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Jane Austen's editor 'was responsible for her style'

25th October 2010

Jane Austen's elegant writing style could be due more to an interventionist editor than the novelist's own talent, an academic has claimed.

Professor Kathryn Sutherland, of the faculty of English language and literature at the University of Oxford, analysed around 1,100 original pages of Austen's writings and found they are significantly different to her published works.

The expert explained that the 'high degree of polished punctuation and epigrammatic style' seen in Emma and Persuasion are not found in Austen's handwritten documents.

'In Austen's case, we discover a powerful counter-grammatical way of writing. She broke most of the rules for writing good English,' she continued. 'This suggests somebody else was heavily involved in the editing process between manuscript and printed book.'

Professor Sutherland also noted that letters sent between John Murray II, Austen's publisher, and his editor William Gifford reference the 'untidiness' of the novelist's work and lay out how Gifford would rectify this.

However, the academic claimed that her close examination of Austen's original writings found she was an experimental author who strove towards continuous improvement and often crafted better dialogue than is found in the published versions of her novels.

The research is published as the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library hosts a Jane Austen Day today, which will see a range of manuscripts, first editions and papers related to the novelist being placed on public display.
 

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