Jane Austen and why correct spelling is over-rated


Sorry. I really should stop laughing… but… *wheeeeeeeze* …. I just cant……

Its big news that Jane Austen was a bad speller?

After years of wondering what the intensely private woman guarded by an intensely devoted sister determined to keep Janes reputation pure  was really like, after years of  hoping for a glimpse  behind the curtain so to speak, this is what you share with us?

Kathryn Sutherland, an English professor at Oxford University, examined 1,100 handwritten pages of unpublished works by the writer of Pride and Prejudice, who died in 1817. She says the manuscripts have plenty of “blots, crossings out, messiness,” and that Austen “broke most of the rules for writing good English.”   www.cbc.ca

She had blots, crossings out and messiness?  Incomprehensible.

For a writer creating a story with nothing more than the words in her head. Writing with a pot of ink and a feather, on cheap, poorly produced paper, without the aid of a first class education.   Its big news that when her brother  Henry wrote glowing reports of her writing abilities after she died…  he might have been fudging the truth a little? Really?

It’s just so hard to imagine how someone with no spelling ability could write such incredible stories and spur on 100’s of other people (myself included) to write stories based however loosely from her ideas….. Thank goodness for editors like William Gifford is all I can say.  Imagine life in a world without Jane Austen.

Look here for the website for the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts that reveals to the world the real workings of a writer before the advent of computers and typing programs…. it really is fascinating to the Austen fan.

Cassandra and Jane (A Jane Austen Novel) -Jill Pitkeathley

I am a history buff from way back, even studying it at university level.  I confess to a strange little quirk in that I hold onto objects from times past and think about all the people during history who have held the very same object before me. What were their lives like? Where did they live and what did they do? What was their favourite colour and did they live lives that allowed them to have such an extravagance of choice?

So it seemed like the right thing to do in starting the Everything Austen Challenge by reading something of the history of Jane.  Of course, trying to discover the truth of the historical figure that is Miss Jane Austen is hampered somewhat by the lack of primary evidence available to the serious student of history now. According to reliable secondary records, her sister Cassandra destroyed a great deal of the written correspondence between the two of them from the course of their lives so that only the right kind of image of her sister would be portrayed after her death.

The fire is burning well now. I fed the letters on to the flames in small amounts to be sure they would catch   …. As I threw each bundle into the fire, I kissed it.

Enough remain to give me and others pleasure, not none I hope which show Jane as she once described herself, “If I am a wild beast, I cannot help it. It is not my own fault.”

Indeed it was not her fault and no one will ever be allowed to think so. No one will ever be allowed either to see anything other than the perfection of our relationship as sisters. I am seventy years old now and my life may not be very much longer. I should not like to be suddenly taken ill and unable to make the arrangements for the disposal of Jane’s personal effects.   Page 253

Jill Pitkeathley has written a biography of Jane Austen through the eyes of her sister Cassandra in her book “Cassandra and Jane – A Jane Austen Novel”, a clever twist.  It is obvious that Pitkeathley has done her homework. She has read widely, searched for the truth and used it well in this ‘fictional memoir’.  The historical accuracy of the story is as close as we can be sure of, as has been documented from her family’s telling of her life.

Our brothers have an image of our dear sister which is of someone clever, quick witted, a little sharp in her tone sometimes but loving, warm, daughter and aunt who was in the whole content with her life. If they sometimes saw, as I did, the low spirits, the anger, even the bitterness in her, they have forgotten it now in revering her memory. I am content with that.  – page 84

I very much wanted to rave how much I adored this book. But perhaps the book fell flat because I didn’t set aside a whole day to read it from cover to cover; instead I broke my reading up into chunks to fit around the daily reality of life with a five year old on summer holidays which could have been an impediment to my enjoyment.

Yes, it was clever in execution and true to historical fact, but something holds me back from gushing. Personally I felt it hard to connect with Cassandra and Jane. They lacked warmth, which may actually be tribute to Pitkeathley’s ability to write so convincingly in the voice of the era, where there was little openness to strangers, and a certain aloofness and restraint.  I admired the writing of this book, but I did not adore it. In my opinion it’s not a ‘not to be missed’ read.   I will say it is worth the read to gain a better understanding of the reality of Jane’s life, because it makes her ability to write such timeless works all the more remarkable.

The copy of this book came from my local library

Publisher: Harper
Pages: 270
ISBN: 9780061446399
Language: English
Notes: First published in Great Britain in 2004

Everything Austen II Challenge List

Sometime last year, for reasons unremembered to me now,  I found my way to the blog “Stephanie’s Written Word”  Maybe my memory of the reasons for  finding the blog is coloured by the fact that I wanted to take part in the Everything Austen Challenge and couldn’t. What can I say? Life with a busy four year old and academic studies got in the way of more readerly desires.
Cue to this year, and the starting date for the Everything Austen Challenge was July 1. Anyone along the Eastern  region of Canada or the United States would know that around that time, apart from the Tour de France starting, was one of the nastiest heatwaves ever to hit the region.  I don’t know many people who can handle heat and much worse, humidity that makes it feel like it 45C /113F   day after day!  Further to the discomfort, we didn’t own an air conditioner, making it sticky, smelly and sweaty in this glass walled, sun filled apartment.  So the idea of writing an entry stating what I would do for the challenge – even if I could have stopped my computer from overheating and fritzing out within five minutes – was much more than I could to do. But here it is, the end of the July, the extreme heat has blown out across the eastern seaboard, (or maybe it’s because we have blown out our budget and bought an air conditioner,)  but I now have the ability to get four brain cells to jump together and form coherent sentences.

The first activity I am currently undertaking is reading Cassandra and Jane ; A Jane Austen Novel by Jill Pitkeathley.  It fills me with wonder that for such a beloved author, we know so very little about her real life and have to fill in the gaps with hearsay and guesses.  And as a student of the past, who has never quite gotten over the inhumanity of not being born in Europe where I could fully wallow in all things personally interesting historically speaking, it’s a given that I will choose something historical to complete. 

University studies took over almost every moment for the last few years; watching television  has been a luxury that I had to forgo. But not now, and I intend to watch all things Austen. I have the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility, as well as the BBC 2008 production. I must confess that I continually put this version on late at night as I snuggle down in bed, thinking I have the staying power to watch all the way through in one sitting and never do!  I also own the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma, but as of yet I haven’t watched the 2009 BBC production and have been desperate to do so.  Now that I think about it, I also saw one episode of Lost in Austen which made me giggle, but never saw the whole series. I should defiantly rectify that.

I have accepted the idea that to truly push the boundaries of my comfort zone, I should perhaps read one of those (ghastly) Jane Austen and Zombies / Vampires / Other Gobbltygook books that were so much the rage just a year or so ago. I haven’t really made up my mind as to which one yet – I’m open to suggestions.  And of course, as befitting for a challenge  I must read some of the work from Miss Austen. I intend to read Persuasion and Mansfield Park; two novels I’ve never actually read.

I do have the odd little thought in the back of my head that I should attempt some other kinds of challenges that make the most of my own personal skills and abilities. Something like trying my hand at completing some examples of embroidery from Miss Austen’s time. And maybe having a go at cooking a meal such as people from late 1700 to the early 1800’s would have enjoyed.  As I said, odd little thoughts. And that, I should think, will see me through six months worth of Everything Austen.