Thursday 10 November 2022

The ! etc.

 There's a fascinating piece in the current Literary Review about, among other things, 'the evolution of the exclamation mark'. It's written by Florence Hazrat, who has made a speciality of this useful, expressive and much maligned punctuation mark, and is the author of An Admirable Point: A Brief History of the Exclamation Mark! In her Literary Review piece, she takes a look at Jane Austen's punctuation, and the great gulf between her manuscripts as written and her books as published, with respectable full stops, semicolons and quotation marks replacing the dashes, underlinings, abbreviations and exclamation marks of the handwritten original – and, in the process, squeezing much of the life out of her style. Here is a passage from Persuasion, as Austen wrote it: 

'You should have distinguished – replied Anne – You should not have suspected me now; – The case so different, & my age so different! – If I was wrong, in yeilding to Persuasion once, remember that it was to Persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of Risk. When I yeilded, I thought it was to Duty – But no Duty could be called in aid here. – In marrying a Man indifferent to me, all Risk would have been incurred, & all Duty violated.'

How very much livelier – more readable, indeed – that is than the tidied-up published version. Just imagine if Laurence Sterne had submitted to such 'correct' editing – what would survive? As a long-term fan of the dash and defender of the exclamation mark, I would far sooner read Jane Austen in the manuscript original, with all its brio and immediacy, than in the staid 'corrected' version. Is it possible to do so? Only, it seems, in the very expensive five-volume set of Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts edited by Kathryn Sutherland. A shame. 

1 comment:

  1. Supposedly F. Scott Fitzgerald said that using exclamation points was like laughing at your own jokes. In my twenties, I used them seldom, but I have gradually come to use them more often.

    And besides, in my family we often laugh at our own jokes.