Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jane Austen and the editor




Jane Austen - Hulton Archive, Getty Images










A great fan of Jane Austen, I was fascinated to hear a revealing story about her writing on NPR this week. Oxford University professor Kathryn Sutherland has studied Austen's original manuscripts, and concluded that her prose - reputed to have been impeccable at first draft stage - was in fact heavily edited for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
It seems some die-hard Austen fans are disillusioned at the news. As both an ardent reader of Austen, and a writer who admires her work, I'm actually a little relieved. It's somehow comforting to realize even Austen needed a little polish. Of course, her work deserves to be revered, but many of the world's greatest writers could probably benefit from a little red ink. Step down from your pedestal, dear Jane.

6 comments:

Pen and Ink said...

NPR besmirches the good name of Dame Austen? Why those low-down, yellow-belly, side-winding, lilly-livered, Ho Chi Minh Hanoi Jane Mao Tsi-tung libertines!

Sincerely,
I. T. Umbrage

Megan Frances said...

Dear I Take

I take it I'm not being too familiar (we've reached the point in our correspondence where I feel I may presume to address you by your first and middle names). I'm pleased the comment section of my blog allows the opportunity for you to vent your outrage at such matters.

OBW&P

Pen and Ink said...

Quite.

Sincerely,
Your Faithful Correspondent

Megan Frances said...

Dear F.C.

Indeed.

Lori W. said...

This is nice to hear actually, that not every good writer is a good grammarian. As a writing teacher, I kind of love grammar and good spelling -- well, I totally love it, but I'll take a beautifully written, error-filled essay over a grammatically perfect but boring one any day.

Megan Frances said...

I agree with you, Lori. I was being a little hard on Jane. But what made this interesting - as the NPR story revealed - Austen was, "known for her polished prose, her careful phrasing and her precise grammar. "Everything came finished from her pen," Austen's brother, Henry, said in 1818, a year after his sister's death."

It turns out that was a misrepresentation which is an interesting revelation. Even so, it takes nothing away from the fine crafting of a great story.