Jane Austen didn't have a Kindle! by Hywela Lyn

Yesterday, 28th January 2013, was the 200th birthday of Jane Austen's most famous novel 'Pride & Prejudice'.

It was marked by a 'readathon' at the Jane Austin Centre in Bath, hooked up with a 12 hour broadcast with Jane Austen Societies in Australia and North America.

A conference has also been organised at Cambridge.The conference will explore the original historical context of the novel, as well as the numerous screen adaptations and literary spin-offs the book has inspired.

In the coming weeks the BBC will celebrate the anniversary of the book by recreating a Regency ball, like one featured in its pages, and there are several more events planned throughout the year, to celebrate the anniversary.

Many new books about the writer have been published, with examinations of the history of the novel, and there is also a new high-end hardback edition available.

First published by Thomas Egerton in 1813, Pride and Prejudice was Jane Austen's second novel. On receiving the first copy, she described it in a letter to her sister, as her 'own darling child.' (A term I think many authors can relate to when holding their first published copy..)

Time seems to have only increased the popularity of the book, so much so that in 2003 when the BBC held a poll to find the UK’s favourite novel it came second only to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. It still sells in book form, even though, long being out of copyright, it can now be downloaded as an Ebook. (I can't help wondering what Jane would have made of that - or the 'zombie' version of 2009, I think she might well cringe at that!)

Mention of E-books brings me to the reason for my title. Watching a programme on BBC television last night,  which showed the table at which Jane Austen sat to write, in the cottage on the Chawton house estate where she lived during the last eight years of her life, I was struck by how small the table was. I'm not sure I could write at a table that small - I like to spread out. Not only that, she had to write all her books by hand. Not for her a modern computer or  i-pad. Not even an electric typewriter - not even a manual typewriter! Every word had to be painstakingly written by hand.

I know there are still many writers out there who write their first drafts by hand, but many of us rely on the computer for speed, clarity of reading and automatic correction of typos, etc. etc. Cutting and pasting no longer involves physically cutting out a badly placed paragraph and sticking it elsewhere in the document with glue (I wonder did Jane Austen ever actually do that?).  She certainly couldn't check her formatting on a Kindle. Until the invention of the typewriter, every author had to write not only their first, but their final manuscript by hand.  Do you think that made a difference the the actual process of composing? Would Pride and Prejudice have been the same book if it had been written directly onto the screen?  Certainly modern word processing has made things a whole lot easier for writers.

There again, there were compensations for a woman writer back in Jane Austen's day. She didn't have to juggle a home, family and full time job with her writing, and she didn't have to spend precious hours 'networking' in order to get her name known, or battling with Facebook pages and Tweets! Once she'd sold her book to the Publisher, she could leave marketing the book to them and just get on and write the next one.

What do you think, would you have enjoyed writing in a slower, more relaxed age, with no modern writing conveniences, or would you refuse to trade your laptop and your Kindle even for Mr Darcy's wet shirt?

With thanks to the BBC entertainment page for some of the info above. 

You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST


Chris Longmuir said…
I'm afraid I'm one of those oddities who doesn't actually like to read Jane Austen. However, I'm full of admiration of her ability to write her book in longhand, I don't think I would ever produce anything if I had to do that. I'm a real child, or should I say oldie, of the technological age, and I love my computer. I love to write on it, I love the ease of editing on it, and all the other benefits. Oh, and I remember with horror having to type out my dissertation for university on a typewriter. It took me longer to type it, plus a fortune in tippex and discarded paper, than it took me to research and write the blasted thing!
glitter noir said…
Interesting question about change in the composition process. I still write in longhand for all of the first draft. But the computer is a godsend for all subsequent drafts. The better the software, in fact, the easier things get: Office 2010 catching glitches and typos that slipped by when I used Open Office, which I hated. I wonder, though...Now that revision has grown so much simpler, has the proces been rewired to take that into account? I haven't seen much of Dickens' original pages, but I have to guess that he came close to nailing things the first time around--or had an army of secretaries. Going back to the Romans, writers have revised--some till they wore the tablets through. Even so, for longer projects, I'd guess much less, in comparison with us. Your thoughts?
Susan Price said…
I can remember revising, when I wrote in long-hand, until I thought I might go mad. And think of Carlyle, rewriting his entire book on the French Revolution from memory because his only copy had been burned. It had to be done, and there was no easier way: so you just got on with it.
And Chris, I used to think I disliked Jane Austen until about ten years ago when I was bored, with nothing to read. So I read a Jane Austen - and stap me! She was good. She was funny. I finished the book wondering why I'd ever thought I disliked her.
Hywela Lyn said…
Hi Chris, Reb and Susan. Thanks so much for your comments. I have to say I don't think I could do without modern technology now - and I do remember writing a first draft on a typewriter with a carbon copy, so I would have a spare in case anything happened to the original. Poor Carlyle didn't even have carbon paper!
Dennis Hamley said…
Lovely post, Hywela. I used, by the way, to do all first drafts longhand but moved to composing straight on to the screen when I realised that not only could nobody else read my handwriting but I couldn't either. There's been a lot of talk about P&P spin-offs, from PD James to zombies, but I haven't seen any mention of Valerie's Lydia Bennet's Blog, which must be the best of the lot and which I, personally, would give to all students studying JA. The kids on TV last night at Chawton could certainly have done with reading it.
Hywela Lyn said…
I'm the same, Dennis, I can't read my own handwriting, and find it much quicker to just compose straight on-screen. I absolutely agree about 'Lydia Bennet's Blog, and the kids on the TV programme last night - they would have got a whole lot more from it than the zombie comic version!
Lydia Bennet said…
Gosh how blush-making! thank you for mentioning my alter ego Lydia Bennet! I'd love to find a way to reach kids reluctantly studying Austen, though it's not really a YA book as such. But I think, maybe like Susan above, many people are put off Jane Austen by being made to study her books for exams when they are the wrong age - books about families and engagements seem very boring to youngsters used to fast-moving films and soaps. Perhaps Austen's like Radio 4, suddenly you grow into it. I love modern technology, write straight onto Word, but for poems I tend to do the first draft in longhand - but can't go much further until I see it on the screen.
I think in Jane's time most authors had to pay the publisher to bring them out, I can't remember if she did or got a special deal or a rellie shelled out, poss ber bro Edward? if you read her letters she was actually very busy with domestic life and had to fit writing in, certainly before she became known outside the family, and was quite secretive about it.
Hywela Lyn said…
Hi Lydia - I think you're right about youngsters being made to study her books at the wrong age.

I believe Jane actually had an advance for Pride and Prejudice, and although she did have a fairly busy life, especially at the beginning of her writing career, later on, apparently, she had a lot of support from her family who made sure she had enough time for her writing. I think you're right and her brother Edward also supported her financially before she found some success with her writing.

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