Jane Austen Archives #AustenInAugustRBR

Today, we welcome the wonderful Chris from Book Cougars, who is here with an absolutely fascinating discussion of Jane Austen archives. Stop by again tomorrow for a special giveaway sponsored by Chris!

The other day it dawned on me that I had no idea if there is a publicly available digital archive of Jane Austen’s manuscripts or papers. I set off to find out via Google. 

A search for “Jane Austen archives” netted 8,160,000 results. The first half dozen results were hits on the Internet Archive which led to various texts by or about Austen. (Do check out archive.org if you’re not familiar — set a timer though, because you might find yourself going down a deep rabbit hole.)

The second to the last result on the first page was what I had in mind — “Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts”. This resource is the result of a three-year project funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council. Led by Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University, a team of researchers set out to digitize and make available online all of Jane Austen’s manuscripts. This is no small task when a collection is in one location, let alone scattered in various institutions on different continents.

Why aren’t Jane Austen’s manuscripts in one place?

After her death in 1817, Jane’s papers passed on to her sister Cassandra. As is widely known and wildly lamented, Cassandra burned the bulk of Jane’s letters in 1843. After Cassandra’s death in 1845, Jane’s manuscripts and papers were dispersed among family members. Then, in the 1920s, they were scattered among various institutions and private collections.

What’s the big deal about manuscripts?

Manuscripts are invaluable for what they can tell us about a writer’s creative process and growth. Writers don’t always save early drafts of their work in progress. It is fascinating to see what changes a writer makes on a draft: different word choices made, sentences sharpened, whole paragraphs or more cut, sentences added between lines or in the margins. It is amazing that some of Jane Austen’s manuscripts have survived for 200 years.

It can be a magical experience seeing a favorite writer’s handwriting for the first time. Looking at a handwritten manuscript helps you picture them sitting at their desk, pen in hand, forming letters, words, beloved lines, and whole pages of a well-loved story. And then they pause and gaze out the window or perhaps come back to the page the next day and cross out whole lines because they’ve thought of a better way to write what they want to stay, like this example of Persuasion.

You can see the actual manuscript on the right and the transcription with Jane’s edits on the left.

Prior to digital archives, it was time and cost prohibitive for scholars to visit these scattered manuscripts in person. By bringing the manuscripts together in this “virtual reunification,” opportunities for studying Austen’s creative process have become accessible to all for the first time. 

Unfortunately, digital files and the technology used to display them as intended are often much shorter lived than good old paper files. This is the case if you want to see a larger, zoomable image on “Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts.” The site was created using Adobe Flash Player for such display, a technology which is no longer supported. There is an editorial note on the home page explaining this and stating that they are looking for a new display option. However, don’t let that stop you from checking out the site. You can still see smaller images of the documents and read the transcription such as this example of a note Jane wrote.

If there are images you would like to see in full or zoom in on, there might be other options. The owner of each manuscript presented on “Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts” is listed. For example, the note “Profits of my Novels” is owned by the Morgan Library & Museum in NYC. You can access the digital copy on the Morgan’s site, zoom in, and also read details about the document in the accompanying notes. Below is a zoomed in screenshot of the note. Click the image to explore Jane’s note for yourself.

Professor Sutherland also edited a hardcover edition of the project which was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press: Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts

There might be more Jane Austen digital archives out there, but this one will keep me busy during this year’s Austen in August. Do you enjoy poking around on digital archives? If you do, whether they are Austen related or not, please share your favorite(s)! 

Thanks so much, Chris, for this interesting exploration! Austenites, remember to stop by again tomorrow, August 5th, for our first event giveaway, generously offered by Chris.

Austen In August Year 10! #AustenInAugustRBR


Welcome to the Master Post for our 10th Annual Austen in August event! This is a one-month event focused on all things Jane Austen, including her primary texts, any re-imaginings of her works, biographies, critical texts, etc. In mid-June, I announced sign-ups for the event, and was excited to discover that people are ready to come back to Jane! I know many of you, like me, have been anxious to get started, so thank you all for your interest, for signing-up, and for spreading the word.

I have a few things planned for this month-including giveaways, guest posts, and, of course, my own reading and reviewing of Jane Austen works. I plan to share some favorite posts from years past, too, in celebration of an entire decade of this event!

There’s also a group read of Mansfield Park happening this month, so if you haven’t picked a text, that might be a good one!  

First, let’s talk logistics: Whenever you review a book or write a post related to the event, please link it in the comments section of this master post and include some kind of title or description. This will ensure that others will know what your post is about before they click on it. Please make sure to only link-up your posts in the comments on this main post!

Whenever you link a post, you will become eligible to win the giveaways that I will be hosting here throughout the month. The only way to be entered for these prizes is to make sure your posts are linked-up here (this includes reviews of the books you’ve read, commentary on Austen topics, giveaways, or any other posts directly related to this event).

There are also going to be giveaways hosted by participants of the event (thank you for your generosity!). Specific details for each of these giveaways may be different, so be sure to read the rules on those giveaway posts carefully and enter if you are interested! For any of the giveaways, here or at other participants’ blogs, you will need to be pre-registered (by August 3rd) for this event in order to win. 

Be sure to use #AustenInAugustRBR to chat about this event on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc. 

Are you participating? What are you planning to read? Let us know in the comments! 

Human Nature by Serge Joncour

Set in 1999, as France prepares to welcome a new millennium, the country is battered by storms. But holed up on the farm where he and his three sisters grew up, Alexandre seems less afraid of the weather than of the police turning up. Alone in the darkness, he reflects on the end of a rural way of life he once thought would never change. And his thoughts return to the baking hot summer of 1976, when he met Constance, an environmental activist who fell for the beauty of the countryside and was prepared to use any means to save it.

Human Nature by Serge Joncour, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie, will be published on August 8, 2022 (Gallic Books).

The original edition of Human Nature won the 2020 Prix Femina. It is an impassioned, ambitious novel that charts three decades of political, social, and environmental upheaval in rural France, where Joncour’s previous novel, Wild Dog, was also set. Told through the lives of a French farming family, Joncour explores the delicate bond between the human and natural worlds as they threaten to snap.

Joncour is interested in the different relationships people have with nature depending on whether they live in the countryside or an urban environment. He offers a critique of globalization, corporate greed, and the notion of progress—adapt or die. Human Nature will stir up conversation and debate about commonplace things like supermarkets, highways, urban environmentalism, intensive agriculture, productivity, mad cow, and livestock disease.  

About the Author: Serge Joncour is a French novelist and screenwriter. He was born in Paris in 1961 and studied Philosophy at university before deciding to become a writer. His 2016 novel Repose-toi sur moi won the Prix Interallie and was published in English in March 2022 under the title, Lean on Me. He lives in Paris.

About the Translator: Louise Rogers Lalaurie is a translator from the French and the author of Matisse: The Books. Her translations have been shortlisted for the CWA Daggers and Best Translated Book awards.

Many thanks to Meryl Zegarek Public Relations for the review copy of this book.

Crush by Richard Siken

I read Richard Siken’s Crush mostly on the recommendation of a co-worker, though I’ve owned the collection for quite some time (as evidenced by the fact that it ended up on my TBR Pile Challenge list this year!) I’m glad to have read it, though it wasn’t what I expected.

Given the title of the book, its praise as a notable work of gay poetry, and, yes, the collection’s cover image, I fully expected this collection to be about love. Sure, maybe a gnarly kind of love, but love poems nonetheless. Then I read Louise Glück’s ruminations in the Foreword. Here’s what she had to say:

“If panic is his ground note, Siken’s obsessive focus is a tyrant, the body. His title, Crush, suggests as much. In the dictionary, among the word’s many meanings, ‘to press between opposing obdies so as to break or injure; to oppress; to break, pound, or grind.’ Or, as a noun, ‘extreme pressure.’ Out of this cauldron of destruction, its informal meaning: infatuation, the sweet fixation of girl on boy. In Siken, boy on boy . . . The risk of obsessive material is that it may get boring, repetitious, predictable, shrill. And the triumph of Crush is that it writhes and blazes while at the same time holding the reader utterly: ‘sustaining interest’ seems far too mild a term for this effect. What holds is sheer art, despite the apparent abandon.”

Louise Glück

“It writes and blazes.” That’s it, exactly. And as you’ll see from her marvelous introduction, she begins with that action verb: not just crush, but “to crush.” There is a force and physicality to these poems, not just in their subjects, in which force, even brutality, is certainly present, but in the delivery. Siken intends that these poems will hit the psyche, the heart, the soul, and they do.

This is one of few poetry collections that I longed to re-read as soon as I finished it. (This is not to say that I don’t re-read poetry. I do, all the time. But I usually want a nice, long break between re-reading.) I felt almost desperate to revisit these to make sure I felt and understood them, and because I think I almost numbed myself to receiving them on the first read through. And then I went out and immediately ordered another Siken collection, War of the Foxes.

Crush won the 2004 Yale Younger Poets prize and was acclaimed not only by one of my favorite poets, Louise Gluck, but also by one of my favorite writers of all-time, Dennis Cooper. It was almost a given that I’d fall in love with this collection, and that I’d be disturbed by that fact if I thought about it too hard. But with poems like “A Primer for the Small Weird Loves” and “Little Beast,” how could I resist being crushed?

Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us. / These, our bodies, possessed by light. / Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

from “Scheherazade”

If you haven’t read Richard Siken, what are you waiting for?

Crush is Book 7 completed for my 2022 TBR Pile Challenge.

Interview: Poet Carolyn Oliver

About the Poet

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome to the blog, poet Carolyn Oliver! Carolyn has three new books out this year, including one full-length poetry collection and two chapbooks.

Carolyn Oliver’s poems appear in The Massachusetts Review, Indiana Review, Cincinnati Review, Radar Poetry, Shenandoah, Beloit Poetry Journal, 32 Poems, Southern Indiana Review, Cherry Tree, Plume, DIALOGIST, The National Poetry Review, and in many other journals. Carolyn is the winner of the E. E. Cummings Prize from the NEPC, the Goldstein Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review, the Writer’s Block Prize in Poetry, and the Frank O’Hara Prize from The Worcester Review. She lives in Massachusetts with her family.

The Interview

A.B. As I mentioned in my introduction above, you have three publications out this year, including two chapbooks and one full-length manuscript. What would you like readers to know about these three books before buying or reading them?

C.O. First, thank you so much for taking the time to ask these questions, Adam! So glad to have the chance to talk with you.

To your question: I hope readers know that I’m grateful to them for engaging with the poems! And I should note that the three books are quite different from each other—I don’t think I have settled into one particular style or subject (maybe I never will). Mirror Factory is composed entirely of persona poems; Dearling is a book about motherhood and the threat of loss; Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble is tricky to summarize (like many first collections, it follows a rough autobiographical arc); I suppose at its core it is about the ways love and grief are interconnected.

A.B. As a poet who is experiencing a successful publication year, is there anything that has surprised you about the writing or publication process(es)?

C.O. I think I was surprised, once it sunk in that the full-length manuscript really would be out in the world, at how vulnerable I felt (and still feel). While almost all the poems have appeared in journals or anthologies, it’s a different experience to have such them contained in one volume.

A.B. Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Your thoughts on things like solitude versus community? Social media and its influence on writing poetry?

C.O. I am a scattered and slow writer; if I can finish a poem in a week, that’s a good week. A phrase or a subject or a title (I rarely get a whole line at once) usually needs to percolate for a long time (a month, a year, two, three) before it bubbles up into a draft. Flash fiction feels looser, more playful; that tends to come faster. Longer fiction takes eons. I’m largely a solitary writer, by inclination and circumstance, though I cherish my writer friends and enjoy listening to or reading craft talks. Zoom readings have been such a gift (especially now that they can be captioned). And I’m glad for the experience and insight that editing a literary magazine (The Worcester Review) has provided.

Social media seems necessary, if one (a) is not already famous and (b) wishes to reach a wider audience than one’s acquaintances; and for me it’s intensely energy-sapping. I’m grateful to and admire writers who have the ability to build community on social media.

A.B. You and I “met” through book blogging many, many years ago. What are your thoughts on book blogging as a medium, now? Do you still write a blog? Read blogs? Was blogging an effective pathway to creative writing, for you, or is that something you were always doing anyway?

C.O. I started a book blog (many, many years ago, as you say) as a way to keep myself tethered to books and reading and fellow readers when early motherhood was slowly unspooling my ideas about myself and my life. I’m immensely grateful for the kind people I met and the books I read. I don’t write a blog anymore, because I need to guard my writing hours and energy. But I’ve been trying to write a book review or two every year (I agonize over them; it takes forever). And I do still keep an eye on the blogs of those who’ve stuck with it, like you and Rebecca at Bookish Beck and Eleanor at Elle Reads.

A.B. In addition to poetry, you also write prose, and have successfully published fiction and creative non-fiction. What are your thoughts about writing in multiple genres? Is this something that came naturally to you, or is it a struggle to move back and forth? Do you prefer one genre over another?

C.O. I’ve really only dipped a toe into the CNF pool, so I’ll limit my answer to fiction and poetry. When I started writing with the intention of sending work out into the world, I split my writing hours about 50-50 between fiction and poetry. That balance has shifted over time, and I’m still fine-tuning it.

I know some multi-genre writers find they work better in one genre during a certain season or a certain time of day; I wish I had that kind of system. Right now the balance has shifted toward poetry, with a bit of flash fiction or hybrid work. I have some longer fiction projects I’d like to return to, but finding a writing rhythm that will allow me to reliably drop into those projects has eluded me.

A.B. The perennial question, but one I’m always interested in as a writing teacher, is, what advice would you give for early/novice writers? If you could go back and say something to yourself when you were just getting started, what would it be?

C.O. What my earlier self would grumble at, and believe: Cultivate patience! With yourself, mostly. Also drafts—let them breathe a little before you send them out.* What my earlier self would grumble at, and not believe: Someday you will be grateful for the editors who declined work that wasn’t ready for publication.

*Still working on patience, in both respects.

A.B. What is your writing environment or atmosphere like? Do you have a dedicated space where you do your writing? Your editing and revision? Do you listen to music, or prefer silence? Is it important for you to control your writing space, or can you write anywhere?

C.O. I can read anywhere, take notes anywhere, but to write I do need relative silence and a block of what I know (or at least, believe) will be uninterrupted time. Focus, given my particular kind of neurodivergence, is tricky to come by.

When I started out, in an apartment inhabited by a lovable toddler impervious to sleep and no guestroom, my “office” was a wobbly table in the dining room, or the orange-now-yellow velvet chair that my friend J gave me before she moved out of state.

Now I write in an upstairs bedroom, which by square footage is roughly 40% guestroom, 30% library, 30% office. I’d like to be a minimalist, but I’m not, so the walls and shelves are covered with art and photos and postcards and various items of personal significance. I have a surprising number of rocks.

I write longhand drafts at a wonderful old desk I recently found on a neighborhood site (I don’t know anything about furniture, but I think it might be a student desk? The angled top lifts up and the sides are shelves. Heaven, all the storage). Once I switch to typed drafts, I write in the chair my dad gave me when I moved to Boston, with my laptop perched on the plastic lap desk I got for college 20 years ago (still has my dorm name on the back). I try not to stare out the window too much. Sometimes I succeed.

About the Book

Inside this debut collection, girlhood’s dangers echo, transmuted, in the poet’s fears for her son. A body just discovering the vastness of “want’s new acreage” is humbled by chronic illness. Epithalamion turns elegy. But this world that so often seems capricious in its cruelty also shelters apple orchards, glass museums, schoolchildren, century-old sharks; “there’s no accounting for / all we want to save, no names.” Oliver’s polyphonic gathering of speakers includes lovers and saints, painters and dead poets, a hawk and a mother. In varied forms (ghazals and prose poems, dialogues and erasures, bref double and Golden Shovel, among others) these poems bear witness to and seek reprieve from disasters at once commonplace and terrifying. “I can’t surface for every scalpel slice, / I need a dreamy estuary present,” she writes. Stumbling toward joy across time and space, these poems hum with fear and desire, bewildering loss, and love’s lush possibilities.

Buy the Book

University of Utah Press. IndieBound.

Your local independent bookstore! Some of Carolyn’s favorites:

Praise for Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble

“Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble is a marvelous book. It is at once both personal and political, searing and tender. On one page, these poems might skillfully speak to (and through) art and artists across centuries; next, they might tell a new story of Eve, contemplate the complications of America, or deftly chart the mysteries of the human spirit. Through it all, each poem is an event, and each event feels timeless and timely.” —Matthew Olzmann, author of Contradictions of Design

“In her marvelous debut collection, Carolyn Oliver brings the reader to the garden—the literal garden stalked by wasps, the metaphorical garden where Szymborska’s Polish consonants are ‘bunched like root vegetables’—a lush space of sweetness and growth but also danger. Oliver gives us the textures of a life, and the precariousness: the tremble, the crush, the dissolve, the fizzle. These are poems of the body and poems of the earth. What did I do when I finished this book? I immediately began it again.” —Maggie Smith, author of Goldenrod and Good Bones

“Wunderkammer and honey-laden hive, Carolyn Oliver’s Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble is a spectacular feat of craft and wonder. Within the finely articulated fury of each poem, we feel ‘time turn nimbus’ and, dizzied, delight in the strange splendors offered here: the body—tender, desirous, wracked with pain, pulsed with pleasure, undone and born again through time—and its threats of memory and grave knowledge; the promise and peril of beloved others intimate, familiar, strange, and lost, perhaps regained; doubt, failure, and the exercise of faith, the poems their own forms of query and prayer. Oliver’s is a voice we’ve been waiting to hear, her music tuned to worlds we suspect, perhaps sound, but never quite touch. What else to call this music but alchemy? O, how these poems gleam—bright gems!—with skies ‘of beaten gold.'” —Julie Phillips Brown, author of The Adjacent Possible

Other Books by Carolyn Oliver