Jane Austen novels heavily edited for errors: expert

23rd October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Jane Austen, one of the greatest novelists in English literature, had her work heavily edited to sort out the mess of her original manuscripts, an expert said Saturday.

Professor Kathryn Sutherland studied 1,100 original handwritten pages of Austen's unpublished writings and concluded that her efforts had been polished up to correct her bad grammar and spelling.

"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 Oxford University academic said.

"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"Austen's unpublished manuscripts unpick her reputation for perfection in various ways: we see blots, crossings out, messiness -- we see creation as it happens, and in Austen's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."

Austen, born in 1775, lived most of her life in Hampshire, southern England. She died in 1817 from an unknown illness.

Her novels, published from 1811 onwards, included "Sense and Sensibility", "Pride and Prejudice", "Mansfield Park", "Emma", "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion".

"In particular, the high degree of polished punctuation and epigrammatic style we see in 'Emma' and 'Persuasion' is simply not there," Sutherland said after studying the originals.

"This suggests somebody else was heavily involved in the editing process between manuscript and printed book.

"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."

Murray was Austen's publisher for the last two years of her career, overseeing "Emma", the second edition of "Mansfield Park" and "Persuasion".

"'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," Sutherland said.

"In fact, the style in these novels is much closer to Austen's manuscript hand."

© 2010 AFP

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