When you’re an Austen geek, you’re an Austen geek.
One of my favorite breakout sessions from the just-concluded Jane Austen Society of North America conference focused on how successive editors of Mansfield Park handled six contested passages.
Two editions of MP were printed in Austen's lifetime, and we know that Austen made changes between the 1814 and 1816 versions. But whether all the changes in the 1816 edition reflect her choices, rather than printers’ errors or the intervention of other hands, is an open question.
In his presentation, the admirably lucid Peter Sabor of McGill University parsed the subtle differences of tone and nuance between “an usual noise” and “unusual noise,” or “received an affectionate smile” and “revived an affectionate smile.”
Examining the work of six different scholarly editors working between 1923 and 2005, Sabor seemed to prefer editions that hewed as closely as possible to either the 1814 or the 1816 MP and that kept creative editorial interpolations to a minimum. He reserved his greatest scorn for editors who failed to flag their own changes, leaving readers no way to tell that Jane Austen wrote “and talked to” rather than “and talked to him.”
I found it all utterly fascinating. But if you’re thinking “who cares?” – well, I guess you’re not an Austen geek.