Cleaning up the last of the mess


While we were on our little unscheduled sabbatical, a few last bits and bobs on the Kathryn Sutherland brouhaha showed up in various places, and we include them here for the sake of completion, and also because some of them are pretty good.

First, NPR interviewed Kathryn Sutherland on Morning Edition, who was all astonishment that she had “unpleasant” responses to her comments and also hinted that the Tar-Hearted Cat-Stroking Tea-Sipping Uptight Spinster Purist Brigade was behind it all. Prof. Sutherland, here’s the thing: we are not afraid to criticize Jane Austen; we just don’t think your arguments have merit.

Linguist Geoff Nunberg followed up a couple of weeks later with another commentary on Fresh Air. His comments are eminently sensible, and therefore won’t create worldwide headlines.

Language Log, a blog about linguistics, had some great commentary as well, as this stuff is right in the linguists’ wheelhouse. The first post by Geoffrey K. Pullum, along with the comments, makes most of the points that the Editrix and the Gentle Readers of AustenBlog have previously made upon the subject.

Geoff Nunberg then made a post discussing his NPR commentary, with additional material (definitely check it out, it’s fascinating). Apparently Kathryn Sutherland responded in comments, which was promoted to a separate post, in which she basically says, “But that’s not REALLY what I said.” While we are sympathetic to those misquoted or taken out of context by the media–or just not having time to make a complex point in a sound byte world–we’re afraid it’s a lot of too little, too late.

Prof. Sutherland also mentions a letter written by William Gifford, the Alleged Destroyer of Austen’s Own Words, who wrote,

Of Pride and Prejudice he writes ’tis very good – wretchedly printed in some places, & so pointed [punctuated] as to be unintelligible’; of the manuscript of Emma: ‘It is very carelessly copied, though the hand-writing is excellently plain, & there are many short omissions which must be inserted. I will readily correct the proof for you, & may do it a little good here & there.’

Language Log also has a guest post by Austen scholar Rachel Brownstein discussing Prof. Sutherland’s comments. We like a lot of what she has to say, especially about the letter from Gifford:

But what exactly was the manuscript that Gifford was referring to? A fair copy of her manuscript that Austen had submitted to Murray? In that case, how would he know that it was “carelessly copied,” and what would it have been copied from? (Certainly Gifford could not have seen Austen’s earlier draft.) If on the other hand, Gifford was referring to a printer’s copy (i.e., one designed for the printer’s use), or indeed to a sheet of proof, then the passage makes sense — and the continuation with “though the handwriting is excellently plain” would presumably be a reference to the clarity of Austen’s submitted manuscript, which would make the printer’s carelessness all the more inexcusable.

In other words, Gifford was– *gasp* –imprecise. Oooops. 😉

Things seem to have calmed down now, so we’ll just let sleeping dogs lie–but do check out the posts we’ve linked here.

4 thoughts on “Cleaning up the last of the mess

  1. “Tar-Hearted Cat-Stroking Tea-Sipping Uptight Spinster Purist Brigade”

    It is a noble title!

    Mags, you as the High Priestess could institute an annual awards ceremony to bestow Janeites who stood out in defence of our dear Jane, with this title! How about?


  2. LeSpinster

    Well, I may be a spinster, but I keep no cats.

    Thanks for the links, especially to Language Log. It is a fascinating site.


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