QUOTES: Jane Austen - Family Memoirs and Letters
At least two memoirs exist from Austen's own family members: Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh, and
Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (the latter drawing in large part from the former). These are filled with vivid descriptions of Austen and her circle, and the second includes extensive selections from her surviving letters, which are quoted in a separate section below.
"James has chosen a second wife in the person of Miss Mary Lloyd, who is not either rich or handsome, but very sensible and good humoured. . . . Jane seems much pleased with the match, and it is natural she should, having long known and liked the lady."
"Cassandra had the merit of having her temper always under command, but that Jane had the happiness of a temper which never required to be commanded."
She must, one would think, have had in her mind her brother Charles—as he had been twelve or fourteen years earlier—when she drew so charming a sketch of a young sailor in William Price.
There can be no doubt that by his bright and lovable nature [Henry] contributed greatly to the happiness of his sister Jane. She tells us that he could not help being amusing, and she was so good a judge of that quality that we accept her opinion of Henry's humour...
[Henry Austen] began by making use of his former classical knowledge to take up a serious study of the New Testament in the original language.
He seems to have been in advance of his age in this respect; for when he went to be examined by the Bishop, that dignitary, after asking him such
questions as he thought desirable, put his hand on a book which lay near him on the table, and which happened to be a Greek Testament, and said:
'As for this book, Mr. Austen, I dare say it is some years since either you or I looked into it."
I never heard of his equal, nor do I expect again to see such a
man. To the soundest judgment he united prompt decision and speedy
execution of his plans; and he possessed in a superior degree the happy
talent of making every class of persons pleased with their situation,
and eager to exert themselves in forwarding the public service.
Frank Austen on the death of Admiral Nelson
Jane Austen Observed
"The youngest [Jane] is very like her brother Henry, not at all pretty and very prim, unlike a girl of twelve.......The more I see of Cassandra the more I admire [her]. Jane is whimsical and affected."
The talent and liveliness which she would show, if ever she had an opportunity of acting herself, may be imagined. The late Sir William
Heathcote is said to have remembered being with her at a Twelfth Night party when he was a little boy, on which occasion she, having drawn the
part of Mrs. Candour, acted it with appreciation and spirit.
Miss Mitford, in a paragraph showing some hostility to Jane Austen, tells us that her own mother... knew Jane as 'the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butterfly she ever remembers.' It is perhaps a sufficient answer to this attack if we remark that when Mrs. Mitford married and left her home Jane was barely ten years old, and that at a date two years later she was accused by a cousin of being 'prim.'
Jane, then just sixteen years old, presented to Mary Lloyd an interesting specimen of her own needlework—still existing. It is a very small bag, containing a yet smaller rolled-up housewife furnished with minikin needles and fine
"I remember Jane Austen the novelist as a little child. ... When I knew Jane Austen I never suspected that she was an authoress, but my eyes told me that she was fair and handsome, slight and elegant, but with cheeks a little too full." [Sir Egerton Brydges, author and genealogist]
...leaving Jane with her parents at Lyme. We have it on record that Jane loved the sight of the beauties of nature so much that she would
sometimes say she thought it must form one of the joys of heaven; but she had few opportunities of visiting any scenes of especial beauty. We
need not therefore be surprised that the impression produced by Lyme was so great that she retained a vivid and accurate memory of the details
eleven years afterwards.
Hers was a mind well balanced on a basis of good sense, sweetened by an affectionate heart, and regulated by fixed principles; so that she was to be distinguished from many other amiable and sensible women only by that peculiar genius which shines out clearly . . . in her works.
We learn something of her process from an eyewitness, her niece Marianne Knight, who related her childish remembrances of her aunt not very many years ago. 'Aunt Jane,'she said, 'would sit very quietly at work beside the fire in the Godmersham library, then suddenly burst out laughing,
jump up, cross the room to a distant table with papers lying upon it, write something down, returning presently and sitting down quietly to her work again.' She also remembered how her aunt would take the elder girls into an upstairs room and read to them something that produced peals of laughter, to which the little ones on the wrong side of the door listened, thinking it very hard that they should be shut out from hearing what was so delightful! The laughter may have been the result of the second novel then published, for there is an entry in Fanny Knight's diary: 'We finished Pride and Prejudice'; or it may have been caused by a first introduction to Aunt Norris and Lady Bertram. Happy indeed were those who could hear their creator make her characters 'speak as
they ought.' The dramatic element in her works is so strong that for complete enjoyment on a first acquaintance it is almost indispensable that they should be read aloud by some person capable of doing them justice. She had this power herself, according to the concurrent testimony of those who heard her, and she handed it on to her nephew,the author of the Memoir.
Jane's person is thus described for us by her niece Anna, now becoming a grown-up girl and a keen observer: 'The figure tall and slight, but not
drooping; well balanced, as was proved by her quick firm step. Her complexion of that rare sort which seems the particular property of light brunettes; a mottled skin, not fair, but perfectly clear and healthy; the fine naturally curling hair, neither light nor dark; the bright hazel eyes to match, and the rather small, but well-shaped, nose.' This is a delightful description; but she adds that in spite of all this, her aunt was not regularly handsome, though most attractive.As to her charm and lovableness there is absolute unanimity among all those who were near enough to her to know what she really was. Jane had
by this time seen a good deal of society, and enjoyed it, though with a certain critical aloofness which belonged to her family, and which was hardly to be avoided by so clever a person as herself. This critical spirit was evidently a quality of which she endeavoured to rid herself as of a fault; and one of her nieces, who was too young to know her aunt intimately, until almost the end of her life, was able then to say: 'She was in fact one of the last people in society to be afraid of. I do not suppose she ever in her life said a sharp thing. She was naturally shy and not given to talk much in company, and people fancied, knowing that she was clever, that she was on the watch for good material for books from their conversation. Her intimate friends knew how groundless was the apprehension and that it wronged her.'
How intensely Jane loved and admired her is shown by some lines which she wrote on December 16, 1808--the anniversary both of her own birth and of the sudden death of her friend, killed by a fall from her horse in 1804. It has sometimes been assumed that the self-restraint in expressions of affection to be found throughout Jane's published writings, and the self-control they display in matters of emotion, arises from the fact that in the writer's nature there were no very ardent affections to be restrained, and no overpowering emotions to be suppressed. These lines [quoted in the original] show the baselessness of such an assumption."Cassandra and Jane are both very much grown (the latter is now taller than myself), and greatly improved as well in manners as in person, both of which are now much more formed than when you saw them. They are I think equally sensible and both so to a degree seldom met with, but still my heart gives the preference to Jane, whose kind partiality to me indeed requires a return of the same nature."
"A friend of mine who visits her now, says that she has stiffened into the most perpendicular, precise, taciturn piece of 'single blessedness' that ever existed, and that, till Pride and Prejudice showed what a precious gem was hidden in that unbending case, she was no more regarded in society than a poker or a fire-screen, or any other thin, upright piece of wood or iron that fills the corner in peace and quietness. The case is very different now: she is still a poker--but a poker of whom every one is afraid. It must be confessed that this silent observation from such an observer is rather formidable."
"The next day we walked over to Chawton to make enquiries after our aunt. She was then keeping her room, but said she would see us, and we went up to her. She was in her dressing-gown, and was sitting quite like an invalid in an arm-chair, but she got up and kindly greeted us, and then, pointing to seats which had been arranged for us by the fire, she said 'There is a chair for the married lady, and a little stool for you, Caroline.' It is strange, but those trifling words were the last of hers that I can remember, for I retain no recollection of what was said by anyone in the conversation that ensued. I was struck by the alteration in herself. She was very pale, her voice was weak and low, and there was about her a general appearance of debility and suffering; but I have been told that she never had much acute pain. She was not equal to the exertion of talking to us, and our visit to the sick room was a very short one, Aunt Cassandra soon taking us away. I do not suppose we stayed a quarter of an hour; and I never saw Aunt Jane again."
Her secret authorship
In September 28 there is the following entry in Fanny Austen's diary: 'Letter from At. Cass to beg we would not mention that Aunt Jane wrote Sense and Sensibility.' This looks as if it were still on the eve of publication, and it was not in fact advertised until October.
Sometimes the niece would skim over new novels at the Alton Library, and reproduce them with wilful exaggeration. On one occasion she threw down a novel on the counter with contempt, saying she knew it must be rubbish from its name. The name was Sense and Sensibility--the secret of which had been strictly kept, even from her.
Jane Austen's literary work was done mainly in the general sitting-room: liable at any moment to be interrupted by servants, children, or visitors—to none of whom had been entrusted the secret of her authorship. Her small sheets of paper could easily be put away or covered with blotting-paper, whenever the creaking swing-door (which she valued for that reason) gave notice that anyone was coming.
How intensely Jane loved and admired her is shown by some lines which she wrote on December 16, 1808--the anniversary both of her own birth and of the sudden death of her friend, killed by a fall from her horse in 1804. It has sometimes been assumed that the self-restraint in expressions of affection to be found throughout Jane's published writings, and the self-control they display in matters of emotion, arises from the fact that in the writer's nature there were no very ardent affections to be restrained, and no overpowering emotions to be suppressed. These lines [quoted in the original] show the baselessness of such an assumption.
Anna was a very intelligent, quick-witted child, and, hearing the original draft of Pride and Prejudice read aloud by its youthful writer to her sister, she caught up the names of the characters and repeated them so much downstairs that she had to be checked; for the composition of the story was still a secret kept from the knowledge of the elders.
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The letters of one of the world's great writers must often have been indistinguishable from those written by far more obscure women of the time, being largely filled with family and local matters - not without benefit to her readers, since she crafted this otherwise banal material into novels whose power often belies the genteel environments described. Still, flashes of the observer and the satirist can be found in those which survived her sister Cassandra's culling. Much as the latter makes modern afficionados wince, the Austen-Leighs provide one fair justification for consigning some to the flames:
We must also remember that the correspondence was between sisters who knew, each of them, what the other was thinking, and could feel sure
that nothing one might say would be misapprehended by the other; and the sort of freemasonry which results from such a situation adds to the difficulty of perfect comprehension by outsiders. Jane, too, was a mistress of subtle irony: the inveterate playfulness which is constantly cropping up in her books appears also in her letters. Secure of her correspondent, she could pass criticisms, impute motives, and imagine circumstances which would have been very far from her nature had she thought it possible that any less perfectly informed third person couldsee them.
At least Jane did not, like Willa Cather, systematically retrieve and destroy the greater part of her own correspondance, and many riches remain.
The earliest of Jane's letters which have survived date from the year 1796. They begin at Steventon in the middle of their winter engagements, and when Tom Lefroy was in the foreground.
I do not undertake to be good to her children. She had better not leave any.
Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.
Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret, and only known to half the neighbourhood, you must not mention it.
I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.
I shall be able to send this to the post to-day, which exalts me to the utmost pinnacle of human felicity, and makes me bask in the sunshine of prosperity, or gives me any other sensation of pleasure in studied language which you may prefer.
I am tolerably glad to hear that Edward's income is a good one—as glad as I can be at anybody's being rich except you and me—
You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ashe Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert's servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not...
Staffordshire is a good way off; so we shall see nothing more of them till, some fifteen years hence, the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine, jolly, handsome, ignorant girls.
He accidentally shot himself through the thigh. Two young Scotch surgeons in the island were polite enough to propose taking off the thigh at once, but to that he would not consent...
People were rather apt not to ask me till they could not help it; one's consequence, you know, varies so much at times without any particular reason. There was one gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good-looking young man, who, I was told, wanted very much to be introduced to me; but as he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, we never could bring it about.
The little flaw of having a mistress now living with him at Ashdown Park seems to be the only unpleasing circumstance about him.
We had charming weather, hardly any dust, and were exceedingly agreeable, as we did not speak above once in three miles.
How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!
I should like to see Miss Burdett very well, but that I am rather frightened by hearing that she wishes to be introduced to me. If I am a wild beast I cannot help it. It is not my own fault.
It gives us great pleasure to know that the Chilham ball was so agreeable, and that you danced four dances with Mr. Kemble. Desirable, however, as the latter circumstance was, I cannot help wondering at its taking place. Why did you dance four dances with so stupid a man?
You have never thanked me for my last letter, which went by the cheese. I cannot bear not to be thanked.
She has an idea of your being remarkably lively, therefore get ready the proper selection of adverbs and due scraps of Italian and French.
He was married at Clifton to a Miss Lewis, whose father had been late of Antigua. I should very much like to know what sort of a woman she is. He was a piece of perfection--noisy perfection--himself, which I always recollect with regard. ..... I could wish Miss Lewis to be of a silent turn and rather ignorant, but naturally intelligent and wishing to learn, fond of cold veal pies, green tea in the afternoon, and a green window-blind at night.
She wore her purple muslin, which is pretty enough, though it does not become her complexion. There are two traits in her character which are pleasing—namely, she admires Camilla, and drinks no cream in her tea.
She appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband, and fat neck. The two Miss Coxes were there; I traced in one the remains of the vulgar, broad-featured girl who danced at Enham eight years ago; the other is refined into a nice, composed-looking girl, like Catherine Bigg. I looked at Sir Thomas Champneys and thought of poor Rosalie; I looked at his daughter, and thought her a queer animal with a white neck.
She is not so pretty as I expected; her face has the same defect of baldness as her sister's, and her features not so handsome; she was highly rouged, and looked rather quietly and contentedly silly than anything else.
I cannot anyhow continue to find people agreeable; I respect Mrs. Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but cannot feel a more tender sentiment. Miss Langley is like any other short girl, with a broad nose and wide mouth, fashionable dress and exposed bosom. Adm. Stanhope is a gentlemanlike man, but then his legs are too short and his tail too long.
The Miss Ballards are said to be remarkably well-informed; their manners are unaffected and pleasing, but they do not talk quite freely enough to be agreeable, nor can I discover any right they had by taste or feeling to go their late tour.
Had I chosen to stay longer [I] might have danced with ... a new odd-looking man who had been eyeing me for some time, and at last, without any
introduction, asked me if I meant to dance again. I think he must be Irish by his ease, and because I imagine him to belong to the hon[orable] B.'s, who
are the son, and son's wife of an Irish viscount, bold queer-looking people, just fit to be quality at Lyme.
Like other young ladies she is considerably genteeler than her parents.... she is very converseable in a common way; I do not perceive wit or genius, but she has sense and some degree of taste, and her manners are very engaging. She seems to like people rather too easily.
Poor Mrs. Stent! it has been her lot to be always in the way; but we must be merciful, for perhaps in time we may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves, unequal to anything, and unwelcome to everybody.
Owing to a difference of clocks the coachman did not bring the carriage so soon as he ought by half an hour; anything like a breach of punctuality was a great offence, and Mr. Moore was very angry, which I was rather glad of.
He came back in time to show his usual nothing-meaning, harmless, heartless civility.
He waits extremely well, is attentive, handy, quick and quiet, and in short has a great many more than all the cardinal virtues (for the cardinal virtues in themselves have been so often possessed that they are no longer worth having)...
She is a poor honey— the sort of woman who gives me the idea of being determined never to be well and who likes her spasms and nervousness, and the consequence they give her, better than anything else.
I like the mother—first, because she reminds me of Mrs. Birch; and, secondly, because she is cheerful and grateful for what she is at the age of ninety and upwards.
She is a large, ungenteel woman, with self- satisfied and would-be elegant manners.
We saw a countless number of post-chaises full of boys pass by yesterday morning—full of future heroes, legislators, fools, and villains.
I return to my letter-writing from calling on Miss Harriot Webb, who is short and not quite straight and cannot pronounce an r any better any better than her sisters; but she has dark hair, a complexion to suit, and, I think, has the pleasantest countenance and manner of the three--the most natural.
She is a nice, natural, open-hearted, affectionate girl, with all the ready civility which one sees in the best children in the present day; so unlike anything that I was myself at her age...
There was a monstrous deal of stupid quizzing and common-place nonsense talked, but scarcely any wit....
The Miss M.'s were as civil and as silly as usual.
Yesterday was a very quiet day with us; my noisiest efforts were writing to Frank, and playing battledore and shuttlecock with William; he and I have practised together two mornings, and improve a little...
There were two pools at commerce, but I would not play more than one, for the stake was three shillings, and I cannot afford to lose that twice in an evening.
Lansdown. This morning we have been to see Miss Chamberlayne look hot on horseback. Seven years and four months ago we went to the same riding-house to see Miss Lefroy's performance! What a different set are we now moving in!
The Manydown ball was a smaller thing than I expected, but it seems to have made Anna very happy. At her age it would not have done for me.
One of my gayest actions was actions was sitting down two dances in preference to having Lord Bolton's eldest son for my partner, who danced too ill to be endured. The Miss Charterises were there, and played the parts of the Miss Edens with great spirit.
Mary and I, after disposing of her father and mother, went to the Liverpool Museum and the British Gallery, and I had some amusement at each, though my preference for men and women always inclines me to attend more to the company than the sight.
Our first object to-day was Henrietta St., to consult with Henry in consequence of a very unlucky change of the play for this very night— Hamlet instead of King John— and we are to go on Monday to Macbeth instead; but it is a disappointment to us both.
They revelled last night in Don Juan, whom we left in hell at half-past eleven. We had scaramouch and a ghost, and were delighted. I speak of them; my delight was very tranquil, and the rest of us were sober-minded.
We were quite satisfied with Kean. I cannot imagine better acting, but the part was too short; and, excepting him and Miss Smith, and she did not quite answer my expectation, the parts were ill filled and the play heavy.
S[tephens], and her merit in singing is, I dare say, very great; that she gave me no pleasure is no reflection upon her, nor, I hope, upon myself, being what Nature made me on that article. All that I am sensible of in Miss S. is a pleasing person and no skill in acting.
The Clandestine Marriage was the most respectable of the performances, the rest were sing-song and trumpery; but it did very well for Lizzie and Marianne, who were indeed delighted, but I wanted better acting.
I do not think she was quite equal to my expectations. I fancy I want something more than can be. I took two pocket-handkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either. She is an elegant creature, however, and hugs Mr. Young delightfully.
Our ball was very thin, but by no means
unpleasant. There were thirty-one people, and
only eleven ladies out of the number, and but
five single women in the room. Of the gentlemen
present you may have some idea from the list of my
partners--... Mr. Temple (not the horrid
one of all), ... and Mr. Calland, who appeared as usual with his hat in his
hand, and stood every now and then behind
Catherine and me to be talked to and abused for
not dancing. We teased him, however, into it at
last. I was very glad to see him again after so
long a separation, and he was altogether rather
the genius and flirt of the evening. He enquired
There were twenty dances, and I danced them all,
and without any fatigue. I was glad to find myself
capable of dancing so much, and with so much
satisfaction as I did; from my slender enjoyment
of the Ashford balls (as assemblies for dancing) I
had not thought myself equal to it, but in cold
weather and with few couples I fancy I could just
as well dance for a week together as for half an
hour. My black cap was openly admired by Mrs.
Lefroy, and secretly I imagine by everybody else
in the room.
I enjoyed Edward's company very much, as I said before, and yet I was not sorry when Friday came. It had been a busy week, and I wanted a few days' quiet and exemption from the thought and contrivancy which any sort of company gives.
It was the same room in which we danced fifteen years ago. I thought it all over, and in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then.
'A pleasing-looking young woman'—that must do; one cannot pretend to anything better now; thankful to have it continued a few years longer!
By-the-bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many douceurs in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the sofa near the fire, and can drink as much wine as I like.
I have a great respect for former Sweden, so zealous as it was for Protestantism. And I have always fancied it more like England than other countries; and, according to the map, many of the names have a strong resemblance to the English.
He is come back from France, thinking of the French as one could wish—disappointed in everything. He did not go beyond Paris.
Love and marriage
Had her first marriage been one of affection, or had there been a grown-up daughter, I should not have forgiven her; but I consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their lives for love, if they can, and provided she will now leave off having bad headaches and being pathetic, I can allow her, I can wish her, to be happy.
I have no scruple in saying that you cannot be in love. My dear Fanny, I am ready to laugh at the idea, and yet it is no laughing matter to have had you so mistaken as to your own feelings. And with all my heart I wish I had cautioned you on that point...
Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony, but I need not dwell on such arguments with you, pretty dear.
Such letters, such entertaining letters, as you have lately sent! such a description of your queer little heart! such a lovely display of what imagination does! You are worth your weight in gold, or even in the new silver coinage.
Sickness is a dangerous indulgence at my time of life.
Evening.—I was languid and dull and very bad company when I wrote the above; I am better now, to my own feelings at least, and wish I may be more agreeable.
My attendant is encouraging, and talks of making me quite well. I live chiefly on the sofa, but am allowed to walk from one room to the other. I have been out once in a Sedan- chair, and am to repeat it, and be promoted to a wheel-chair as the weather serves.
I always take care to provide such things as please my own appetite, which I consider as the chief merit in housekeeping. I have had some ragout veal, and I mean to have some haricot mutton to-morrow. We are to kill a pig soon.
...some pease-soup, a sparerib, and a pudding.
...follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate, coffee, and tea, plum cake, pound cake, hot rolls, cold rolls, bread and butter, and dry toast for me.
I enjoyed the hard black frosts of last week very much, and one day while they lasted walked to Deane by myself.
Our plan is to have a nice black frost for walking to Whitchurch, and then throw ourselves into a post chaise, one upon the other, our heads hanging out at one door and our feet at the opposite one.
The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through rain. The sun was got behind everything, and the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion.
I am sorry my mother has been suffering, and am afraid this exquisite weather is too good to agree with her. I enjoy it all over me, from top to toe, from right to left, longitudinally, perpendicularly...
There, I flatter myself I have constructed you a smartish letter, considering my want of materials, but, like my dear Dr. Johnson, I believe I have dealt more in notions than facts.
He has more of Cowper than of Johnson in him— fonder of tame hares and blank verse than of the full tide of human existence at Charing Cross.
We have got Fitz-Albini; my father has bought it against my private wishes, for it does not quite satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton's works of which his family are ashamed. That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume. My father is disappointed—I am not, for I expected nothing better. Never did any book carry more internal evidence of its author. Every sentiment is completely Egerton's. There is very little story, and what there is is told in a strange, unconnected way. There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated.
How good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard words, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment. Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.
The man describes well, but is horribly anti-English. He deserves to be the foreigner he assumes.
Ida of Athens, by Miss Owenson, which must be very clever, because it was written, as the authoress says, in three months. We have only read the preface yet, but her Irish Girl does not make me expect much.
Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked; but there is some very good sense in what he says, and I particularly respect him for wishing to think well of all young ladies; it shows an amiable and a delicate mind.
Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people's mouths.
I do not like him, and do not
As for his opinion of her, here is a comment from Sir Walter Scott's diary:
The big Bow-Wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!'
Her own work
No, indeed, I am never too busy to think of S. and S. I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child...
She really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know.
I was previously aware of what I
should be laying myself open to; but the truth is
that the secret has spread so far as to be
scarcely the shadow of a secret now, and that, I
believe, whenever the third appears, I shall not
even attempt to tell lies about it. I shall rather
try to make all the money than all the mystery I
can of it. People shall pay for their knowledge if
I can make them. Henry heard P. and P. warmly
praised in Scotland by Lady Robert Kerr and
another lady; and what does he do, in the warmth
of his brotherly vanity and love, but immediately
tell them who wrote it? A thing once set going in
that way--one knows how it spreads, and he, dear
creature, has set it going so much more than once.
After all, what a trifle it is, in all its
bearings, to the really important points of one's
existence, even in this world.
Her liking Darcy and Elizabeth is enough. She might hate all the others if she would.
Upon the whole, however, I am quite vain
enough and well-satisfied enough. The work [Pride and Prejudice] is
rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it
wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and
there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be
had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about
something unconnected with the story; an essay on
writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the
history of Buonaparte, or anything that would form
a contrast, and bring the reader with increased
delight to the playfulness and epigrammatism of
the general style.
Captain F. Austen liked [Emma] extremely, observing that though there might be more wit in P. and P. and an higher morality in M. P., yet altogether, on account of its peculiar air of Nature throughout, he preferred it to either.
Henry has this moment said that he likes my M. P. better and better; he is in the third volume. I believe now he has changed his mind as to foreseeing the end; he said yesterday, at least, that he defied anybody to say whether H. C. would be reformed, or would forget Fanny in a fortnight.
In addition to their standing claims on me they admire Mansfield Park exceedingly. Mr. Cooke says 'it is the most sensible novel he ever read,' and the manner in which I treat the clergy delights them very much.
Miss D. has a great idea of being Fanny Price—she and her youngest sister together, who is named Fanny.
The politeness and perspicuity of your letter equally claim my earliest exertion. Your official opinion of the merits of Emma is very valuable and satisfactory.
Whatever may be my wishes for [Emma's]success, I am very strongly haunted by the idea that to those readers who have preferred Pride and Prejudice it will appear inferior in wit; and to those who have preferred Mansfield Park, very inferior...
It encourages me to depend on the same share of general good opinion which "Emma's" predecessors have experienced, and to believe that I
have not yet, as almost every writer of fancy does sooner or later, overwritten myself.
Two chapters and a half to be missing is monstrous! It is well that I have not been at Steventon lately, and therefore cannot be suspected of purloining them: two strong twigs and a half towards towards a nest of my own would have been something. I do not think,
however, that any theft of that sort would be
really very useful to me. What should I do with
your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of
variety and glow? How could I possibly join them
on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on
which I work with so fine a brush, as produces
little effect after much labour?
You will be glad to hear that every copy of S. and S. is sold, and that it has brought me £140, besides the copyright, if that should ever be of any value. I have now, therefore, written myself into £250, which only makes me long for more.
Profits of my novels, over and above the £600 in the Navy Fives.
Residue from the 1st edit. of _Mansfield Park_
remaining in Henrietta St., March 1816 13 7
Received from Egerton, on 2nd edit. of _Sense
and S._, March 1816 12 15
February 21, 1817, First Profits of _Emma_ 38 18
March 7, 1817. From Egerton--2nd edit. of _S.
and S._ 19 13
Miss Hare had some pretty caps, and is to make me one like one of them, only white satin instead of blue. It will be white satin and lace, and a little white flower perking out of the left ear, like Harriot Byron's feather. I have allowed her to go as far as £1 16s. My gown is to be trimmed everywhere with white ribbon plaited on somehow or other. She says it will look well. I am not sanguine. They trim with white very much.
You distress me cruelly by your request about books. I cannot think of any to bring with me, nor have I any idea of our wanting them. I come to you to be talked to, not to read or hear reading; I can do that at home; and indeed I am now laying in a stock of intelligence to pour out
on you as my share of the conversation. I am
reading Henry's History of England, which I will
repeat to you in any manner you may prefer, either
in a loose, desultory, unconnected stream, or
dividing my recital, as the historian divides it
himself, into seven parts
Let me know when you begin the new tea, and the new white wine. My present elegancies have not yet made me indifferent to such matters. I am still a cat if I see a mouse.
I have been listening to dreadful insanity. It is Mr. Haden's firm belief that a person not musical is fit for every sort of wickedness. I ventured to assert a little on the other side, but wished the cause in abler hands.
My dear Anna,—I am very much obliged to you for sending your MS. It has entertained me extremely; all of us, indeed. I read it aloud to your Grandmama and Aunt Cass, and we were all very much pleased. The spirit does not droop at all.
I think we are just the kind of people and party to be treated about among our relations; we cannot be supposed to be very rich.
What is become of all the shyness in the world? Moral as well as natural diseases disappear in the progress of time, and new ones take their place. Shyness and the sweating sickness have given way to confidence and paralytic complaints.
I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.
Frank has got a very bad cough, for an Austen; but it does not disable him from making very nice fringe for the drawing-room curtains.
Wednesday.—I sent my answer by them [the Moores] to Mrs. Knight; my double acceptance of her note and her invitation, which I wrote without effort, for I am rich, and the rich are always respectable, whatever be their style of writing.
If her friends had written her novels...
Authors are subject to suggestions, and Austen, surrounded by a broad circle of family and friends, was no exception. Here was her (global) response.
Had she followed all the advice given her by her friends, she would have
produced something very different from either Northanger Abbey or
Persuasion. It must have been in the course of the year 1816 that she
drew up the following 'plan of a novel, according to hints from various
quarters,' adding below the names of the friends who gave the hints.
Scene to be in the country. Heroine, the daughter
of a clergyman: one who, after having lived
much in the world, had retired from it, and
settled on a curacy with a very small fortune of
his own. He, the most excellent man that can be
imagined, perfect in character, temper, and
manners, without the smallest drawback or
peculiarity to prevent his being the most
delightful companion to his daughter from one
year's end to the other. Heroine, a faultless
character herself, perfectly good, with much
tenderness and sentiment and not the least
wit, very highly accomplished,
understanding modern languages, and (generally
speaking) everything that the most accomplished
young women learn, but particularly excelling in
music--her favourite pursuit--and playing equally
well on the pianoforte and harp, and singing in
the first style. Her person quite beautiful,
dark eyes and plump cheeks. Book to open with the
description of father and daughter, who are to
converse in long speeches, elegant language, and a
tone of high serious sentiment. The father to be
induced, at his daughter's earnest request, to
relate to her the past events of his life. This
narrative will reach through the greater part of
the first volume; as besides all the circumstances
of his attachment to her mother, and their
marriage, it will comprehend his going to sea as
chaplain to a distinguished naval character
about the Court; his going afterwards to Court
himself, which introduced him to a great variety
of characters and involved him in many interesting
situations, concluding with his opinion of the
benefits of tithes being done away, and his having
buried his own mother (heroine's lamented
grandmother) in consequence of the High Priest of
the parish in which she died refusing to pay her
remains the respect due to them. The father to be
of a very literary turn, an enthusiast in
literature, nobody's enemy but his own; at the
same time most zealous in the discharge of his
pastoral duties, the model of an exemplary parish
priest. The heroine's friendship to be sought
after by a young woman in the same neighbourhood,
of talents and shrewdness, with light eyes and a
fair skin, but having a considerable degree of
wit; heroine shall shrink from the
acquaintance. From this outset the story will
proceed and contain a striking variety of
adventures. Heroine and her father never above a
fortnight together in one place: he being
driven from his curacy by the vile arts of some
totally unprincipled and heartless young man,
desperately in love with the heroine, and pursuing
her with unrelenting passion. No sooner settled in
one country of Europe than they are necessitated
to quit it and retire to another, always making
new acquaintance, and always obliged to leave
them. This will, of course, exhibit a wide variety
of characters, but there will be no mixture. The
scene will be for ever shifting from one set of
people to another; but all the goodwill be
unexceptionable in every respect, and there will
be no foibles or weaknesses but with the wicked,
who will be completely depraved and infamous,
hardly a resemblance of humanity left in them.
Early in her career, in the progress of her first
removal, heroine must meet with the hero--all
perfection, of course, and only prevented from
paying his addresses to her by some excess of
refinement. Wherever she goes somebody falls in
love with her, and she receives repeated offers of
marriage, which she always refers wholly to her
father, exceedingly angry that heshould
not be first applied to. Often carried away by the
anti-hero, but rescued either by her father or the
hero. Often reduced to support herself and her
father by her talents, and work for her bread;
continually cheated and defrauded of her hire;
worn down to a skeleton, and now and then starved
to death. At last, hunted out of civilised
society, denied the poor shelter of the humblest
cottage, they are compelled to retreat into
Kamschatka, where the poor father, quite worn
down, finding his end approaching, throws himself
on the ground, and, after four or five hours of
tender advice and parental admonition to his
miserable child, expires in a fine burst of
literary enthusiasm, intermingled with invectives
against holders of tithes. Heroine inconsolable
for some time, but afterwards crawls back towards
her former country, having at least twenty narrow
escapes of falling into the hands of anti-hero;
and at last, in the very nick of time, turning a
corner to avoid him, runs into the arms of the
hero himself, who, having just shaken off the
scruples which fettered him before, was at the
very moment setting off in pursuit of her. The
tenderest and completest éclaircissement takes
place, and they are happily united. Throughout the
whole work heroine to be in the most elegant
society, and living in high style. The name
of the work not to be Emma, but of same
sort as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and
The following excerpts are from a curious exchange of a type that nonetheless may be familiar to modern writers - a writer dealing with a "fan's" demands - or even fantasies. In this case, we get a good look at Austen's tact (and sly wit), since she was obliged to avoid offending an otherwise importunate correspondant. Whatever his personal vanities, he was the Prince Regent's librarian, Mr. Clarke (a clergyman), and their exchanges began with his passing on permission for Austen to dedicate a work to the Regent, and with her attempting to clarify her leeway in this. The excerpts which follow, however, are on very different subjects.
Accept my sincere thanks for the pleasure your
volumes have given me: in the perusal of them I
felt a great inclination to write and say so. And
I also, dear Madam, wished to be allowed to ask
you to delineate in some future work the habits of
life, and character, and enthusiasm of a
clergyman, who should pass his time between the
metropolis and the country, who should be
something like Beattie's Minstrel:--
Silent when glad, affectionate tho' shy,
Neither Goldsmith, nor La Fontaine in his Tableau
de Famille, have in my mind quite delineated an
English clergyman, at least of the present day,
fond of and entirely engaged in literature, no
man's enemy but his own. Pray, dear Madam, think
of these things.
And now his look was most demurely sad;
And now he laughed aloud, yet none knew why.
Believe me at all times with sincerity and respect,
Your faithful and obliged servant,
J. S. CLARKE, Librarian.
I am quite honoured by your thinking me
capable of drawing such a clergyman as you gave
the sketch of in your note of November 16th. But I
assure you I am not. The comic part of the
character I might be equal to, but not the good,
the enthusiastic, the literary. Such a man's
conversation must at times be on subjects of
science and philosophy, of which I know nothing;
or at least occasionally abundant in quotations
and allusions which a woman who, like me, knows
only her own mother tongue, and has read little in
that, would be totally without the power of
giving. A classical education, or at any rate a
very extensive acquaintance with English
literature, ancient and modern, appears to me
quite indispensable for the person who would do
any justice to your clergyman; and I think I may
boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the
most unlearned and uninformed female who ever
dared to be an authoress.
Believe me, dear Sir,
Your obliged and faithful hum[ble] Ser[vant]
let us have an English clergyman after your
fancy--much novelty may be introduced--show, dear
Madam, what good would be done if tythes were
taken away entirely, and describe him burying his
own mother, as I did, because the High Priest of
the Parish in which she died did not pay her
remains the respect he ought to do. I have never
recovered the shock. Carry your clergyman to sea
as the friend of some distinguished naval
character about a Court, you can then bring
forward, like Le Sage, many interesting scenes of
character and interest.
Perhaps when you again appear in print you may chuse to
dedicate your volumes to Prince Leopold: any
historical romance, illustrative of the history of
the august House of Cobourg, would just now be
You are very, very kind in your hints as to the
sort of composition which might recommend me at
present, and I am fully sensible that an
historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe
Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of
profit or popularity than such pictures of
domestic life in country villages as I deal in.
But I could no more write a romance than an epic
poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a
serious romance under any other motive than to
save my life; and if it were indispensable for me
to keep it up and never relax into laughing at
myself or at other people, I am sure I should be
hung before I had finished the first chapter. No,
I must keep to my own style and go on in my own
way, and though I may never succeed again in that,
I am convinced that I should totally fail in any
I remain, my dear Sir,
Your very much obliged, and sincere friend,