Unbecoming Jane

first_imgJane Austen’s writing contained numerous “counter-grammatical” mistakes and “broke most of the rules for writing good English”, new research at Oxford has shown.Professor Kathryn Sutherland, an English tutor at St Anne’s, has studied more than 1,100 pages of Austen’s handwritten manuscripts, and noted hundreds of spelling mistakes and strong traces of regional dialect.“The polished punctuation and epigrammatic style we see in Emma and Persuasion is simply not here,” said Professor Sutherland, who has spent three years working on the texts, comparing the published versions and the manuscripts line by line. “The reputation of no other English novelist rests so firmly on this issue of style, on the poise and emphasis of sentence and phrase, captured in precisely weighed punctuation” says Sutherland.“But in reading the manuscripts it quickly becomes clear that this delicate precision is missing.”Austen’s original drafts were much more colloquial and free-flowing than the published texts of her novels, and closer to the spoken language of the day. “This is a shock,” said Charlotte Geater, a finalist from Teddy Hall.“Obviously spelling at the time varied depending on where you lived, but the discovered syntax and structure are so different from the style of the novels that I feel cheated.”Austen’s carefully crafted prose seems to have been heavily influenced by her editor, the scholar and part-time poet William Gifford. Despite these findings, Professor Sutherland admitted that the novelist was “even better at writing dialogue and conversation than her published novels suggest.”“Her style is much more intimate and relaxed, more conversational,” said Sutherland.“Her punctuation is much more sloppy, more like the kind of thing our students do and we tell them not to.”last_img


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