“There are a few Typical errors–& a ‘said he’ or a ‘said she’ would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear–but ‘I do not write for such dull Elves As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.’” Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra on the release of Pride and Prejudice, January 29, 1813
Jane Austen can’t spell, sucked at grammar and punctuation, and needed a man to complete her! So says Oxford scholar Kathryn Sutherland!
I was going to coldly ignore this folly and nonsense; deignfully not acknowledging its existence; but this is just the outside of enough. The media has grabbed on to Sutherland’s grandstanding publicity tripe and a full on scandal has erupted. It started on Saturday, October 23 with Richard Garner’s report in The Independent…
“Blots, crossings-out, messiness and bad grammar – Jane Austen’s manuscripts were so messy that a pro-active editor must have been responsible for the polished prose of novels such as Emma and Persuasion.
That is the conclusion of an Oxford University professor who has been studying 1,100 of the writer’s unpublished original manuscripts.
Professor Kathryn Sutherland, of the Oxford faculty of English language and literature, has come to the conclusion that an interventionist editor must have come to the rescue.”
Sutherland assumes that because Jane Austen’s later novels Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were relatively free of spelling and grammar errors that the editor who worked for her publisher fixed her mistakes and polished her manuscripts. Basically, that she needed a man to rescue her bad prose!
I would like to openly ask Kathryn Sutherland a question. Did you analyze the original manuscripts of Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published by Murray, or Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park published by Egerton to draw your conclusion? No? Gee, I wonder why? Because, they no longer exist.
What did you use? The 1,100 pages of original manuscripts mentioned in Richard Garner’s report could be her juvenilia, fragments of The Watsons and Sanditon, and the novella Lady Susan. Besides some other minor works, they are the only original Jane Austen manuscripts in existence.
We can hardly hold a brilliant author accountable for her spelling, grammar, punctuation and messiness in her juvenile writings. The Watsons and Sanditon were created in maturity, but are unfinished works in progress. Of course there would be words crossed out and untidiness. Lady Susan is the closest we can get to what Jane Austen might have presented to a publisher as a final manuscript for publication. The surviving manuscript was transcribed by the author in the early 1800’s as a “fair copy.” Would it have been the version that Jane Austen would have presented for publication? Since it was not, we shall never know.
So, as far as I can muster, Sutherland based her accusation on one line in a letter written by Austen’s publisher John Murray who mentions the “untidiness of her writing style” to his editor William Gifford (who we are not certain edited Austen’s books). Those four words have inspired this brouhaha, a damning insult to one of literature’s finest authors.
In conclusion, I would like to freely admit that I cannot spell, my grammar and punctuation suck and if I was not writing this on my helpful Microsoft Word program, there would be crossed out words and messiness. Unfortunately, that does not make me the next Jane Austen.
Shame on you Kathryn Sutherland for using a line written in confidence two hundred years ago for your cheap self-aggrandizement. Now the general public thinks Jane Austen is a sham.
Have a “nice” day, Laurel Ann
Disclaimer: No men were “ill-used” in the writing of this blog, though I would like to box a few ears of the gentlemen of the press.
Additional scuttlebutt and responses: