We have spoken before about Jane Austen’s individualistic punctuation. Many of us feel that Austen’s incessant dashes, and other weird habits were ebullient—that we’d like to be as free as she was, even if our ever-copyediting hearts might tidy things up a little bit for other people.
Now there is a fracas afoot regarding Austen’s punctuation! Word on the street is that two chapters of the original manuscript for Persuasion will be on view at the British Library from November 12 to April 3 as part of the Evolving English exhibit. (Hey everyone, field trip!) Well, there has been back and forth about Miss Austen and her punctuation. Here’s Roger Walshe, curator of the exhibit:
Austen hardly punctuates at all, so what you get is a much more urgent form of language which becomes more restrained when it is edited. There tends to be an awful lot of clauses and sub-clauses. There is the odd comma, but they aren’t always in the most rational places. There are no paragraphs. It’s like she’s telling a story rather than writing one. The amazing thing is that there are so few corrections. You can imagine her thinking through a scene and then rushing to write it down. That’s possibly why the dialogue works so well, and why [film adaptations] are so successful.There is a real sense of urgency – more so than the slightly more restrained form you get from the novels.
This has led to snide comments about people’s comma usage and spirited rebuttals about artistic license (which take a comment of Walshe’s quite out of context). I’m kind of expecting that we’ll next see something about Jane Austen being the foremother of lolspeak and generally informal writing habits online, like abbreviations and the elongation of words to suggest tones of voice. (I feel impossibly elderly writing that, but wtf, i can roflol all night looooonnngggg. Righhhhtttt.)
All I’m saying is, I love to see a good comma fracas, and especially one where Our Girl Jane takes center stage! People getting passionate about language, that’s what we need! I hardly even care what they say—it just does my heart good—. With extra dashes!—