Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
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Even Jane Austen needed an editor

October 25, 2010

Tags: editing, editors, Jane Austen

"She is the great English novelist renowned for her polished prose, of whom it was once remarked: 'Everything came finished from her pen,' writes Anita Singh, arts correspondent for the Telegraph, in Jane Austen's famous prose may not be hers after all.

Some 1100 handwritten pages of Austen's are being placed online as the culmination of a three-year project, Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition, led by Professor Kathryn Sutherland (Oxford) in collaboration with the Bodleian Libraries, King's College London and the British Library.

"The reputation of no other English novelist rests so firmly on the issue of style, on the poise and emphasis of sentence and phrase, captured in precisely weighed punctuation. But in reading the manuscripts it quickly becomes clear that this delicate precision is missing.

"This suggests somebody else was heavily involved in the editing process between manuscript and printed book," Prof Sutherland said. Among other things, the spelling was "eccentric."

The documents reveal an experimental writer who was "even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest," said Sutherland.

The editor "is believed to have been William Gifford, a poet and critic who worked for Austen's second publisher, John Murray."