Semicolon squalls

Semicolon squalls

Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland claims that Jane Austen was actually a sloppy writer via a website that shows 1,000 pages of Austen’s manuscripts:

According to [Sutherland], the manuscripts are full of faulty spelling, break every rule of English grammar, and give no sign of the polished punctuation we see in the novels. She concluded that Austen’s prose must have been heavily edited for publication, quite possibly by the querulous critic William Gifford.

But punctuation, grammar, and even spelling were in flux:

There are some careless errors, but these are rough drafts, and you can’t take off points for something that hasn’t been handed in yet. And by the standards of the time, she wasn’t a bad speller. She was inconsistent about possessives, and she sometimes put e before i in words like believe and friendship, but you can find the same thing in the manuscripts of Byron and Scott and Thomas Jefferson — the rules just weren’t settled yet.

And astoundingly:

People have the idea that mastering the semicolon is the acme of prose artistry, as if the mark itself could call a logical structure into being. As one grammarian put it, the semicolon is the mortar that joins two ideas into a greater one. But semicolons don’t create a structure; they just point to one. It’s nice to know where a semicolon is supposed to go, but it’s nothing to swell your chest over. The artistry is in being able to write sentences that require one.