We love her exacting, exquisite romantic fiction. But according to research by Oxford University English professor Kathryn Sutherland, some of Jane Austen’s prose benefited from a little help from a friend. In deed that friend was editor William Gifford, whose talents may have improved the classics we’ve read and watched turned into film.  

After studying 1,100 handwritten pages of Austen’s unpublished work, Sutherland suggests they contradict the claim by Austen’s brother Henry that “everything came finished from her pen.” The pages Sutherland reviewed contained “blots, crossings out, messiness.” In fact, the research confirms Austen as a writer who “broke most of the rules for writing good English,” Sutherland suggests.

Jane Austen


This is good news for unpublished novelists like myself, who constantly question how perfect our prose must be before sending it to a would-be agent. I’ve always suspected that a talented editor may be the difference between a pedistrian novel and a blockbuster work, like Austen’s that lasts through the ages.

Austen was a writer experimenting with her craft, and according to Sutherland,  she was “even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest.”

If you’d like to view Austen’s handwritten manuscripts visit http://www.janeausten.ac.uk.