File under: Say it ain't so

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Oct 24 02:21:25 UTC 2010

But don't you see? Don't you *see*?  A reader knows Jane Austen only through
the mental construct of "Jane Austen," an imaginary "person" formed from
subjective impressions of a novel or novel said to have been written by
"Jane Austen."

Prof. Sutherland's research reveals that no matter how many so-called "Jane
Austen';s" there may be, the "Jane Austen" credited with the "authorship" of
_Persuasion_ specifically is not Jane Austen in any definitive sense, but a
largely fictive "Jane Austen," who is really part Jane Austen, and part an
unidentified editor, presumably male and very possibly the Gifford
character.  What is even more important is that it is now impossible for the
reader to deny responsibility for the mental construction of this "novel"
"Jane Austen" who corresponds to no actual person who ever lived.

Thus, the conspiracy of Jane Austen (whom we will provisionally accept,
without final proof, as the actual name of an actual person who actually
wrote the manuscript of _Persuasion_ examined by Prof. Sutherland) and some
unknown person or persons, possibly male, to create the quite imaginary
persona of "Jane Austen, author of _Persuasion_, is finally exposed to the
light of day.

In the latest version of the story (, a further editor,
Robert Chapman, who is known to have been male, is quoted as having wished
"if only we could destroy these manuscripts because they are disturbing the
view of Austen that we preserve," a blatant and familiar move in the male
project to deny woman's authenticity in the name of an indefinable, elitist,
phallocentric "literature."

 The most crucial result of this analysis is that even though not one word
of the received, published text of _Persuasion_ has been altered, the
meaning of every word has in fact been changed by the radical alteration of
our understanding of the relationship of the text to the general
Enlightenment fetishization of "authorship" itself, and, moreover,
by our apprehension that the real woman named Jane Austen (1775-1817) may
indeed have been the unknown editor's love slave, regardless of gender.

In the words of Kristeva, "If Shakespeare was Bacon, King Lear becomes a
figure of infinite jest."


On Sat, Oct 23, 2010 at 8:53 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: File under: Say it ain't so
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 2:12 PM -0400 10/23/10, Federico Escobar wrote:
> >"Unpick" also struck me as an interesting choice of words. It was probably
> >suggested --I'm speculating gratuitously-- by the ideas of precision and
> >care conveyed by "picking a lock"; since the alleged precision of Austen's
> >style was "undone" by the new study (which I'm surprised it took 200 years
> >to perform), then it was "unpicked."
> I wouldn't think so, at least as far as the lock-picking goes.  The
> use of "unpick" for 'pick (a lock)', as a directly pleonastic un-verb
> of the "unloose", "unthaw", "unempty" variety, has long been archaic.
> The much more standard use over the last few centuries is related to
> sewing or knitting:  to unpick a sweater or whatever is to remove the
> stitches.  So here it's the garment Austen's prose styling carefully
> (or perhaps not so carefully) constructed, along with her reputation,
> that would be "unpicked" by this finding.  Perhaps relevant is the
> first OED cite for this sense of "unpick":
> 1808 JANE AUSTEN Let. 7 Oct. (1932) I. 217 Your gown shall be unpicked.
> LH
> >
> >I also noticed that the author seemed inexplicably surprised by the blots
> >and crossings. The explanation I supplied was that it was a way of
> opposing
> >the description of Austen's writing process offered by her brother:
> >that "everything
> >came finished from her pen". She probably emphasized the blots to unpick
> >people's idea of publisher-ready mansucripts flowing steadily and
> >unblotchedly from Austen's pen.
> >
> >F.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >On Sat, Oct 23, 2010 at 1:58 PM, Jonathan Lighter
> ><wuxxmupp2000 at>wrote:
> >
> >>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> >>  -----------------------
> >>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> >>  Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> >>  Subject:      Re: File under: Say it ain't so
> >>
> >>
> >>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >>
> >>  Note too Prof. Sutherland's use of "unpick" to mean "undo" (generally).
> >>  (OED
> >>  allows for a "fig." sense, but the below has no metaphorical context):
> >>
> >>
> >>  "Austen's unpublished manuscripts unpick her reputation for perfection
> in
> >>  various ways: we see blots, crossings out, messiness -- we see creation
> as
> >>  it happens, and in Austen's case, we discover a powerful
> >>  counter-grammatical
> >>  way of writing."
> >>
> >>  Fascinating is the gratuitously defensive phrase, "a powerful
> >>  counter-grammatical way of writing." All writers (with the famously
> alleged
> >>  exception of Shakespeare) blot, cross out, etc., all the time.
> Irrespective
> >>  of any later editorial improvement, that is not a weakness in Jane
> Austen's
> >>  writing. It just shows she had no word-processor.
> >>
> >>  BTW, a second look an hour later reveals that Yahoo has nonsexistically
> >>  replaced the invidious "male editor" headline.
> >>
> >  > JL
> >>
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
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