I suppose those who keep up with Jane Austen studies and the cult surrounding her books can name have by now read "Jane Austen's Well Known Style Owed much to her editors, Scholars Argue" by Jennifer Howard read and the hum and buzz on the Net about it.
I've been struck with how little frank many of the replies to this article all over the Net have been, and how much subtext is in much of it. That an editor made changes to a manuscript is not surprising at all; it was common practice then and now too. (What author does not work with an editor. I did on my book.) Howard overstated the editor's contribution over how Austen's work was edited -- and this has been picked up on the Net by others.
That's the core of this thing: I've been working on an off for a while on George Anne Bellamy's autobiography, and it is commonly asserted what we have is an autobiography rewritten by a man (as it's not conceivable she could have done it), or at least edited and corrected within an inch of its life. I also wonder how someone can figure out what a Hampshire accent was 200 years ago and if this isn't more triumph over the famous author.
Sutherland's book had a different thrust from this article; Sutherland mean to praise Austen and say Chapman had edited out her vital self in some way. Sutherland's perspective has been reshaped to catch sensational attention.
About a year ago I did a study of the last 25 years of editions of Austen's -- it was for a series of blogs I did which were put on a blog called AustenProse and then appeared in the Jane Austen Centre magazine as essays. What I discovered was a struggle between different individuals and agendas over editions. Kathryn Sutherland is central in one of these struggles.
I put my essays or blogs on my site at:
There is a general aim in Sutherland's book, the first does not appear in Howard's article. She wanted to do editions which replaced Chapman's as newly definitive texts. She did do these editions (of S&S and MP for Penguin) but they are not going to be definitive. What happened was Cambridge did a series of editions where while going back to the original texts they more or less followed Chapman's procedures and their editions plus Chapman's are those Persuasions Online wants one to quote.
Sutherland's argument is not that Gifford is superior (which is the way the header or title of the article shapes its argument) but that Austen's style is filled with vivid life which has been lost because we are following Chapman's punctuation and corrections. However, if you go into this (I have, a little), you may agree with me (and others) she's exaggerating the differences. Chapman did edit along lines of the early 20th century but he did so with intelligence, tact, self-effacement. Some of his decisions (to include a line a little risque which was pulled from the 2nd edition of S&S) seem to me the right one.
Now Howard's emphasis does not quite say that the editor was superior to Austen but does imply his corrections are what makes Austen's style. That's not at all what Sutherland said in her book. And it's here I agree with Diane's irritation: it's being picked up in the manner of the way women's texts are talked about as inferior in various ways -- not just spelling and grammar, but also content. I have (on Wompo, a women's poetry list) see a couple of other people say they are amused, but the amusement has a real edge. On Wompo we often talk of how women poets are marginalized and until the 20th century derided in general (regarded as biodegradable). I should think as a woman author one would have some concern to see this argument distorted so it can be added to the stories of men rewriting women's books.
While we have a number of manuscripts of Austen's, and K Sutherland's book attempts to analyze all of these, the particular argument here is based on a small amount of manuscript. We have but two cancelled chapters of Persuasion from the six books published during Austen's era.
The first is very much changed from the final book; the second is somewhat changed. So the thesis about this particular editor (which is what it amounts to) is based on a small sampling. Sutherland in her book postulates (as did Q.D. Leavis, Southam and also Woolf) a continual incessant revision going on over the course of Austen's life.
Howard's article seems to me to distort Sutherland's book. The book claims there is a big difference between MS and published books and we lose a great deal by the polished Austen. It is in effect an attack on Chapman. The article as talked about seems to promote the idea that the published smoothed-out polished prose is superior to Austen so we are now approaching the idea an editor (male be it noted) is superior to our uneducated female (very weak on whether "i" should come before "e" and vice versa).
I wish Austen were alive and we could read the satire she might make of it all.
This connects directly to the low estimation women's writing (especially poetry) had until the 20th century: women hadn't sufficient education to write as well as a man. No Latin. The accusation she doesn't have as wide a perspective is a version of this.
JA's Music books: she played songs on the family pianoforte (rented?) in the morning to herself