Say It Isn’t So, Jane Austen

Imagine the outrage of 700 Janeites (myself included), packing our bonnets to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, upon reading the shocking Muggle headlines suggesting Jane Austen may not have written her prose.  Where is Dumbledore when you need him?  

At the meeting in Portland, Oregon, papers will be presented, a monstrous deal of quizzing will take place, and many will dance in Regency attire.  But Janeites are not happy, emails have been flying, and a heads-up urged us to be prepared to discuss “the issue” in hallways and breakout sessions.  Even my non-Janeite friends are forwarding articles to me.  All because an Oxford professor made provocative comments as she introduced her three-year project:  digitization of 1,000 handwritten pages of Jane Austen’s letters and manuscripts.  The timing of the project’s debut could not have been more accurately targeted to nail the attention of her audience.  On the eve of the convergence of North America’s most dedicated Austen enthusiasts, while thousands more Janeites watched from home, and Janeites everywhere turned their exclusive focus to all things Austen, Professor Sutherland announced that Jane Austen couldn’t spell, demonstrated no grasp of punctuation, and had a terrible accent.   

I climbed to the top of my book bag and prepared to jump.

Fortunately I have a personal relationship with My Jane Austen.  As I stood there, the breeze in my bonnet, she told me that it is a truth universally acknowledged that newspapers with dwindling circulations must be in want of a good scandal.  I considered this pearl, as the wind filled my Empire skirts.  She told me that self-promotion must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.  I stepped away from the edge.  She said, essentially, that dodgy spin working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.  I decided to check online and see what the saner heads on my discussion lists were saying. 

All the same, I’ll be watching the Portland sky.  I don’t want to be the last Janeite to see the Dark Mark.


Filed under Cindy Jones, JASNA AGM, launching things, My Jane Austen, My Jane Austen Summer

20 responses to “Say It Isn’t So, Jane Austen

  1. jlspsi

    If it is true, and I don’t have a dog in this fight, that Jane Austen couldn’t spell and had issues with punctuation it seems proof to me that she was brilliant and perceptive as those with dyslexia and other types of learning disabilities can be. Perhaps she is fortunate to have lived in a time where spelling and punctuation grades were not more important than the narrative and truths about human nature that she so astutely observed and wrote about. I’m glad you “listened” to your Jane Austen. Your friends, your husband and your children thank you.

    • What I learned today is that all of the “fair copies” (final polished versions) of the six novels were destroyed after publication. The manuscripts that Professor Sutherland studied and commented upon were first drafts. And we all know how bad those are!

      • There are NO fair copies NOR first drafts of the six novels, the manuscripts Sutherland is comparing with are the ones of the minor works (Juvenilia, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon) which are in different stages, some are first drafts (The Watsons and Sanditon), some more or less fair copies (the Juvenilia) and one definitely fair copy (Lady Susan). So that important point was not told to the media.

      • Thank you for this clarification which makes the crime all the more appalling.

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  4. Personally, I think it was the fact that Austen’s Hampshire accent asserted itself in the writing process. Brits and their class angst is annoying. But we have it here in the U. S. Some people STILL take off I. Q. points if you have a southern accent.

  5. jlspsi

    I hope it’s okay to reply twice. I was going to add to my earlier thought but seeing Susan’s reply made me want to broaden my thought from what I intended to say. My initial thought was that people automatically assume that writing with spelling errors and poor punctuation means the writer is uneducated (or stupid) when it could be the writer has language based learning disabilities–like my dyslexic children who in elementary school would make a perfect score on their weekly spelling tests but on the next part, using all the words in a paragraph, would misspell half of them. They never met a comma they couldn’t blunder. Susan’s comment made me think we all have our little snobberies from this to accents mean you’re dumb. I’m not terribly PC but as I move toward sixty and embrace texting and emailing on my iPhone, I find I’m getting “dumber” all the time–forget to spell out words or use punctuation when I “should” (like now–very intimidating to post on a blog for writers)–so I’m female, speak with a Southern or Texas accent, have dyslexia and I’m getting old! If Jane Austen couldn’t spell (loved the doctored sign BTW) how on earth can today’s youth learn spelling and punctuation in this age of LOL and <3's? Shouldn't it really be punktuashun anyway?

    • Your replies are always welcome here!
      You mean its not punktuashun?! I see a lot of texting abreviations creeping into email. How long before they are in business letters? Jane Austen was ahead of her time!

  6. Love your wit and tone, Cindy. Will be fascinating to see how this develops.

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  8. LOL, Cindy!!
    I love reading your posts ;).
    Hope you have a wonderful time in Portland — I’m very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the AGM after you return!

  9. Celia

    As we learned at Mr. Jefferson’s house: scandals are good for business. Enjoy the hoopla.

  10. Celia

    Second comment (also gleaned from my time with Thomas Jefferson) and supporting another Reply:

    Mr. J, who authored the Declaration of Independence as well as other writings, commonly misspelled words. So did his equally well educated peers. In those days, many different spellings of the same word were accepted and not considered serious offenses.

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