Sunday, 4 March 2012

Jane Austen - What Do you Really Know about Her?

For any one who writes Regency romances or aspires to such, it really is worth getting a copy of Jane Austen’s Letters. The letters are invaluable for finding out prices of goods and fare during the Regency era, and of course, she reveals so much about life in her time.

Below is a snippet (copied exactly) from a letter by Jane Austen to Anna Austen, inclusive spelling mistakes and grammatical errors: note the humour in Jane’s voice alongside encouragement bestowed upon Anna’s writing.

BTW: Jane’s spelling within other letters is shocking!! She was obviously never taught the rhyme of I before E except after C… And her sister Cassandra commits similar literary sins. That said, I thought this letter was highly amusing re Jane’s witty comments about other authors.

…You have been perfectly right in telling Ben of your work, & I am very glad to hear he likes it. His encouragement & approbation must be quite “beyond everything.” — I do not at all wonder at his not expecting to like anybody so well as Cecilia at first, but shall be surprised if he does not become a Susan-ite in time. — Devereux Forester’s being ruined by his Vanity is extremely good; but I wish you would not let him plunge into a “vortex of Dissipation”. I do not object to the Thing, but I cannot bear the expression; it is such thorough novel slang — and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened. — Indeed I did very much like to know Ben’s opinion. — I hope he will continue to be pleased with it, I think he must — but I cannot flatter him with there being much Incident. We have no great right to wonder at his not valueing the name of Progillian. That is a source of delight which he hardly ever can be quite competent to. — Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. — It is not fair. — He has Fame & Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. — I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it. — but fear I must. — I am quite determined however not to be pleased with Mrs West’s Alicia de Lacy, should I ever meet with it, which I hope I may not. — I think I can be stout against any thing written by Mrs West. — I have made up my mind to like no Novels really but Miss Edgeworth’s, Yours & my own. —  …

As an aside: do you recognise this passage and in which of Jane’s titles does it feature? It’s taken from an original publication, not a modern revised edition by 20th century editor.   

She looked round the room. The window curtains seemed in motion. It could be nothing but the violence of the wind penetrating through the divisions of the shutters; and she stepped boldly forward, carelessly humming a tune, to assure herself of its being so, peeped courageously behind each curtain, saw nothing on either low window-seat to scare her, and on placing a hand against the shutter, felt the strongest conviction of the wind’s force. A glance at the old chest, as she turned away from this examination, not without its use; she scorned the causeless fears of an idle fancy, and began with a most happy indifference to prepare herself for bed.

Don’t you just love her rambling convoluted sentences...    

I love Jane Austen's letters as much as I love her novels. When reading her private thoughts and asides one hears her true voice, aside from her narrator voice. She was critical of other writers, but in a comic manner. One can even hear a touch of envy in one or two of her more brittle comments, but she conveys admiration too for fellow writers of her day and of those who were penning novels before she began her writings, such as Mrs Radcliffe's Gothic tomes, and Sir Walter Scott. Who we can ponder, inspired her writings?

To obtain a copy of J's letters go here. This particular book compiled by Diedre le Faye is superb, even to the finite details of page numbering and scribbled items Jane penned in margins, headers & footers.