October 26, 2010

Jane Austen's Manuscripts

Jane Austen (1775-1817) is perhaps one of the most popular of classic British authors today: her novels are nowhere near as difficult to get through as those of Charles Dickens, do not wade through moral and social problems like Elizabeth Gaskell's, and are, quite simply, light and enjoyable reads. Her classic novel Pride and Prejudice has been adapted as a movie or a television serial numerous times, and then there are all the spin-offs that line the shelves of Barnes & Noble (though how one fits zombies into Pride and Prejudice is beyond me, and I prefer not to find out).

For the past few years the University of Oxford and King's College London have been working together on making digital versions of Jane Austen's original manuscripts, spanning from the age of about 12 to her death in 1817. The collection includes the Juvenilia (short or unfinished stories written early in Austen's life), scraps of her more famous novel Persuasion, and other unfinished works like Sanditon and The Watsons. The manuscripts show an amusingly large amount of blotted words and scratched out lines, dashes all over the place, and randomly capitalized letters until the pages are all but illegible. In fact, modern researchers have concluded that, contrary to Austen's brother's claim, not everything "came finished from her pen" - in short, the editor had a lot to do with Austen's polished style.

Of course, in the late 1700s/early 1800s, spelling was not as strict as it is today and the English language was fairly fluid; also, writing by hand does not leave much room for neat edits and revisions, so Austen's blurred style is understandable. The manuscripts shown on the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts website are very similar to the Oxford Jane Austen Collection, where the idiosyncrasies in her style are preserved, and it is fascinating to see how Jane Austen wrote. It certainly does not detract from the charm of her writing, nor, I'll wager, does it do much to lower her in the opinions of her faithful fans. It just puts the editor in a more heroic light.

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I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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