to conserve paper – her letters attest to this – the cross-writing, the writing on all available edges  –  but these mentions of her unruly notetaking, scribbling, lack of paragraph formation and quotation marks and obvious need of an editor, is not all that Sutherland had to say, and the media emphasis on this is unfair to both her and Austen.  One should read further:

Still more interesting to her, however, is the authorial voice one hears in the manuscripts. She calls it “a more innovative, more experimental voice” than Austen gets credit for. “By not working with the grammatical form, she’s actually coming much closer to writing real conversation” than in the printed versions where “she’s pulled back into a more conventional form,” the scholar said. “It’s a voice you’re perhaps not hearing again until the early 20th century.”

So let’s embrace this gift of seeing Austen at work and instead of quibbling about commas and quotation marks that make it look like some male editor made the Austen we all admire, do as Sutherland suggests and take Austen’s works to yet another level… what an opportunity we have!
Further reading: 

‘Persuasion’ manuscript

6 thoughts on “Jane Austen and Her Editor…

  1. I agree, Deb. The brouhaha was created by the press. I think Sutherland wanted to make a more cogent point – which was that Jane’s writing in the raw was quite creative. Thank you for linking to my post!


  2. Pingback: Jane Austen’s Novels Were EDITED by a Man « Jane Austen's World

  3. Pingback: Enough already with the “Jane Austen needed a man” to rescue her prose condemnations! « Austenprose

  4. It seems to me that many people of Austen’s time were poor spellers, simply because there was little consensus on the correct spelling of many words. While Johnson’s dictionary came out in 1755, and there were a couple published in the 1600s, the use of dictionaries was hardly widespread.


    • Yes, Marcia – that is so – [read Vic’s post and she refers to the spelling issues – so I didn’t add anything to that…]

      and as always Marcia – thank yu for yo’r “freindship”!
      [we are all going to be back to a non-spelling world anyway with twitter and texting and the shorthand of modern life!]


  5. Pingback: “Let Other Pens Dwell on Guilt and Misery”

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