Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jane Austen and the man behind the woman, William Gifford


According to new research, Jane Austen (1775-1817) probably did not fully write her novels.

Kathryn Sutherland from Oxford University claims to have studied Austen´s handwritten writings, and they clearly give an image of someone else having strongly edited the finished work, as the raw material is so counter-grammatical. She believes the "assistant-in-writing" to have been editor William Gifford, who worked at the time for Austen´s publisher. Among classic novels of Jane Austen are"Emma", "Persuasion" and "Sense and Sensibility".

Does this take away from the value of her work for the public and position as one of the most loved and read writers of all time?
No, but it probably is going to diminish the all ready marginalized space that is given for female writers in the prestigious league of top classics. This is the canon of books, that is all too familiar for all the literature students around the world. We are talking about names such as Kafka, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Dostoevsky. And Austen.

Since the Nobel prize for literature was introduced in 1901, there has only been 11 female laureates out of 107 so far. (The last woman to win the prize was Herta Muller, last year)
The lack of visibility and respect for female authors is well known among the literature scholars- it is argued, that this is due in large part to the topics women approach in their writings. "The male" topics of  politics, war, work etc. are argued to gather more critical interest. This implies that the matters of home, family and emotions (which are regarded as "female" issues) are not as important.

In effect, the new research (by a woman, Kathryn Sutherland) can be interpreted in many ways. Maybe she wrote differently, and did not concentrate on grammar or fine polishing in her first drafts (which writer does?).
Or maybe, as some will inevitably argue, she just was not good enough, and needed a man to finish her work.



Anonymous said...

Piffle. All publishers employ editors, most authors praise them fulsomely in the Acknowledgements. Indeed the clearest case of the unedited author is Tolkien. Imagine how much better the Rings would have been at half the length.

Anonymous said...

Piffle. All publishers employ editors. Most authors acknowledge them fulsomely. The exception would be Tolkien. Imagine how much better The Rings would have been at half the length.