Came across this interesting article from Australia in which Jane Austen’s penmanship, punctuation and pungent sentences come in for a bit of scrutiny. How apropos! Since one thing that is always at the forefront of conducting primary research is contending with handwriting!
Forming the base of the article: The two chapters cut from Persuasion, the only extant manuscript penned by Austen (if we don’t count the copied-out juvenilia).
Having a copy of Modert’s Jane Austen’s Manuscript Letters in Facsimile, I really don’t think Austen’s writing difficult to read (on the other hand imagine if this book had been published with the even better images now possible in the digital age!); and so little cross writing. In fact the quirk of Austen’s letters are those written with much white-space so that the next “layer” of writing comes upside-down, but in between this first “layer” of writing.
Examining actual letters (from the Gosling and Smith families — though I did read a couple written by Cassandra Austen!), you see with what a fine line (ie, a well-sharpened quill) most people wrote. The difference between a dot (period) and a comma often quite difficult to discern. And dashes? Hell! I use them all the time! Who doesn’t?
And if commas are thought of as a “pause” when reading aloud, then many of Austen’s commas make great sense.
If Austen can be described as having a “closely written” hand, then the writer of this article has NEVER read anything written by the likes of young Augusta Smith (aka Augusta Wilder)! Yow!
(The execrable handwriting of the likes of Lady Elizabeth Dickins I won’t even mention…)
I must comment on the comment about underlining: Seeing as I transcribe as closely as possible, I use underlining rather than italicizing. Once, an editor changed the underlined words into italics. Hate to say, but, it just was not the same! And how to include two or even three lines?!? If I remember correctly, one of the editors working with Queen Victoria’s letters kept the original emphasis — one, two or even three underscores — intact. I like to do the same with Emma, Mary and all the rest, too.
- From Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, read a graphologist’s thoughts on Jane’s handwriting <broken link; try this link instead>. I see a LOT of the same characteristics in the Smith/Gosling papers.
- To learn about the “mechanics” of writing in the period of the Quill Pen, see JASNA’s Persuasions On-Line, in an article by Robert Hurford.
- To see an actual piece of Austen’s writing, there is none better than the British Library’s presentation of her The History of England, with (we must give the artist her due) the fabulous drawings of Cassandra Austen.
- The BBC and Chawton Cottage (Louise West) in conversation.