Jane Austen’s fiction manuscripts are the first significant body of holograph evidence surviving for any British novelist. They represent every stage of her writing career and a variety of physical states: working drafts, fair copies, and handwritten publications for private circulation. The manuscripts were held in a single collection until 1845, when at her sister Cassandra’s death they were dispersed among family members, with a second major dispersal, to public institutions and private collections, in the 1920s.1 Digitization enables their virtual reunification and will provide scholars with the first opportunity to make simultaneous ocular comparison of their different physical and conceptual states; it will facilitate intimate and systematic study of Austen’s working practices across her career, a remarkably neglected area of scholarship within the huge, world-wide Austen critical industry.

Many of the Austen manuscripts are frail; open and sustained access has long been impossible for conservation and location reasons. Digitization at this stage in their lives not only offers the opportunity for the virtual reunification of a key manuscript resource, it will also be accompanied by a record in as complete a form as possible of the conservation history and current material state of these manuscripts to assist their future conservation.

The digital edition will include in the first instance all Jane Austen’s known fiction manuscripts and any ancillary materials held with them, as follows:

Volume the First
Bodleian Library, Oxford
Volume the Second
British Library, London
Volume the Third
British Library, London
Lady Susan
Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
The Watsons
Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
The Watsons
in private ownership; on deposit at Queen Mary, University of London
‘Plan of a Novel’ + 2 holograph notes (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York)
‘Opinions of Mansfield Park’ and ‘Opinions of Emma’ (British Library, London)
British Library, London
King’s College, Cambridge

Aims and Objectives

  • To create a digital resource reuniting all the known holograph surviving manuscripts of Austen’s fiction in an unprecedented virtual collection.
  • To provide for the first time full descriptions of, transcriptions of, analysis of, and commentary on the manuscripts in the archive, including details of erasures, handwriting, paper quality, watermarks, ink, binding structures, and any ancillary materials held with the holographs as aspects of their physical integrity or provenance.
  • To develop complex interlinking of the virtual collection to allow systematic comparison of the manuscripts under a number of headings representing both their intellectual and physical states.

Innovative features

  • The Austen Fiction Manuscripts Project is employing advanced digital technology to reunite within a virtual collection documents unavailable for close comparison since 1845.
  • The Austen Fiction Manuscripts Project is establishing the advanced standards to be adopted by the TEI for encoding modern working manuscripts
  • The Austen Fiction Manuscripts Project is pioneering work on encoding time (genetic features) in working manuscripts


The Austen manuscripts are now owned by or held on loan in a variety of public and private institutions in Britain and America. The British Library and Bodleian Library are partners in the Austen Manuscripts Project while all other holding institutions and owners are making their manuscripts available to us. Back to context...