Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Austen question

by Stephanie

As a former college undergraduate who majored in English literature, I was never too far removed from the world of Jane Austen. Hers are novels that are firmly situated in the literary canon, and rightfully so. Her writing is more than well-known for its ability to weave elegant moral thought with comically ironic plot turns that prove to be not only witty but profound as well.

So I was interested to see this article at BBC News regarding a three-year-long study that suggests that someone else was heavily involved in the editing process of Austen’s manuscripts, namely an editor who worked for her publisher, John Murray II. This is a pretty big revelation, and indeed one that could incite both discussion and derision. Some could argue that the claim diminishes Austen’s prowess, making her writing not the product of her own talent, but rather something from an editor’s red pen. In other ways, as the article suggests, it could stand as an indicator of Austen’s openness to trying new things with her writing.

Either way, it’s interesting to think that new discoveries can still be made two hundred years after a book is published.


  1. I think it makes her human. As writers, I think we sometimes get this notion that the classics were all penned effortlessly by their authors, who didn't suffer any of the same issues with creativity or spelling or grammar or craft to which we might be prone. I'm relieved she's not perfect and that her first drafts didn't come out without flaws.

  2. Interesting discovery! Thanks for the link!

  3. Interesting.... I'm a great lover of Jane Austen too. Initially, it makes her seem less the literary genius, but then all writers seem to be part of communities that inform their works in pretty significant ways, whether our culture likes to admit it or not.

  4. Hmmm...now I'm wondering if Charlotte Bronte has any skeletons in her literary closet...nah, couldn't be! lol

  5. I completely agree with what Kristin said. We put every classic author on the pedestal of canon and they become super heroes. When I was in high school I imagined them being written in some lofty window of a mansion tucked away in the hills of England. Occasionally the author looks longingly out over the moors, then returns to another masterpiece. And surely it was printed word-for-word, just like that.

    But it didn't happen that way. It never does. This is just confirmation that she was, in fact, human, and went through the same trials we're all struggling through right now! She just found a really good editor.


  6. I love Austen's work and, for me, it doesn't dim at all in light of this information. A thoughtful editor can do even the best writer a world of good,

  7. F. Scott Fitzgerald also had a very involved editor, but nobody seems to care. Why should Austen be any different?

  8. This reminds me of the recent buzz about Raymond Carver and the controversy about how deeply Gordon Lish edited his work.

  9. Isn't an editor's job to help a manuscript be the best it can be? I guess I just don't see the issue. So she had a good editor. Her writing is still incredible, even if she is just human.

    It's actually kind of comforting to know that even Jane Austen needed an editor.

  10. Doesn't make me think any less of her. Everyone, and I mean everyone, can benefit from an editor. Even some of the greats could have used a firmer editorial hand (Thomas Wolfe comes to mind).


  11. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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