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Written by Kay S
(2/20/2003 2:34 p.m.)
The bio by Honan I’m reading offers some interesting theories on origins/influences of Jane’s juvenilia. According to Honan, Jane’s earliest writings were ‘jokes’, that is, small comedies written for the amusement of her family. For literary inspiration – and constructive criticism – Jane looked to her older brothers at Oxford. James and Henry Austen published an Oxford literary magazine called The Loiterer in the style of Addison and Steele. The Loiterer featured poems, stories, and clever articles that Jane surely read. Some people – including Honan – believe that Jane herself authored at least one letter published in The Loiterer, in which she chided the publication for failing to include articles of interest to ladies.
According to Honan, The Loiterer reflected James and Henry’s distaste for Whiggism – a distaste they shared with the pro-Tory Austen family including Jane. I am extremely ignorant about 18th century British politics, but I believe that Tories generally supported a strong monarchy and traditional class structure, while Whigs favored a stronger House of Commons and the merchant class? If anyone out there could enlighten me I’d appreciate it. Interestingly, James and Henry in The Loiterer associated novel-reading with their stereotype of a lazy Whig Oxford student idly lolling about in coffee houses all day. The Loiterer was apparently very harsh on novels in general. This makes me think of Jane’s amazing defence of the novel in Northanger Abbey - surely she could have had James’ and Henry’s views in mind?
So it seems likely that James, Henry, and The Loiterer influenced Jane’s early writing. Honan goes on to say that James marked up some of Jane’s early manuscripts, so there is proof as well as logical conjecture that she received constructive criticism from her brothers.
One last interesting tidbit - Honan says that the Austens regarded James as ‘the literary one’ in the family.
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