Evidence that Jane Austen had very little to do with 'Sense and Sensibility' as we know it

So, it turns out that Jane Austen's editor - most likely a bloke called William Gifford - had a bit more to do with her final manuscripts than was originally thought, perhaps thinking that Austen might reward him for his efforts by naming a character after him, say, Gifford, rather than Darcy.

I'm glad she didn't.  Just imagine the problems it would have caused.   'I seriouthly think Elizabeth Gifford has thet off to purchathe a new dreth in Bath' would have been a mouthful for people to say at polite functions, especially while eating and trying to look eligible at the same time.  And spitting gobfuls of Cook's 'vanilla shape' all over the new blue silk with a lace collar worn by your conversational partner isn't really what people expect from the average Austen plot-line.

Anyway, here's the story from the Telegraph, if you hadn't seen it.

Evidence that the best of us fall fowl of spelling and punctuation at time's

It's all very well, though, this Gifford geezer mucking about with Our Jane's writing.  But what's the betting he went a bit overboard with his red quill and changed all kinds of things she wrote, presuming they were errors and not deliberate?  For instance, I've always had my doubts about 'Sense and Sensibility'.  I reckon old Giffy boy looked at her original title, thought it sounded strange, changed the spelling and punctuation to what we now have, then had to make all kinds of alterations to the plot-line as well to make it match.

And we could have had the original .....

Send Sand - Send Sybil 'er Tea

A charming tale of Georgian life in which a mother and three daughters have to move to a smaller house in the country - so small, in fact, that when they are all in one room together, they have great difficulty avoiding one another's fourteen-foot wide dresses.  The eldest daughter, Elinor, is a sensible soul and always the voice of reason in times of crisis such as when someone pays them a visit when they are not sitting Bolt Upright.

Sybil, the middle daughter, is a pain in the butt, and although Elinor tries her hardest to put up with her moods and tantrums, in the end it all gets a bit too much.  Things come to a head when Sybil falls in love with someone completely unsuitable and moons about all day reciting from a tatty book of poems and refusing to listen to her older sister's advice.  She also keeps moaning about the food Mother cooks, saying she's too in love to have an appetite and that she can't eat anything.  Even her younger sister, Margaret, says, 'Sybil! You're being unreasonable!' which startles everyone, because Margaret never usually got to say or do much at all.

Eventually, Mother, Elinor and Margaret hatch a plot to make Sybil see Sense (spot the sybilance?).  They persuade her to wander out into the countryside for a picnic and because she knows that it's highly likely handsome landowners will be trotting around the lanes on their horses looking for lakes or storms so that they can look damp and delicious in the TV adaptation, she agrees.  Elinor tells her that they will get a servant to come along in an hour or so with her carefully-prepared tea which will be some really special SANDwiches which she is bound to have an appetite for after a long walk.  (Cue elegant 1800s-style female tittering behind hands from Mother and Margaret.)

Gullible as heck, as well as a whining nuisance who should have been shot by a gamekeeper with a bad aim in Chapter 1, Sybil skips off with her book of poetry and sits under a tree, awaiting her tasty picnic which duly arrives and which she unwraps with anticipation and tucks into in a very unGeorgianladylike manner.  Five minutes later, sobbing, and trying to get sand out from between her teeth with torn-out pages of her poetry book, because no one sent a drink with the picnic so she could rinse her mouth, she realises that her family may be trying to tell her something and vows to change her ways.

Fortuitously at that point, the heavens open and a rainstorm begins, so heavy that Sybil bends back her head and opens her mouth wide so that she can collect raindrops in it and swill out more of the sand.  She closes her eyes while she does this and therefore, unfortuitously, doesn't see a muscled hunk of a man with a jutting chin and bows on his shoes (this combination went out of fashion, thankfully) arrive on a sweating black horse.  However, he takes one look at this female collecting rainwater in her gob, assumes she has escaped from a local asylum, and gallops off again just as Sybil opens her eyes.

Peace is restored to the household, although it is a while until Sybil can face eating anything in between two slices of bread.

The End.

Hm.  Should I give old Giffo a call and make sure he's not messed about with 'Send Sand - Send Sybil 'er Tea'?   Especially after that muck-up with Man's Field Prank.  No, I'll leave it.  What harm can he do?


  1. No, absolutely not. You cannot do that. You really cannot.
    Take the mickey out of our Jane? No, that's not on. Don't you realise your country would lose half its export income if our Jane lost credibility?

    Have you SEEN the number of adaptations around the world?

  2. Personally I'd love to read Norse Anger Abi - the tale of an Icelandic heroine with anger management issues...

  3. I loved this line from the article:

    "There was a level of eccentricity in her spelling - what we would call wrong."

    Poor Jane. I myself often aspire to a certain level of charming eccentricity, only to be told (usually by my husband) that I am simply wrong. Oh well. I guess I'm in good company, then.

  4. I was gutted that the muscley bloke bogged off after seeing Sybil with her mouth open, swallowing rain. There should have been a scene where Elinor ventures out to walk the dog, and then accidentally trips over a tree root just as was rounding the corner. The rest is obvious!

  5. Of course there's the gay version of "Emma", in which Fran Churchill gets together with Jane Fairfax and Harry Smith with Robert Martin. The editor thought that was a bit racy for the times.

    And then of course there's Emma herself and "Mr" Knightley. Why doesn't she call "him" by "his" name? George, is it? Or actually Georgina? We never see him with his clothes off, do we...?

  6. I read the link and thought, What's the big deal? It isn't the first time an unknown, unheralded, underpaid editor makes a writer look good.

  7. Well, who knows? Coming from the US, where such adaptations abound, I think I might enjoy Fran's version . . . :). Meanwhile, I am doing my best to sit Bolt Upright . . . do you realize how hard that is?

  8. Friko - I knew you'd be cross with me.

    Steve - or 'Erm - er' - the story of a shy Georgian heroine who hesitated a lot.

    Lesley - I'd stick to the charming eccentricity story if I were you. Don't listen to him.

    Annie - I know, I know. I very nearly had Elinor married off to him at the end and then - I know this is silly - felt sorry for Sybil and couldn't do it to her. Can you imagine the conversation? 'Darling, I'd like my sister Sybil to be a bridesmaid?' 'You must be off your rocker - I'm not having an eejit who goes around with her jaw hanging open to catch rain at MY posh wedding ...'

    Isabelle - but 'Mr' Knightley is SO much more romantic.

    Karen - this is very true!

    Raining Acorns - Sitting Bolt Upright is very good for you, and means you can see what's going on with all the neighbours, too.

  9. I saw that article all over the place recently. I think there are loads of writers who aren't great speller - just because you're a good story-teller doesn't necessarily mean you can spell! Or type well, in my case...

  10. Fran, can I copy your "Sonnet In Praise of Chocolate" and put it up (with your name at the end) on the college noticeboard as our Poem of the Week? (This is a serious request - and I'm not really Anon, I'm Isabelle but at work.) We could all do with a bit of a giggle these darkening days and the poems do get read by passing students and staff.

  11. Anon but really Isabelle at work - please do. Could you add my blog address to the name (www.ilurveenglish.blogspot.com)? Ta muchly. I've used that sonnet at school to teach sonnet rhyme/rhythm. It's always a good idea to include chocolate as a theme of any lesson ....

  12. Thank you very much - will indeed add blog address.

    Yes, I did wonder about using it in class too... Would that be ok? I will spread your fame, of course.

  13. Isabelle - go ahead. And spread away. I need more fame. Actually, I just need some.


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