Another Jane Austen manuscript is on the loose. Does that mean we’ll see more of her delightful spelling mistakes?
An Oxford University academic recently discovered that Jane Austen, the English novelist that launched a thousand BBC costume dramas, was in fact an “eccentric” speller and grammarian. (You write “tomatoes,” she writes “tomatas.”) Now that Sotheby’s has auctioned the last major Austen manuscript in private hands to a mystery institution for £993,250 ($1.6 million) — three times its estimated price — more of her stylistic peccadillos may come to light.
(MORE: Why Did Jane Austen Never Marry?)
The Watsons was not published during Austen’s lifetime. In fact, Austen never finished the novel, which she began in 1804. Over the course of five chapters and 18,000 words, Austen spins the tale of Emma Watson, a refined young lady brought up by her wealthy aunt. Upon returning home, Emma is shocked by her sisters’ brazen husband-hunting and must evade the advances of the boorish Lord Osborne. It’s thought the 29-year-old Austen abandoned the project when her father died.
The manuscript, the earliest that survives of an Austen novel, teems with scribbles, added words and crossings out. Such rough drafts are rare in Austen’s oeuvre – a circumstance that may have preserved her reputation as a superlative stylist. Will The Watsons bolster the theory that Austen’s polished prose flowed from the pen of a fastidious editor? Just as long as the movie version of The Watsons features Colin Firth, Austen’s fans are probably fine with her fiction. (And hey, the actual Emma Watson could star as Emma Watson!)