Say It Ain't So, Jane

manuscript_custom3Was Jane Austen a sloppy writer? That’s the claim made by Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland, and she’s posted more than 1,000 pages of Austen manuscripts online that she says prove her point. In fact, Sutherland has concluded that Austen’s celebrated style is really the work of an unknown editor. The claim has generated  publicity and even controversy; in an NPR interview last month, Sutherland remarked that some of the reactions have been unpleasant and extreme, and that Austen critics should “just stop polishing her halo.” 

There was another NPR piece today which offered some useful perspective.  Linguist Geoff Nunberg notes that though there are errors in the manuscripts, they are just that–working manuscripts. And besides, many of the rules we observe today about things like spelling and punctuation hadn’t been settled in Austen’s time, so to fault her for them is as anchronistic as calling Elizabeth Bennet a “bachelorette.”

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About the Author:

Mary Ellen Quinn is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Librarianship (2014), the former editor of Reference Books Bulletin and a long-time contributing writer to Booklist.

1 Comment on "Say It Ain't So, Jane"

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  1. mandikayeottaway@gmail.com' Mandi says:

    The lettering of my tattoo is done in a font modeled after Austen’s handwriting – and I love it.

    To each his (or her) own, I guess.

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