31 October 2010

Jane Austen in the News

A flurry of articles featuring Jane Austen scholar Kathryn Sutherland has been in the news. Ms Sutherland is claiming that Austen was barely literate, and an editor rewrote all her books. Here are some sensational headlines and leads:
The Daily Mail: How Jane Austen failed at spelling: Study shows author wrote in a ‘regional accent’ and used poor punctuation
The Telegraph: Jane Austen’s famous prose may not be hers after all
Reuters: Austen’s “polished prose” not so polished: academic claims.
As if this wasn't undignified enough, there's a new Austen mashup Emma and the Vampires by Wayne Josephson. Happy Halloween!


  1. well, my responses so far are:

    1. that's what editors are for; and, more seriously,

    2. Professor Sutherland based her claims on Ms Austen's manuscripts.

    what i would like to know is: exactly which draft of which manuscript? the 1st draft of any novel would understandably look much more messy - and ungrammatical even - compared to, say, the 7th or the 8th draft.

    so in this sense: was dear Jane's writing still full of 'blots, crossings out, messiness', as claimed (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/bad-speller-austens-books-were-heavily-edited-20101025-16znr.html), at the final stage of the last draft, b4 she handed it over to her editor William Gifford? only if this 'fact' could be firmly established would Prof Sutherland's allegations hold any water.

    besides, writing is all abt re-writing isn't it?

  2. Dear Anon: Indeed Prof Sutherland's claims have been said to be sensationalist - i think that she is promoting a e-book or something. As you have rightly pointed out, her theories were not based on the finished 'fair copy' - your "last draft".
    According to many scholars, Jane Austen re-wrote obssessively. And again, as you have rightly pointed out, writing really is re-writing. At least IMHO.

  3. Dear DG

    You must have read this already, being the impassioned & devoted 'Janeite' that you so truly are. But still, allow me to share with you & your readers this brilliant defense of dear Jane by Ms Stephanie Barron, the fearless author of the Jane Austen Mysteries series.

    Ms Barron argues:

    'I ask you: What writer born in 1775 conforms to 2010 spelling standards? What writer forced to compose with a quill and ink is likely to run to error-free pages? What first draft is NEVER revised? Only the lousy ones. And yes–what published author among us has never been edited by her editor?


    Sutherland professes to have examined, side-by-side, Jane’s manuscripts and her published novels, and found divergences of style she imputes to Jane’s editor. She has thrown over a thousand pages of manuscript online, which is all to the good for Austen fans; however, let us be clear about an important detail: none of these pages represent Austen’s “fair copy” manuscripts submitted to her publishers–Thomas Egerton or John Murray.

    Those fair copy manuscripts, the polished and finished texts Austen hand-copied from her first drafts, have long since gone the way of toilet paper. What has survived is a collection of her rough drafts of the novels, her juvenilia...and fragments of novels she never finished.'

    And yes, according to Ms Barron again, this brouhaha came about all because of

    '...Kathryn Sutherland’s attempt to promote her online database of Austen manuscript pages [that] has gone decidedly wrong.'

  4. Ooops, sorry, here's the source for the article:


  5. Dear Erudite Anon: Indeed no, I have not read this impassioned defence of my dear Jane Austen. I'm sure the readers here appreciate your sharing this nugget as do I. Thank you. X

  6. Kathryn Sutherland is a shameless self promoting hussy.