Jane Austin and her use of pins to edit her work
Updated: Apr 15, 2022
The common consensus is that writers hate editing, but that’s not always the case. Truman Capote once said, “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” Jane Austen believed in cutting up her prose as well, though her hardware of choice was a pin.
Open Culture recently shared the story of Austen’s edits on her circa-1803 abandoned novel, The Watsons. The text was acquired by the UK’s Bodleian Library in 2011 and is full of insights into the author’s revision process. According to janeausten.ac.uk, there are no chapter divisions, pagination, paragraphing, and no separation of speaking parts. And in addition to regular editing (regular, at least, before the dawn of computers), there are paper incorporations and pins.
With no calculated blank spaces and no obvious way of incorporating large revision or expansion she had to find other strategies—the three patches, small pieces of paper, each of which was filled closely and neatly with the new material, attached with straight pins to the precise spot where erased material was to be covered or where an insertion was required to expand the text … The best clue we have that they represent a later stage of creation rather than immediate second thoughts is that all three are written on paper which, though common to themselves, is not used for the bulk of the manuscript. The patches are on thicker paper with distinct chainlines; they may even come from the same sheet and represent a single concerted act of revision.
Over at The Spectator, Bodleian Library’s Keeper of Special Collections, Christopher Fletcher, writes that Austen’s pin approach was not novel and had in fact been employed as far back as the early 17th century.
[h/t Open Culture]