Sunday, October 24, 2010


Readers, forgive me, for I have sinned: It's been quite some time since my last quoteskimming post, and I aim to be better about it.

First up, an excerpt from An Appeal to Poetry Editors by Robert Lee Brewer over at Poetic Asides, in which he calls into question at least four editorial practices that he'd like to see stop:

No Note
First, there's the case of editors who don't include any sort of note--even a form letter--with rejected poems. I totally understand if you can't afford to print up form rejection letters, but surely you at least have a pen that can write something on the poems. The word NO would probably convey your meaning.

No note gives poets a false sense of hope. For instance, they may think, "Hey, there was no rejection included, so maybe...maybe they liked what I sent?"

Don't laugh. Poets are a hopeful people.

Second, just when you think there's nothing new under the sun, something turns up. Like a new species of butterfly, or this article about Jane Austen's poor spelling and punctuation. Having read transcribed versions of all her known letters, and having seen some original documents, I was aware that Austen's letters contain spelling errors (she was notoriously bad at the "I before E" rule, for instance, even as an adult), erratic capitalization of nouns, and unusual punctuation.

In advance of the release of digitized versions of her original correspondence and other papers, the news has broken about her irregular spelling and grammar - and about the editorial work done in the second two novels published during her lifetime, Mansfield Park and Emma, which were "cleaned up" by William Gifford. Kathryn Sutherland, Professor of the English language and literature faculty at Oxford University, has done an extensive study of Austen's writing style and concludes two things:

1. Some of the typos and irregular punctuation in the first editions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice that have long been blamed on sloppy typesetters might in fact be the result of lax (or nonexistent) editing. Many of the "errors" in the text are similar to Austen's writing style in her correspondence and other known documents, so it seems they may have set it based on the "fair copy" given them by the author.

2. Some of what got altered by Gifford diminishes Austen's forward-looking genius, according to Sutherland:

"Does it make her less of a genius? I don't think so. Indeed, I think it makes her more interesting, and a much more modern and innovative writer than had been thought.

In particular, her use of dashes to heighten the emotional impact of what she is writing is striking: you have to wait for Virginia Woolf to see anything comparable."
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