A perfect stylist or dedicated editors?
It is one of the most recognised sentences in literature: that one about universally acknowledged truths and rich, single men in want of wives. But if a certain academic at Oxford University is to be believed, it may not have been the work of Jane Austen after all.
Professor Kathryn Sutherland made her claims having studied 1,100 original handwritten pages of the author's scribblings, which, she claims, feature "a powerful counter-grammatical way of writing". This is in contrast to Austen's reputation as "a perfect stylist".
Works such as Persuasion and Emma, asserts Sutherland, who is an Austen authority and part of the Faculty of English Language and Literature, bear little stylistic resemblance to the manuscripts, indicating that someone else may have been "heavily involved" in the editing process. That someone, she believes, was Austen's editor William Giffford, who worked for the publisher John Murray II.
Sutherland made her findings during a three-year research project, which will culminate in an online archive of all Austen's hand-written fiction manuscripts.
Austen is not the only author to have her penmanship disputed: a former colleague of the late Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson claimed, in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter earlier this year, that Larsson could not have written the Millennium trilogy. "To write is a kind of talent," said Anders Hellberg, "you can learn up to a certain level to write. Stieg, in my view, could not have written the novels." In this case, he suggests, Larsson's long-term partner Eva Gabrielsson, may have played a significant role.