Sunday 4 December 2016

Editor help for Jane Austen novels

Published 23/10/2010 | 13:04

Jane Austen had her work polished up by a male editor, an Oxford academic has revealed
Jane Austen had her work polished up by a male editor, an Oxford academic has revealed

One of English Literature's greatest novelists, Jane Austen, had her work polished up by a male editor who took out her bad grammar and spelling, an Oxford academic has revealed.

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Professor Kathryn Sutherland made the discovery while studying a collection of 1,100 original handwritten pages of Austen's unpublished writings.

Prof Sutherland said: "It's widely assumed that Austen was a perfect stylist - her brother Henry famously said in 1818 that 'everything came finished from her pen' and commentators continue to share this view today.

"The reputation of no other English novelist rests so firmly on this issue of style, on the poise and emphasis of sentence and phrase, captured in precisely weighed punctuation.

"But in reading the manuscripts, it quickly becomes clear that this delicate precision is missing.

"Austen's unpublished manuscripts unpick her reputation for perfection in various ways: we see blots, crossings out, messiness - we see creation as it happens, and in Austen's case, we discover a powerful counter-grammatical way of writing.

"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.

The professor added: "This suggests somebody else was heavily involved in the editing process between manuscript and printed book, and letters between Austen's publisher John Murray II and his talent scout and editor William Gifford, acknowledging the untidiness of Austen's style and how Gifford will correct it, seem to identify Gifford as the culprit."

John Murray II, who was also Byron's publisher, was Austen's publisher for the last two years of her seven year publishing career, overseeing Emma, the second edition of Mansfield Park and Persuasion.

Prof Sutherland explained: "Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and the first edition of Mansfield Park were not published by Murray and have previously been seen by some critics as examples of poor printing - in fact, the style in these novels is much closer to Austen's manuscript hand."

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