Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jane Austen was not the elegant writer we thought she was….

Jane Austin (1775-1817) is renowned for her precise, exquisite prose. She completed six novels in her lifetime, two (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) of which were published posthumously. She is widely celebrated as a supreme stylist - a writer of perfectly polished sentences. According to Austen's brother Henry: "everything came finished from her pen."

But according to research from Oxford University English professor Kathryn Sutherland, this seems to be a myth. Professor Sutherland, an Austen authority, studied Austin’s unpublished manuscripts that gave her "a more intimate appreciation" of the author's talents.

The manuscripts reveal that Austen was an experimental and innovative writer, constantly trying new things. But the 1,100 handwritten pages of unpublished work also show that she broke most of the rules for writing good English. "In particular, the high degree of polished punctuation and epigrammatic style we see in 'Emma' and 'Persuasion' is simply not there," Sutherland said.

Letters from Austen's publisher reveal that editor William Gifford was heavily involved in editing Austen’s work.

Gifford was a poet and critic in his own right. He worked for Austen’s second publisher, John Murray. Gifford did not edit earlier books such as "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice," that are much closer to Austen's manuscript style.

Jane Austen was obviously not great at spelling or correct use of punctuation. One of her grammatical errors was the inability to master the ‘i before e’ rule and her works were littered with distant ‘veiws’ and characters who ‘recieve’ guests. She also wrote in a ‘regional accent’: ‘tomatoes’ as ‘tomatas’ and ‘arraroot’ for ‘arrowroot’.

Austen's handwritten manuscripts can be found at http://www.janeausten.ac.uk.

No comments: