Jane Austen and Her Editor…

Update:   read this very welcome response to this discussion by Geoff Nunberg at NPR here.

I am on the road, so not able to connect to all my Austen “feeds” on a daily basis, so I was grateful to hear from Janeite Marti who sent me the information on this latest kerfuffle in Austenland – it seems that Professor Kathryn Sutherland has, in her releasing the latest digital editions of Austen’s fiction manuscripts [see the link here Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts], made comments on Austen’s spelling and punctutaion and the need for a proper editor to clean everything up for publication – how the press has picked up on this in a world-class endeavor to bring Austen down a peg or two,  tossing her from her very high literary pedestal!  Vic at Jane Austen’s World has addressed the issue most adequately, so I send you there to read her near perfect defense of “Dear Jane.”

I will add this – we have long known that Austen was no Marian Grammarian – her spelling WAS appalling [thankfully spelling is not a requirement for imaginative thinking, brilliant characterization and comic timing] – and we do know, if you are at all conversant with her letters, that she worked diligently with her publishers [and likely an editor as well! alas!] correcting proofs of her novels. And those of us who have seen any of her working manuscripts, or indeed have read Sanditon or The Watsons in their unpunctuated, unparagraphed state have also long known how Austen wrote – we should also take into account her need to conserve paper – her letters attest to this – the cross-writing, the writing on all available edges  –  but these mentions of her unruly notetaking, scribbling, lack of paragraph formation and quotation marks and obvious need of an editor, is not all that Sutherland had to say, and the media emphasis on this is unfair to both her and Austen.  One should read further:

Still more interesting to her, however, is the authorial voice one hears in the manuscripts. She calls it “a more innovative, more experimental voice” than Austen gets credit for. “By not working with the grammatical form, she’s actually coming much closer to writing real conversation” than in the printed versions where “she’s pulled back into a more conventional form,” the scholar said. “It’s a voice you’re perhaps not hearing again until the early 20th century.”

So let’s embrace this gift of seeing Austen at work and instead of quibbling about commas and quotation marks that make it look like some male editor made the Austen we all admire, do as Sutherland suggests and take Austen’s works to yet another level… what an opportunity we have!
Further reading: 

‘Persuasion’ manuscript

Studying Jane ~

I have a number of half-started posts to share but have not the time – so they remain unfinished  – they run the gamut from book reviews to old S&S movies, to Georgette Heyer, to whether Jane Austen ever rode in a barouche [yes, she did, and laughed the whole way…!] – so I have been busy, just no time to share…

To explain:  for the past few years I have periodically searched to see if there were any Jane Austen courses I could take online – the ones I found never fit my timetable [or pocketbook!], so I was overjoyed last September to find a course offered by Oxford University just on Jane, affordable and in the winter when one really wants to hibernate anyway, so why not a full Austen immersion.  I’ve been out of college for a great number of years, but as a former graduate student of English Literature who took a fork in the road to get an MLS degree instead, I thought I would always keep those skills of reading critically that came so easily back then.  HA! little did I realize how completely real life gets in the way of critical thinking…

I can almost pinpoint the day when I realized that what I really wanted to be when I grew up was be a professional student!, something that struck my father [who lived through the depression] nearly dumb.  But I just loved to read and study and to be doing the “detective” research thing [you know what they say about librarians – they really don’t KNOW anything, but they do know where to find it…].

Interestingly enough, this epiphany happened in math class, 10th grade geometry to be exact.  I loved math, especially geometry, loved drawing all the angles, using graph paper, calculating, but I had this talking out-of-turn problem, and one day the teacher had just had it and sentenced me to write a 1000 word essay on Euclid, I mean THE Euclid, the “Father of all Geometry”! – so off I went after school to hit the encyclopedias – and I discovered there were not a lot of words on Euclid, and I needed a thousand of them in 24 hours.  “Semi-brilliant” [in my own 10th grade mind at least], very annoying teenager that I was, I hit on a plan – “a picture tells a thousand words” – so oft-quoted, but what did it mean? For me it meant I only needed to find a PICTURE of Euclid, which is exactly what I handed to the teacher the next day.  He was not amused, assigned me to TWO THOUSAND words on Euclid, and therein a professional was born, right there in geometry class.  I fell in love with Euclid, Euclidian geometry and RESEARCH.  AND stopped talking in class….

I’ve taken many classes [none in math I might add!] through the years, time permitting, but after all the Austen reading I have done, various Austen-related workshops, weekend gatherings, book groups, JASNA events, what I want is the “fun” of really just focusing on her from an academic standpoint, to give some much-needed direction to my self-study, reconnecting with that critically-reading person I used to be, but really perhaps to just be in a classroom yet again, even if that classroom is sitting in front of my own computer, chatting away with other Austen-lovers from all over the world.  So I did it, signed up for this class – it started yesterday  – and hence the reason that my allotted blogging time will be drastically cut, and why you tonight have to “listen” to my story of Euclid.

So, I am putting you all on high alert that I shall be seriously out of the loop of my usual trying to keep up with “all things Austen” – I will post when I can of something that comes into my view, or something I might want to share about the class. It seems to be a wonderful group, indeed they ARE from all over the world, women and men, a full range of ages and the full spectrum of Austen-knowledge.  It will be great…

I encourage you to look at this Oxford University site – there are a number of other courses offered just in English Literature, as well as in Archaeology, Art, History, Creative Writing, Economics and Philosophy – sign me up, I am hooked… [and I haven’t even done anything yet but figure my way around the website!]

Here are the Literature courses:

Literary Theory: An Introduction: This course is for anyone interested in developing their critical reading skills, learning more about literary theory, and using literary theory to understand and enjoy literature more deeply.

Ancestral Voices: the earliest English Literature:  Old English literature isn’t all about battles and boozing: find out more.

Brontës:  How did three sisters living an apparently secluded and eventless life write some of the most original, passionate and dramatic novels and poetry in the English language?

Contemporary British Fiction:  If you enjoy reading and discussing novels; you read reviews of fiction, you have opinions and ideas about novels; if you have ever thought ‘so many books, so little time’, and wondered how to decide which authors to try…

Critical Reading: an introduction to literary studies:  Learn to analyse, write about, appreciate, and above all enjoy literary texts.

English Poetry of the First World War:  Some of the most powerful and moving English poetry of the modern period was written during or about the First World War.

Fiction by Victorian Women: George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Margaret Oliphant, and others:  Some of the greatest writers of the Victorian period were women. [really?!]

Jane Austen:  There’s more to Austen than bonnets and romance. Much more. [what, no chick-lit?]

Trollope, Eliot, Dickens and Hardy: Reading Victorian Fiction:  Madness, hilarity, doubt and devotion. [Marcia, are you listening?]

[from the Oxford University Continuing Education website]

FYI:  the next Austen class starts April 26 and runs 10 weeks.

I have more to post on other online courses available elsewhere, so stay tuned …. in the meantime, here are those “thousand words” on my buddy Euclid [with the compliments of Wikipedia – a mere science fiction fantasy when I was in the 10th grade!]

[Posted by Deb]