Wanna Bet?

November 26, 2010 at 9:19 pm (research) (, , , )

The Preface to Jo Modert’s Jane Austen’s Manuscript Letters in Facsimile ends with this exchange:

“Soon after I began this search, a friend asked if I seriously thought that a new Austen letter would add any information to what we already know of her life. ‘No,’ I replied. (I lied — of course I can!)”

Such a thought made me think about two such letters that indeed added VITAL information to my knowledge of the lives of the writer of one, the recipient of the other: Emma’s eldest sister Augusta Smith and youngest sister Maria Smith.

Augusta’s letter (owned by Angela in Alberta) reminisced about Auguta’s thoughts, feelings and memories of being abroad, in particular of being in Rome over Easter. Letters exist about this year on the Continent, but never before was the strength of AUGUSTA’s longings made known. Without this letter, this aspect of Augusta’s personality could NEVER have been guessed!

Angela’s “Augusta letter,” one of the greatest finds this blog has yielded, also hints at a couple “mysteries”, one involving cousin Lady Elizabeth Compton (which I think I’ve solved), one involving Aunt Emma Smith (which is still in search of a definitive answer). I’ll leave discussion of those for later.

Jacky’s “Maria letter” was written by Mrs Odell — the mother of the young man who accompanied Drummond Smith on a tour to Italy, the trip 20-year-old Drummond never returned from. Letters of the period, combined with relevant pages in Mary Augusta Austen Leigh’s 1911 biography of her father, James Edward Austen Leigh, indicates that Mrs Smith — never a fan of this trip — grilled Mr Odell in a couple interviews; as well, she was the recipient of several explicatory letters. And here was Mrs Odell pleading to Maria to think twice about marrying her son?! Several reasons come to mind as to why Maria would say ‘no’ and continue to say ‘no’; important questions crop up as to why Mrs Odell would write this letter — or Maria keep this letter among the items she passed down through her family.

To echo Jo Modert: Can just one letter add information to what we already know?

You Bet It Can!

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Dash It All–

September 9, 2010 at 8:37 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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.

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