Thanks to Oxford University English professor Kathryn Sutherland, there is some news making the rounds that Jane Austen was not the consummate grammarian and that her reputation for polished prose is somewhat undeserved. These revelations come from Professor Sutherland after studying 1,100 handwritten pages of unpublished work from Austen.
I have to admit that, while some past literature class may have assigned a novel by Austen so that I may have read a passage or two of her work, I cannot claim any real familiarity with it beyond a similar foggy memory of the Morgan Library exhibition earlier this year.
What caught my attention in all this is that the revelations of apparent heavy editing of Austen’s work are based on archival material that has now been digitized and is freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
As the digital archives website states, many of the Austen manuscripts are frail and thus open and sustained access has not been possible for conservation and location reasons. The site also includes information on the conservation history and current material state of the manuscripts to assist their future conservation.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that digitization allows for the virtual reunification of manuscript resources that are held in separate repositories such as the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the British Library and the University of London both in London, King’s College in Cambridge, and the Morgan Library in New York.
From a quick tour of the site, this would seem a good example of how archival material can be made more accessible to a wider audience.