Andrea/Cara here, A number of the Wenches are facing looming deadlines, and among ourselves we’ve been bemoaning the dreaded terror know as “final edits” before shipping a manuscript of to an editor. The process is a lot easier these days—I remember working on my first book with a stack of yellow Post-It notes close at hand . . .and muttering frequent incantations to the cosmos for the stickies to stay put!
So it was with great interest—and delight—that I spotted a fascinating post on the Jane Austen Center website about Jane and the joint project between Oxford and King’s College to create a digital database of all the existing Austen manuscripts, from her early juvenile works to the last year of her life.
“With no calculated blank spaces and no obvious way of incorporating large revision or expansion she had to find other strategies — small pieces of paper, each of which was filled closely and neatly with the new material, attached with straight pins to the precise spot where erased material was to be covered or where an insertion was required to expand the text . . .”
Shown above is an example of how she edited a section, and the explanation of one of the project experts. Some other examples here show her actual pages with cross-out and additions, along a typed version to show clarify the changes. It’s fun to see, right? But as I read the mission of the project I was struck by the very thoughtful and fascinating reasons they give for why it’s so important to preserve these handwritten works. (You can read about the project here.)
They are not only the first creative writing collection of a British author to survive, but they also show her artistic development from childhood to her last unfinished novel. They are, in essence, a writing laboratory, where she experimented with new ideas, struggled with style and narrative, tried different subjects. They give a us a glimpse into the way her imagination worked.
Another point I found intriguing was that scholars and researchers feel that by studying the nuances of handwriting—the size and shape of the letters, the quality of the penmanship—is it rushed or precise —speak volumes about Jane’s emotional state as she was writing. For example, some sections look as if she’s excited about the drama building. Psychobabble? Maybe, but intriguing nonetheless.
One thing I never knew what that the manuscripts for her eight published novels no longer exist —or have never been found. (Oh, imagine finding P&P at a yard sale!) it’s thought that once they were printed, they were no longer useful—the words were preserved in crisp black and white. Again, scholars lament the loss, wishing they could see the changes she made and get that extra insight into her thought processes.
I sometimes think about that in my own writing. I tend to save and resave a page as I make changes, not wanting to clog up my files with countless drafts. But I sometimes wish I could go back and look over how I got from here to there. Which begs the question—do you find it interesting to look at original manuscripts? And do you write by hand? Keep a journal or a diary? I’ve read that the brain works slightly differently when you take pen in hand. What do you think?