Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jane the Illiterate

Okay, I've been trying to ignore Kathryn Sutherland's bizarre publicity stunt this week, in which she's telling anyone who will listen that Jane was nothing without her alleged editor.  But hearing her interviewed on NPR this morning made my blood boil--and I feel compelled to put down my views.  None of Jane's "fair copy" manuscripts for her published novels has survived.  Therefore, Sutherland has been studying the rough drafts of unpublished work--and nobody who lived before the age of the word processor or standardized spellings should be judged by such manuscripts.  This is why we call them ROUGH drafts.  She also said today in her interview that most of Jane's letters were destroyed--when one hundred and sixty-one exist, and can be seen in manuscript at various libraries in the US and England.  They reveal that Jane rarely placed i before e--but also are remarkable for their fluency, wit, and mastery of the English language. 

I've written twenty-one novels to date, and benefited from the technology of my time.  I value and honor my editor, Kate Miciak--and invariably wait for her response to my prose.  I carefully review the comments of copyeditors on the edited manuscript--because I rely on their gentle corrections of infelicitous grammar or errors of fact.  But do I regard my publishers as having written my novels?  No.  Did Jane's publishers write Pride and Prejudice?  Not even remotely.  Enough with the sensationalism, Kathryn Sutherland.  Jane deserves better.


  1. I've been wondering what to think about this, too. Heard her interviewed on radio recently; sounds as if the media has skewed this some.
    Apparently Austen's manuscripts can now be seen online here:
    and perhaps readers can judge for themselves.
    It's true that editors (and proofreaders) can have far larger impact on the end result than what they are given credit for. But that doesn't make them the creative geniuses that Austen was.

    I've only recently discovered your Jane books, Stephanie, and have been devouring them voraciously over the summer and fall. They are such a treat, loving Austen's own stories as I do. You've done a wonderful job of capturing her "style."

  2. I agree, Katrinka, that there's been some media spin. I wish more interviewers had bothered to find multiple sources for their stories--rather than simply taking Sutherland's word as gospel. Deirdre Le Faye, for example, who has spent her life studying and editing Austen's letters, would have been an obvious second authoity. I think I lost sympathy with Kathryn Sutherland most, however, when she said she had no interest in polishing Jane's halo. That struck me as somewhat bizarre. It may win publicity to debunk an admired author--but is it the right KIND of publicity when one intends to promote that author's manuscript database? I don't know.
    Thanks for posting your thoughts, and for taking the time to read my books. I appreciate hearing from you so much.

  3. It is definitely NOT the right kind of publicity, when to undermine a famous author at the point when you want to promote visits to the webpage of her manuscripts in digital form undermines the importance of such visits. Besides, to undermine such an author as Jane Austen argues a very great arrogance. Does Kathryn Sutherland stand in our time with our education systems and resources and suggest that she could do better? Surely that is the subtext of her contention, conscious or not.