Jane Austen Did What?

10/30/10

In 1818, a year after Jane Austen’s death, her brother Henry declared that “everything came finished from her pen.”  Now, according to Dr. Kathryn Sutherland, professor of English at Oxford University, Henry may have been a tad inaccurate in his claim.  After studying more than 1,000 pages of Austen’s handwritten manuscripts, Sutherland says the papers exhibit “blots, crossings out, messiness,” and that Austen “broke most of the rules for writing good English.”  Sutherland suggests that Austen’s editor, William Gifford, deserves credit for honing the style of some of her novels.  For more information, go to:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130774742

Interestingly, in 1623, William Shakespeare’s colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell praised him in words similar to Henry Austen’s statement about Jane.  In their introduction to the First Folio, they wrote that Shakespeare wrote with such ease of thought that “wee have scarse received from him a blot on his papers.”  This, of course, is sheer nonsense.  Even a genius doesn’t pen Hamlet in a single draft.  In fact, the more fluid and effortless a piece of writing appears, the more effort the author put into it to make it sound that way.

It’s understandable that Jane’s brother and Will’s friends would want to glorify their reputations, but to me it doesn’t disparage either writer to learn they were real working authors who sometimes struggled to get it right.  Instead, it only makes me appreciate their writing all the more.