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Making Sense of Austen's Manuscripts: More Than Just Child's Play!

The edition of Jane Austen's juvenilia chosen for this year's JASP, Teenage Writings (available through our Amazon Smile), was edited by Kathryn Sutherland. Her introduction to our selected edition is insightful and helpful, and she has even more to offer online! In

case you're thinking about getting some reading done after next week's feast, here are some helpful resources.

First, a quick overview. Sutherland's name may be familiar to some from the way the popular media spun her research on Austen's manuscripts in 2010. With newspapers at the time featuring sensationalized headlines like the BBC's "Jane Austen's style might not be hers, academic claims," fans were up in arms over the perceived slight to their beloved author. The blog-o-sphere had strong views, and more academic voices weighed in too. Non-readers of Austen ran with the headlines, and some of us found ourselves responding to questions like "So, Jane Austen didn't write her novels?" in places as unlikely as the Thanksgiving table.

Anyone who read more deeply at the time will also remember that Sutherland was actually suggesting Austen's style was much more experimental and innovative than generally acknowledged, especially when it came to capturing dialogue. She asserted that the editorial hand which corrected Austen's wild grammar and unstable spelling also cropped her lively dialogue and other stylistic elements, leaving her prose more conventional (it's important to note that the specific editing to which Sutherland refers applies only to the last two years of Austen's publishing career, affecting Emma and Persuasion but not earlier titles). Sutherland was determined to trouble Henry Austen's assertion that Austen's novels sprang fully polished from her pen; she paid tribute to Austen's rebellious streak.

Lucky for us, Sutherland was undeterred by the backlash she received, and she has gone on to develop a substantial digital archive of Austen's fiction, the launch of which was somewhat overshadowed by the fracas. Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts, a digital archive that lets you look at pages of the notebooks alongside transcriptions, launched in 2010. If you've ever wanted a chance to see what Austen's handwriting looked like, this archive allows you to explore to your heart's content. Sutherland has digitized holdings from libraries in London, Cambridge, and New York to offer a complete collection of the extant manuscripts. As noted in the project description, this makes the fragile documents available to a wide audience without endangering the delicate pages.

All of this preparation pays off in Sutherland's work on the Teenage Writings in 2017. In this video from the Oxford University Press website, Sutherland and her co-editor, Freya Johnson, discuss their edition of the Juvenilia, and Sutherland - thinking of Austen very much as a teenager - describes her exuberant pieces as "showing off."

Sutherland's continued careful evaluation of the manuscript record is the focus of a 2018 piece she wrote for JASNA. In "Jane Austen, Fragment Artist", Sutherland describes Austen as a "looter and ruinist" - documenting the ways Austen broke down literary conventions and built new shapes with the pieces. The first part of this essay is of particular relevance for this year's JASP, as she addresses the juvenilia and its excesses.

If you find yourself wanting more context for the zaniness of Austen's juvenilia, these resources will be excellent starting points!


Spend a Day Out With Emma! TWO more days to register for the full day (other options open through the end of the month!)

Join us Dec. 3 in Chapel Hill, N.C., as we celebrate "Emma" with a day of presentations, crafts, holiday shopping and more, all leading up to Kate Hamill's new stage adaptation of the novel by PlayMakers Repertory Company. There are a range of options, from online to in person, at different price points. The theatre needs a firm headcount by November 18, so REGISTER TODAY!


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