Last year, in the pre-Halloween season, Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland (see NPR interview) claimed that Jane Austen's manuscripts were heavily edited for punctuation (egads, an altered semicolon!). Here's a piece in The Guardian about Sutherland's findings.
What's most interesting about this tempest in a teapot is that if one reads the two pieces linked above, plus this one in Language Log, Sutherland never once implies that heavy editing of punctuation detracts one iota from Austen's genius. Quite the contrary, in fact. She calls Austen "modern," "experimental," and says that her use of dashes for emphasis, for example, is not to be seen anywhere in literature until Virginia Woolf. This is praise, folks, not censure.
But analysts of all kinds pounced on these findings, concluding that Austen must not have been the brilliant stylist we know and love after all. Sounds like just one more attempt to assert that an unmarried clergyman's daughter who didn't mix in literary circles couldn't possibly write those novels on her own.
And now, just in time for the ghosts of authors past to rise again, comes ANONYMOUS, a movie all about how poor, low-born William Shakespeare couldn't possibly have written all those high falutin' plays. It had to be—wait for it—a British peer.
In this week's New Yorker, David Denby aptly called this theory the "dreariest of snobberies."
So what's scarier than trying to diss a dead author? The fact that such attempts keep rising up no matter how many times we think we've vanquished them. Sort of like the villains in the umpteenth installments of Saw, Scream, or Halloween.