Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Spotlight on Harvard Professor of English Literature, and writer about and editor of Jane Austen’s works. Professor Lynch will be coming to Annie’s on December 15th to celebrate Jane Austen’s Birthday with us, and will give a presentation on ” Regency Social Media: Jane Austen’s Letter-Writing” at 1:00 PM for our Jane Austen Day.
When asked about herself and her writing/editing, this was her response:
Originally from Canada, I’m now (since 2014) the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of English Literature at Harvard, where I teach courses on the history of the novel, the history of books as physical objects as well as instruments of communication, on the Gothic tradition, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and others. I’ve done a lot of writing on Austen’s fiction and (in my guise as a historian of reading and reception) on the changing ways in which generations of readers have manifested their devotion to her fabulousness. I’m an editor, in addition, of one of the most widely assigned textbooks of English literary history, The Norton Anthology of English Literature. But since we’ll be convening to mark Austen’s birthday, above all, I’m the editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and, most recently, of a gorgeous, generously illustrated and annotated edition of her Mansfield Park, a volume in Harvard University Press’s series of annotated editions.
Thanks for being here with us, Deidre. Our first question for you is, Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Try the Harvard University Press website for Mansfield Park; see https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674058101
And for my more scholarly work on the history of the novel and of reading try the University of Chicago Press website. See, e.g. https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/L/bo19085293.html
What kind of research went into editing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
For the notes for my annotated edition of Mansfield Park I did a lot of research (on, for instance, the theatre, the Anglican church, and the navy of Austen’s day, on the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth, on the Austen family’s relationship with slave-holding families from the West Indies, etc., etc.)—and in the end (as is the norm for this Harvard University Press series) those notes are extensive enough that they could practically form a separate book all on their own. I loved writing those notes. It’s hard to choose but the notes I had the most fun writing were those that are meant to help readers of this book figure out what’s going on in the novel, as all the characters but the heroine rehearse the play Lovers’ Vows for a private performance (because of the untimely return home of Sir Thomas Bertram, they never, of course, get beyond the point of rehearsal). It was intriguing to discover that Austen had attended very carefully to the stage directions in the published text of the play. She makes it clear that those stage directions which specify a lot of physical proximity between the actors are for some of her characters an absolute godsend ; they’re a reason why they must hold hands and embrace—and suspend the proprieties normally governing the interaction between unmarried people.
What was the biggest challenge in editing and putting out Mansfield Park? How did you overcome that challenge?
I started as an editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature around 15 years ago, and just around that time I had a number of discouraging conversations with colleagues who were convinced that readers’ use (even in the classroom) of properly prepared, annotated editions was soon to become a thing of the past; soon, they predicted, one would just send students links and get them to download all the class readings. I think they’ve been proven wrong and that there would be reasons to deplore the situation if they had been right.
For all their modern feel, Austen’s texts require annotation. Her English is not ours: it’s useful for a reader to hear for instance that when young lady in an Austen novel takes up her “work”, she’s taking up her sewing or needlework: that is all work can be for a lady in the early nineteenth century. Austen’s texts also require an editor’s textual emendation. Mansfield Park was published in two different editions during Austen’s lifetime (neither printed error free): it’s the job of an Austen editor to choose which edition to follow (the manuscript doesn’t survive), but it’s also this editor’s job to revert to the other edition, in cases where that provides the more plausible reading of that now lost manuscript. For instance, near the end of Volume 3, talking of the heroine Fanny Price the 1816 edition has Mary Crawford asking “Why, would not she have him?” There’s no comma after the “Why” in 1814—an absence which changes the meaning of the passage a good deal and seems a much more plausible piece of dialogue.
All of this is to say that we aren’t in fact intimate with Austen “by instinct” and can’t be. In Mansfield Park, in the midst of a discussion the characters have about Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII, Henry Crawford, the heroine’s suitor and persecutor, characterizes his relationship to the Shakespearean text in just those terms. Henry says he can’t remember where and how he read the plays or whether he ever saw them acted but he knows them well, nonetheless “by instinct”: “Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how.” That it’s Henry who says this is, I think, where Austen is concerned a reason to discount such an opinion. And I would like to say that it’s even an indication that she actually endorses and esteems the work of the literary middlemen and middle-women (like me!) who prepare texts from the past for their reading by new generations of readers.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Deidre. We look forward to seeing you on December 15th!