|19th century hornbook and speller|
Professor Sutherland's quotations, published on the Oxford website, are the basis for this post.
The headlines in Brazil generally said: "Escritora Jane Austen era péssima em ortografia" ["Jane Austen was bad at spelling"] Folha de Sao Paulo, Veja Magazine and Correio Brasiliense.
Two British headlines were more cautious. The BBC declared, "Jane Austen's style might not be hers, academic claims." The Telegraph stated, "Jane Austen's famous prose may not be hers after all " and The Guardian made it clear that an "Attack on Jane Austen's genius shows neither sense nor sensibility ".
The headlines, which at first I thought were exaggerated, were not. They are perfectly in line with the original Oxford declaration: "Austen's famous style may not be hers after all".
|Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen|
‘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 Austen’s unpublished manuscripts unpick her reputation for perfection in various ways: we see blots, crossings out, messiness; we see creation as it happens; and in Austen’s case,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.’Before analysing the quote below, we must clarify that no reputable publishing house publishes a book without preparing an author's work. William Gifford's edits were thus not exceptional.
The expressions "heavily involved" and "Gifford as the culprit", and the assertion that "The famous style of Jane Austen can not be hers after all" set the tone for suspicion. Were the errors in the manuscripts so many and the corrections so deep that they modified Jane's style?
‘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.’Sutherland speaks about the first books published by Thomas Egerton:
‘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!’While discussing Jane's innovative writing (quotes above), Sutherland also points out endless paragraphs, blots, crossings out and messiness in her manuscripts
‘The manuscripts reveal Austen to be an experimental and innovative writer, constantly trying new things, and show her to be even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest,’ she says.
‘She is above all a novelist whose significant effects are achieved in the exchanges of conversation and the dramatic presentation of character through speech. The manuscripts are unparagraphed, letting the different voices crowd each other; underlinings and apparently random use of capital letters give lots of directions as to how words or phrases should be voiced.’Professor Sutherland concludes by talking about the satire in the author's writings, and saying that Jane Austen's last unfinished work is less smooth than her published works.
‘Austen was also a great satirist. This thread in her writing is apparent in the sharp and anarchic spoofs of the teenage manuscripts and still there in the freakish prose of the novel she left unfinished when she died. The manuscript evidence offers a different face for Jane Austen, one smoothed out in the famous printed novels.'
And just what led to this controversy? The professor herself with her assertions and contradictions. Perhaps it was advertising for the online manuscript, of which Sutherland is the coordinator (see AustenBlog). Perhaps it was simple vanity to launch a theme that she knew would arouse public interest. (Read about the brouhaha in Jane Austen's World ).
I will end this post by highlighting two passages of the text by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian with which I totally agree:
Jane Austen’s style is not a bit of polishing on the surface of her novels, it goes deep into their structure, which is why they are so satisfying.
There is a dance between academics and arts reporters that has gone on long enough, in which scholars allow silly overinterpretations of their claims to become news, while at the same time looking down on the newsmonger. In this case the result is a pedantic assault on genius that can only diminish the pleasure of readers and confuse students. Austen is a great artist – through and through. Her voice is her own.
More about professor Kathryn Sutherland:
- Kathryn Sutherland no St. Anne's College, Oxford
- Jane Austen's Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood, by Kathryn Sutherland
Posted by Raquel Sallaberry, Jane Austen em Português