Wednesday 22 October 2014

Austen was a woeful speller . . .

Published 30/10/2010 | 05:00

Jane Austen's brother Henry loftily declared that "everything came finished from her pen", but now it turns out that this most polished practitioner of English prose couldn't spell, had a weird notion of publication and had no idea where to end paragraphs.

These revelations come courtesy of Oxford University professor Kathryn Sutherland. After close study of Austen's surviving manuscripts (especially that of Persuasion) and letters, she has come to the conclusion that poet and critic William Gifford, who worked for Austen's publisher John Murray, corrected Austen's linguistic errors and polished her sentences.

Surely, though, that's what editors have always been for, even if to judge from the published state of so many recent books -- some from much-admired authors -- few of them seem to be practising their skills these days, while proof-reading is clearly a thing of the past.

But if you're exercised by such matters, Prof Sutherland has put 1,000 of Austen's handwritten pages on line, where they can be compared with the finished versions we all know and love.

*****

The week's other revelation comes from a Guardian interview with Colm Toibin, in which the Irish author offers a novel dimension to the long-running furore about the effect of clerical sexuality on young Irish lives.

Although not abused by priests in the Wexford school he attended, he positively fancied some of them.

"Aged 15 or 16," he tells interviewer Susanna Rustin, "I found some of the priests sexually attractive, they had a way about them . . . a sexual allure which is a difficult thing to talk about because it's usually meant to be the opposite way round.

"Boys like me, aged 15 -- if one of them had . . . yeah, it would have been absolutely no problem for me aged 15. It didn't happen, but it wouldn't have been a problem."

That's an admirably frank confession, though I'm not sure if Colm O'Gorman or other abuse survivors will welcome it being voiced.

Irish Independent

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