Monday, 1 November 2010

On writing and... writing

Oxford University professor Kathryn Sutherland has thrown doubt over Jane Austen’s authorship of her novels, her scepticism based on an analysis of Austen’s letters. The theory seems to hinge on Sutherland’s expectation that Austen’s letters should be written in the same perfectly polished style as her books. But the letters, according to Sutherland, are “littered with misspelling and grammar errors”. The books are not. Therefore, Sutherland concludes, the books could not have been written by Austen. Sutherland goes on to quote from Austen’s editor, William Gifford, who wrote of a draft of Emma: “It is very carelessly copied… there are many short omissions which must be inserted.” He offers to “readily correct the proof for you.” From which Sutherland presumes that the books were at least in part written by the editor Gifford.
Oh dear.
I hope no one scrutinises my blog posts, emails, facebook comments, and tweets and compares them to my books. My books are by and large grammatically accurate, and my other ramblings aren’t. But would anyone conclude that my books were written by someone else? We don’t expect tweets and emails to be well-written, carefully considered literature. Why should Jane Austen’s private notes and scribblings be judged by different standards to those of today? Jane Austen’s letters weren’t written for publication. They were private. Why should she have written beautifully constructed letters in perfect elegant prose? Her books of course are another matter altogether and I daresay she – and her editor – checked and corrected them carefully.
Any serious author will acknowledge the help of their editor. Why should Jane Austen be any different?

10 comments:

Clarissa Draper said...

Whoever made those assumptions are being ridiculous! Obviously she's forgot what it's like to work with an editor. I don't think anyone back then thought someone other than Austen wrote them.

CD

Pat said...

Precisely!
Is this yet another case of stirring up a hornets nest seeking publicity?
Must be in the air:)

Leigh Russell said...

Editors play an important role in any book. A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold, if you'll pardon the cliche - I try not to use cliches in my books but throw them around here. Is someone going to assume I don't write my own books?!

Leigh Russell said...

We've had some entertaining discussions round the table at the Curzon Group about how to generate publicity. As it turned out, none of us was prepared to die under mysterious circumstances so our best plan fell at the first hurdle. Just joking!

Mia said...

Does this mean that all editors should also be credited with having written the book? And your point is too true. My musings are filled with error and typos... I cannot imagine what would have happened with pen, ink and paper -- oh my!

Leigh Russell said...

I always mention my editor in my acknowledgements, Mia, but I am the author and it is my name only that appears on the cover, and rightly so. The same should apply to all authors - although some, as we know, don't actually write the books themselves! Why on earth someone would want to be seen as the author of a book they hadn't written is a mystery to me but I assume it's a sales decision. Yes, thank goodness for computers! What a boon for writers.

Jilly said...

I read about this and I can't help feeling this lady was just after publicity. Jane Austen's letters - the few I've read - seem to me to show the same wit and sense of the ridiculous that is so much a part of her novels. In fact if you read the minor works and then the 6 finished novels you can clearly see how she developed as a writer. Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon are like sculptures part hewn from the rock if you compare them with the 6 novels.

If you're writing to someone in a casual chatty style you aren't going to hone things to the nth degree and draft and re-draft as you would for a novel you hope to see published.

Spelling etc changes over time and JA was writing 200 years ago.

Leigh Russell said...

Currently revising a MS, and going through editor's comments, I totally agree, Jilly as I do my best to hone my writing to the nth degree - no, I'm not even ready to attempt that yet, I'm still working to get the content right and then I need to sort out my characters. Writing is such fun, but then the real work begins... (sigh) If I spent so much time on my letters (OK emails) I'd never send any!

fizzycat said...

That is just plain odd.Writing is like speaking, you code shift according to whom you are addresing.
Thanks for the hen comment.
I wonder if Shakespeare wrote letters like his sonnets?
Or where they collaberated?
One could muse for ever upon the subject.

Leigh Russell said...

I agree, fizzycat, we'll never really know which is probably why so many people 'research' and write 'papers' on the subject of who wrote Shakespeare's plays. Personally, I think it was Shakespeare...