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Today I’d like to give you advance notice of a talk to be given by Professor Kathryn Sutherland of St Anne’s College, Oxford University, at Chawton House Library on the 8th May entitled  ‘The Watsons’: Jane Austen Practising.

The Watsons is one of the few remaining manuscripts written in Jane Austen’s hand to survive, and you may recall that it was bought by the Bodleian Library last year, to ensure that it remains in the UK for scholars and Austen enthusiasts to continue to have access to it. You can see it here on the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts website.  The only other manuscripts of Jane Austen’s  adult works that survive are the other unfinished fragment, Sanditon, together with the cancelled chapters of Persuasion. Professor Sutherland, below, has made an especial study of Jane Austen’s existing  manuscripts, partly in an attempt to try to decipher her working methods and so her talk promises to be fascinating.

In her book, Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood,  Professor Sutherland deals with many fascinating subjects, looking anew and in great detail  on aspects of Jane Austen’s life and works we take for granted as having “always been there”, particularly with regard to the censorship of the Austen and Knight families surrounding the release of biographical information. The part of her book I particularly admired  were the chapters where she goes into amazing detail to try to determine how exactly  Jane Austen wrote: how she revised, amended and fiddled with her manuscripts and what processes her works were subjected to before and after they left her care and control. The Professor has been criticised on the internet and in the press for some of her comments regarding Jane Austen’s grammar. In the book, in layman’s terms if you will allow me, Professor Sutherland details how Austen’s later works  were corrected by a series of editors. Some journalists clearly decided that Professor Sutherland was on the side of the editors, and that she  was agreeing with their “attacks” on Austen’s original and idiosyncratic texts. It is my understanding, on reading the book, that nothing could be further from the truth. This brouhaha has sadly detracted from her main argument, which is that Jane Austen’s genius should not and ought not to  have been constrained by the workings of and the unasked for (and in many cases unwarranted) imposition of  a Victorian ( or Edwardian or even modern) man’s idea of correct grammar. And that, in fact, by imposing their own standardised version of correct, written English upon her texts, quite a lot of Jane Austen’s original intent has been diminished as a result.  She conducts a minute forensic  examination of the novels, their publishing history  and the changes various editors have imposed upon Austen( and us). The results will surprise you (and often discomfort). This part of the book is a fascinating and illuminating read. Some of the language used is undoubtedly academic and  it is challenging…but then, why should reading always be a totally effortless pastime?

Reading her book opened my eyes to the terrible power an editor has, especially when the author is not  available to defend her choices. These choices- her use of words, punctuation and grammar- which make perfect sense  in the context of her novel, may be seen as sloppy or careless mistakes to a reader not exactly in tune with the author’s original intent. I had really not considered just how crucial the editorial approach to a text truly is until I had considered the effects on these texts. ( Forgive me, I am not always so dense). This book opened my eyes and made me think critically about the whole process of publishing a book, in detail, for the first time. As a dyslexic with some paralysed fingers, it has taken me years to try to attune myself to grammatical rules, punctuation and spelling: I once had the luxury of secretaries to point me in the right direction but I always had to ensure that their well-meaning additions did not detract from my correct legal turn of phrase. Now spell and grammar checks irritate me in a similar way ;)

I confess I waited to read the paperback edition of her book to be available because the original price for the hardback was prohibitive, and I think much of the outrage written about regarding Professor Sutherland’s comments reveals that  not many of her critics seem to be familiar with the arguments in her book either. On reading her book- which though academic in tone is not inaccessible to the amateur reader of Jane Austen- I promise– it becomes clear that she is firmly on the side of Austen and her creative genius.

The book is available now as a reasonably priced paperback and also as an even more attractively priced Kindle edition. I would urge you to seek it out, and while it is an academic study, its subject matter is so fascinating and revelatory, I am convinced you will find it worthwhile and that it might very well alter your thoughts on Austen’s works and how they are edited .

Back to the Chawton House Lecture. It is to take place on the 8th May and tickets are available from Chawton House Library. Go here to see all the details. I do hope many of you can go along. If you can’t, do try to have sight of Professor Sutherland’s book. I really don’t think you will regret it.

If anyone is in the vicinity of The Divinity School at Old Bodleian Library on 1st March, then may I respectfully suggest you might like to rush there to take part in the events for World Book Day which are centred around Jane Austen.

For one day only there will be a display of Jane Austen’s manuscripts from the Bodleian Library collections. This will include the newly acquired handwritten manuscript of her unfinished novel, The Watsons, which the Bodleian purchased last year. As their website tells us,

Extensively revised and corrected throughout, the manuscript is a testimony of Jane Austen’s efforts to give shape to the earliest ideas as they pour onto paper, as she reviews, revises, deletes and underscores. The Watsons is the very genesis of fiction from one of Britain’s greatest and best-loved writers.

Also on show will be Volume the First, a manuscript of Austen’s juvenilia.

And if that is not enough to tempt you, the much discussed  portrait ” of Jane Austen, now owned by Paula Byrne  will be on display there, for you to ponder and discuss. Below is a shot of Deirdre Le Faye, Professor Kathryn Suthrland and Professor Claudia Johnson examining the picture in the recent BBC 2 documenatry, “The Real Jane Austen”. As you know I’m not convinced by the evidence put forward to “authenticate” the portrait thus far, but I can imagine if you are in the vicinity of the Library that you might care to see it for yourself.

And…can it get any more interesting? Well, yes it can… At lunchtime there will be a thirty minute lecture given by Kathryn Sutherland  who is  the Professor of Bibliography and Textual Criticism, St. Anne’s College, Oxford, on the subject of the Watsons entitled: The Watsons:Jane Austen Practising.

The lecture will take place at 1 p.m at the Convocation House, Bodleian Library. If you can’t make that lecture, you can hear some of her thoughts on The Watsons via a new Bodleian Library app for phones and iPads. Go here to read all about it.

I would love to go as I love to hear Professor Sutherland speak. But my family have suffered enough  with all my Austen-related jaunts ;) If you do go, do let us know who it all goes; we’d be delighted to hear from you.

The Bodleian Library has recently released a new free application for iPads and android phones etc. Treasures of the Bodleian is a fabulous application and it will take me many hours to explore all of it, as it highlights the treasures to be found in the University of Oxford’s library ‘s collection:

It contains access to many, many wonderful treasures, not the least being Jane Austen’s manuscripts of  Volume the First, which contains some of her juvenilia:

and The Watsons, which along with the Cancelled Chapters of Persuasion, are her only surviving adult manuscripts, albeit this is unfinished.

There is also a wonderful five-minute long podcast type lecture by Professor Kathryn Sutherland, Professor of Bibliography and Textural Criticism at the University of Oxford, wherein she talks about the history, significance and literary importance of the manuscript of The Watsons to us, and indeed, how this manuscript is really Jane Austen’s literary DNA:

Amongst other fascinating points, she details Jane Austen’s manner of working which is fascinating and is revealed by these precious few pages. And all this is free, I write, wonderingly. I could listen to Professor Sutherland’s intelligent and sympathetic lecture on Jane Austen for hours on end. As I say, ALL THIS IS FREE…

The application accompanies a physical exhibition of the treasures which is also free and which closes on the 23rd December 2011. Go here to see the website for the exhibition, You can also down load pdf of a guide to  the exhibit here. And you can also take part in a very interesting debate on what constitutes a “treasure” and vote for one item that is not normally on show, to  be “The People’s Choice” and  be part of the Library’s new Weston Library opening exhibit, when it opens in 2015.

If you can, please do download this wonderful application. AND IT IS FREE!!!

Professor Amanda Vickery’s splendid BBC Radio 4 series, Voices from the Old Bailey is back, and is on excellent form.

The first programme in the new, second series of four programmes was first broadcast last Wednesday at 9 a.m., but can be accessed here to “listen again via the BBC Website. This week’s episode concentrates on riots during the 18th century, and the section on the Gordon Riots, an uprising of terrible anti- Catholic violence put down with equal harshness by the army, and  which occurred in  London and the surrounding district in 1780, is absolutely riveting.

But does this have anything to do with Jane Austen, I hear you cry ? Most definitely, yes. In Northanger Abbey it is surely the folk memories of the Gordon Riots that cause Eleanor Tilney to be very easily alarmed upon misunderstanding an innocent remark made by Catherine Morland in Chapter 14:

Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded his short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”

Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, “Indeed! And of what nature?”

“That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.”

“Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?”

“A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.”

Of course, Catherine is talking of nothing more serious than of the publication of one of her horrid books, but Eleanor Tilney, the better informed of the two and with an emotional interest in any potential public unrest that might have to be put down by her elder brother, who is serving in the Twelfth Light Dragoons, leaps to some serious conclusions. Henry Tilney has to set matters aright in a very Mr Bennet-ish fashion( and not in a manner of which I approve, to be brutally honest with you, despise me if you dare):

“My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern — do you understand? And you, Miss Morland — my stupid sister has mistaken all your clearest expressions. You talked of expected horrors in London — and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could relate only to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window. Forgive her stupidity. The fears of the sister have added to the weakness of the woman; but she is by no means a simpleton in general.”

This weeks programme features one of my favourite historians, Professor Peter King, whose books, Crime, Justice, and Discretion in England 1740-1820 and Crime and Law in England, 1750-1840  are two of my most favourite books on the subject. Go read them now if you possibly can. Completing the discussion panel are Dr. Katrina Navickas and Professor Tim Hitchcock, co-founder of the fabulous on-line archive, Old Bailey Online.

Amanda is currently filming for her BBC TV Special on Sense and Sensibility, which will air sometime in December. She recently sent me this picture of her being filmed examining The Watsons  manuscript at Sotheby’s,which of course was recently sold for nearly £1 million. I thought you would like to see it, so here it is:

The Bodleian Library has published this article on its website which gives some details about the purchasing of The Watsons manuscript.

The article reveals that financial arrangements in place to purchase the manuscript were rather more complex than has previously been realised, with many other organisations, including the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, helping towards the total purchase price ( which is now confusingly reported to be over £1 million):

The acquisition which cost in excess of £1 million was made possible with a substantial grant (£894,700) from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). Other generous funders are the Friends of the National Libraries, the Friends of the Bodleian, Jane Austen’s House Museum (Jane Austen Memorial Trust) as well as other supporters.

Sotheby’s report on the selling of Lot 51 in its sale last Thursday can be accessed here.

It is good to report that the Bodleian Library has plans to put the manuscript on show:

We will make the manuscript available to the general public who can come and see it as early as this autumn when The Watsons will indeed be a star item in our forthcoming exhibition Treasures of the Bodleian. Our thanks go to all our supporters for their enormous generosity in supporting this purchase and in recognising the importance of keeping this priceless manuscript in a British institution…

And for the moment that ends the news on this rather interesting Janian episode. Its been an interesting few days….

Will Gompertz of BBC News has just filed  this report on the BBC News website. Click here to read all about it.

The Oxford Library was assisted in its purchase by monies from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Frankly, I’m so very glad it is staying in this country.

The manuscript of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons  which we discussed a while ago here ,was sold by Sotheby’s in London this morning for the amazing sum of £850,000

The original sale estimate was between £200,000 to £300,000. The final sale price certainly exceeded that estimate, and with the buyers premium to pay, exceeded £900,000, the final price to pay being  £993,250.  

As I predicted, the buyer was an institution and not a private individual. The burning question of the hour is, which institution? Anyone like to hazard a guess?

Here are three pages from the manuscript taken from the Sotheby’s Lot Description. You can find all the details of the manuscript in Sothebys E-Catalogue here

The evidence would confirm that Jane’s fame and appeal is certainly not on the wane…

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