Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts are assembled here as a digital edition rather than a repository or archive, though the structure of the edition also implies these more neutral-seeming categories, with their intimations of expansion and development. A particular feature of this edition is the evidence provided for the relationship between the manuscripts as linguistic structures (as words, phrases, punctuation) and as the physical documents that support those structures (quires of paper, folded into homemade booklets or bought already bound into blank notebooks). It is an edition of a series of objects as well as of their texts. This more than any function of the digital medium sets it apart from previous Austen manuscript editions, changing its relationship to its materials. Information (under ‘the notebook’ or ‘physical structure’) in the Head Note attached to each manuscript is offered as an aid to the reconstruction of the physical objects and to strengthen our view of their importance to the texts inscribed upon them.

The transcriptions prepared from the manuscripts are diplomatic. That is, they aim to be faithful to Austen’s spelling, paragraphing, and punctuation; to her abbreviations and other distinctive features of her writing hand: her long ‘s’ (∫) and ampersand (&) are preserved, as is her use of underlining. Line and page breaks are carefully followed; all signs of revision and correction are transcribed as they occur in the body of the text. Erasures, where they can be deciphered, come up within the body of the text under a covering block shaded dark grey ( ) or as palimpsests beneath a covering word set within a lighter grey block ( ); they are explained, as are other features, in notes keyed to the text. As well as actual erasure, Austen used a range of strokes to delete or obliterate rejected words or phrases. These are reduced in the transcription to one form of deletion: a horizontal stroke through a word or letter (pretend to a much better match). In almost all cases, such altered readings have been deciphered or conjectured and annotated. Austen’s occasional errors in writing or copying are transcribed uncorrected and are also annotated. Every attempt has been made to replicate the layout of Austen’s page, whether it be fair copy or heavily reworked draft. The peculiar formatting and pseudo-bibliographic features that distinguish the juvenilia are preserved. Orthographic variants and parts of speech have been tagged for computational interrogation. As little as possible has been normalized.

There are, however, some exceptions: Austen’s use of varying length dashes, her initial letters that hover ambiguously between upper and lower case, the changes in style, even within a single manuscript, of upper case ‘A’, or ‘S’, or ‘M’, and her multiply graded paragraph indentations. The dashes have been reduced to three different lengths and to a further length that indicates a line-filler. No one will agree with every decision made to render Austen’s characteristic medial letters as either upper or lower case. Handwriting gives them a freedom to play between the two; a freedom unavailable to print transcription. Paragraph breaks are also a challenge since they can be slight (a matter of a letter or two by way of indentation) or extreme: in Lady Susan they range through several sizes from a few letters to a third of a line in depth. Again, they have been reduced in transcription, to four choices.

Austen herself complained on occasion about the untidiness of her handwriting. In letters across the years to Cassandra she speculated: ‘why is my alphabet so much more sprawly than Yours’; and ‘Your close-written letter makes me quite ashamed of my wide lines’.1 Yet one of the recurrent features the reader of these manuscripts will notice is the stroke of the pen by which she repurposes a comma so that it might also function as a caret, and combines a comma with an exclamation mark, or builds a new word out of the shapes of discarded letters. Such attempts to repair and redirect alphabet and punctuation are precious clues, suggesting both thriftiness and an assertion of control over mental and graphic movements. They are also impossible to represent in print, where the characters and symbols must either replace each other or stand as separate features: a comma or a caret.

Finally, there are hands other than Jane Austen’s represented in the manuscripts. In the transcription, the symbol of the quill pen ( ) is used to signal where such changes of hand occur. Alterations in Austen’s own hand – shifts from ink to pencil or pencil to ink – are marked by a note where they occur.


Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. Deirdre Le Faye (3rd edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 17 and 151. Back to context...