In writing Georgiana Darcy’s Diary, I included a play on the quotation from Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Because, really, when writing a Pride and Prejudice sequel, how can you not include at least a nod to that most famous line?
I wanted to make sure, though, that I got the punctuation right–that my comma placement was the same as Jane Austen’s. But in doing a little digging, I discovered something interesting: even Austen scholars aren’t necessarily sure that the punctuation in Jane Austen’s novels was hers.
Professor Kathryn Sutherland of the English language and literature faculty at Oxford University studied several of Jane Austen’s unpublished manuscripts and determined that “Her style is much more intimate and relaxed, more conversational. Her punctuation is much more sloppy, more like the kind of thing our students do and we tell them not to. She uses capital letters and underlining to emphasise the words she thinks important, in a manner that takes us closer to the speaking voice than the printed page.
Sutherland’s observations caused quite a controversy among other scholars and fans of Jane Austens work, who pointed out that we don’t have so much as a page of the manuscripts of the novels that she submitted to her publishers. All that Sutherland or anybody else has to go on is the manuscripts for some teenage juvenilia and the rough drafts of some unfinished or discarded works.
It’s a fascinating question, though, isn’t it? As an author who views the ‘delete’ and ‘cut and paste’ functions of my word processing program absolutely essential to my writing process, I’ve often wondered how Jane Austen managed to construct and polish such works of utter genius with nothing more than pen and paper. I’d love to know just what a finished draft of one of her books looked like, how Pride and Prejudice read in the version she sent off to her publishers and so on into immortality.
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