Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

An examination of Jane Austen's authorship

If a certain academic at Oxford University is to be believed, it may not have been the work of Jane Austen after all.

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.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National