Jane Austen's Art and her Literary Reputation

"...an artist cannot do anything slovenly."
-- Jane Austen, letter of November 17, 1798
[On being told that Fanny Knight was reading her letters to Cassandra:]
"I am gratified by her having pleasure in what I write -- but I wish the knowledge of my being exposed to her discerning Criticism may not hurt my stile, by inducing too great a solicitude. I begin already to weigh my words and sentences more than I did, and am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration, or a metaphor in every corner of the room. Could my Ideas flow as fast as the rain in the store-closet it would be charming."
-- letter of January 24, 1809

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This is pretty much a disorganized collection of comments by Jane Austen and others (mainly 19th century); there is no High LitCrit ("yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible" -- Northanger Abbey, chapter 16). See also Poems on Jane Austen.

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    Jane Austen's declarations on her own art.

    "I flatter myself, however, that you can understand very little of it from this description. -- Heaven forbid that I should ever offer such encouragement to Explanations as to give a clear one on any occasion myself!"
    -- Jane Austen, letter of June 2 1799

    Jane Austen never wrote down a serious self-conscious analysis or manifesto of her artistic powers and goals, so that all we have are incidental statements in some of her letters. These are frequently facetious, or part of informal letters to family members (in Mr. Clarke's case she was tactfully trying to get rid of a bore), and should not necessarily be taken as solemn statements of deeply-held views.

    Jane Austen's correspondence with Mr. Clarke

    James Stanier Clarke was the Prince Regent's librarian, and transmitted to her the Prince's request that she dedicate her next work (Emma) to him, an honour that Jane Austen would probably rather have done without (see her letter on the infidelities of the Prince and his wife). Some of Mr. Clarke's "helpful" suggestions showed up in the Plan for a Novel. [More complete versions of these letters, as printed in Austen-Leigh's Memoir, are also available on-line.]

    November 16th, 1815, J. S. Clarke to Miss Austen:
    "...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 & the Country... -- Fond of and entirely engaged in Literature -- no man's Enemy but his own."
    December 11th 1815, Jane Austen to J. S. Clarke:
    "I am quite honoured by your thinking me capable of drawing such a clergyman as you gave the sketch of... 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 be on subjects of science and philosophy, of which I know nothing; or must occasionally be abundant in allusions and quotations which a woman who, like me, knows only her mother tongue, and has read very 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 justice to your clergyman; and I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and ill-informed female who ever dared to be an authoress."
    March 27th, 1816, J. S. Clarke to Miss Austen:
    "The Prince Regent has... been pleased to appoint me Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the Prince of Cobourg. 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 very interesting."
    April 1st 1816, Jane Austen to J. S. Clarke:
    "You are 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 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 other."
    "Knows only her mother tongue":
    This was false; she knew French, at least, fairly well.
    "Has read very little":
    Also false -- see "Jane Austen's Life".
    Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg:
    He was engaged to the Prince Regent's daughter. After their marriage, she soon died in childbirth; he later became the first King of Belgium, and an adviser to Queen Victoria.


    Advice to her niece Anna on Novel-Writing

    Anna was working on a novel of her own at the time, and showed manuscripts to Jane Austen and Cassandra. These comments reveal some of the principles that Jane Austen followed in her own writings (see "Limitations"). [The complete text of these letters is also available on-line.]

    August 10th 1814:
    "...we [Cassandra and herself] think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland, but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. Stick to Bath and the Foresters. There you will be quite at home."
    "I have scratched out Sir Thos. from walking with the other men to the stables, &c. the very day after his breaking his arm -- for, though I find your papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book."
    September 9th 1814:
    "You describe a sweet place, but your descriptions are often more minute than will be liked. You give too many particulars of right hand & left."
    "You are now collecting your People delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life; -- 3 or 4 Families in a Country village is the very thing to work on -- & I hope you will write a great deal more, & make full use of them while they are so very favourably arranged."


    December 16th 1816, to James Edward Austen

    This comment to her nephew has been famous (or infamous) since its publication in her brother Henry's "Biographical Notice" in 1817, even though it is probably one of the most facetious of all her proclamations, in its way:

    "What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety and Glow? -- How could I 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?"


    The "Defense of the Novel"

    In Jane Austen's era, novels were often depreciated as trash; Coleridge's opinion was that "where the reading of novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of the powers of the mind". But Jane Austen once wrote in a letter that she and her family were "great Novel-readers, & not ashamed of being so", and in her novel Northanger Abbey she gives her "Defense of the Novel" (even though she is also making fun of the falseness to real life of many novels of the era throughout Northanger Abbey).

    It has been pointed out that most novel-writers and the majority of novel readers were women (thus in another passage Jane Austen calls Fanny Burney a "sister author"), while the "Reviewers", the "nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England", and the anthologist of "some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior" would all have been men. So in Jane Austen's day, novels actually had something of the same reputation that mass-market romances do today.

    ``The progress of the friendship between Catherine [Morland] and Isabella was quick as its beginning had been warm... and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. Yes, novels; -- for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding -- joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens, -- there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. "I am no novel-reader -- I seldom look into novels -- Do not imagine that I often read novels -- It is really very well for a novel." -- Such is the common cant. -- "And what are you reading, Miss --?" "Oh! it is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.''
    Alexander Pope, 1688-1744, a poet. Not a favorite of Marianne Dashwood's in Sense and Sensibility.
    Matthew Prior, 1664-1721, a poet and diplomat.
    A series of essays originally published 1711-1712. Jane Austen attacks this favorite of the literary elites as being open to much the same accusations which the elites make against popular novels.


    Jane Austen's Limitations

    "Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort."
    -- Mansfield Park
    "I have read [Byron's] The Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do."
    -- Jane Austen, letter of March 5, 1814

    Jane Austen limited her subject-matter in a number of ways in her six novels (though her early Juvenilia and her letters often did not conform to these limitations; that she knew about a number of things she did not choose to treat in her novels can also be seen from her glancing allusions to such topics as slavery). Many of these limitations are due to her artistic integrity in not describing what she herself was not personally familiar with (or in avoiding clichéd plot devices common in the literature of her day).

    [?] Search the text of Jane Austen's six novels
    • She never handles the (conventionally masculine) topic of politics.
    • She never uses servants, small tradesmen, cottagers, etc. as more than purely incidental characters. Conversely, she does not describe the high nobility (the highest ranking "on-stage" characters are baronets), and (unlike present-day writers of modern "Regency" novels, or some of her contemporaries) she does not describe London high society.
    • She confines herself to the general territory that she herself has visited and is familiar with (more or less the southern half of England). (See her advice to her niece.)
    • In her novels there is no violence (the closest approaches are the duel between Colonel Brandon and Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, in which neither is hurt, and the indefinite menacements of the Gypsies towards Harriet Smith and Miss Bickerton in Emma), and no crime (except for the poultry-thief at the end of Emma).
    • She never uses certain hackneyed plot devices then common, such as mistaken identities, doubtful and/or aristocratic parentage, and hidden-then-rediscovered wills. In Emma, Harriet Smith's parentage is actually not very mysterious (as Mr. Knightley had suspected all along). Jane Austen had exuberantly parodied this type of plot in Henry and Eliza, one of her Juvenilia:
      [Wife to husband:] "Four months after you were gone, I was delivered of this Girl, but dreading your just resentment at her not proving the Boy you wished, I took her to a Haycock and laid her down. A few weeks afterwards, you returned, and fortunately for me, made no enquiries. Satisfied within myself of the wellfare of my Child, I soon forgot that I had one, insomuch that when we shortly afterward found her in the very Haycock I had placed her, I had no more idea of her being my own than you had."
    • In Jane Austen's works there is hardly any male sexual predation or assaults on female virtue -- a favorite device of novelists of the period (even in a novel such as Burney's Evelina, which has no rapes or abductions to remote farmhouses, this is a constant theme). The only possible case is the affair between Willoughby and the younger Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility (about which little information is divulged in the novel) -- since Lydia Bennet of Pride and Prejudice and Maria Bertram of Mansfield Park more or less throw themselves at George Wickham and Henry Crawford respectively. Also, the elder Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility is more likely tempted astray because she is a weak personality trapped in a wretchedly unhappy marriage (remember that almost the only grounds for divorce was the wife's infidelity), rather than because of any extraordinary arts or persuasions used by her seducer. And finally, whatever the complex of motives involved in the Mrs. Clay-Mr. Elliot affair in Persuasion, it can hardly be regarded as the seduction of a female by a sexually predatory male. In Jane Austen's last incomplete fragment, Sanditon, it is true that Sir Edward Denham likes to think of himself as a predatory male, but he is described as such an ineffectual fool that it is difficult to believe that he would have accomplished any of his designs against the beauteous Clara Brereton, if Jane Austen had finished the work.
      Note that all these affairs take place entirely "off-stage" (except for a few encounters of flirtation between Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford, long before she runs away with him), and are not described in any detail.
    • No one dies "on stage" in one of her novels, and almost no one dies at all during the main period of the events of each novel (except for Lord Ravenshaw's grandmother in Mansfield Park and Mrs. Churchill in Emma).
      The illnesses that occur (Jane's in Pride and Prejudice and Louisa Musgrove's in Persuasion) are not milked for much pathos (Marianne's in Sense and Sensibility is a partial exception, but Marianne is condemned for bringing her illness on herself). And Mrs. Smith in Persuasion (who takes a decidedly non-pathetic view of her own illness) pours cold water on Anne Elliot's ideas of the "ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, [...] heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation" to be found in a sick-room. And in Sanditon, written while she was suffering from her own eventually-fatal illness, Jane Austen made fun of several hypochondriac characters.
      (See also the parody of an affecting sick-room scene she wrote when she was seventeen years old.)
    • "Mrs. F. A. has had one fainting fit lately; it came on as usual after eating a hearty dinner, but did not last long."
      -- Jane Austen, letter of January 7 1807
      The only person who actually faints in one of Jane Austen's novels is the silly Harriet Smith of Emma (since one rather suspects the genuineness of the "fainting fit" that Lucy Steele is reported to have been driven into by the furious Mrs. John Dashwood, after the discovery of Lucy's engagement to Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility). On three occasions, Fanny Price of Mansfield Park imagines to herself that she is on the point of fainting, and once Elinor Dashwood thinks that her sister Marianne is about to faint, but neither Fanny or Marianne ever does. And Elinor Dashwood, at one critical moment in Sense and Sensibility, feels herself to be "in no danger of an hysterical fit or a swoon".
      Jane Austen's parsimony in faintings in her novels does not apply to her Juvenilia, where she mocks the propensity to faint of the conventional novel-heroine of the day. So Elfrida in Frederic & Elfrida "fainted & was in such a hurry to have a succession of fainting fits, that she had scarcely patience enough to recover from one before she fell into another".
    • Notoriously, Jane Austen hardly ever quotes from a conversation between men with no women present (or overhearing). However, despite some assertions that she never includes such dialogue, there is at least one clear example -- a briefly-described encounter between Sir Thomas Bertram and Edmund in Mansfield Park. (A less clear possibility is Sir Thomas Bertram's chiding of his son Tom when he has to sell the Mansfield clerical "living", in Chapter 3 of Mansfield Park.)
    • She is also sparing of describing the internal thoughts and emotions of male characters (thus in Pride and Prejudice, much of Darcy's admiration for Elizabeth Bennet is expressed by means of convenient conversations with Caroline Bingley).
    • She is very sparing with physical descriptions of people and places (except to some degree in her last novel, Persuasion).
    • She tends to glide over the more passionately romantic moments of her characters, not describing closely lovers' embraces and endearments. So in the marriage proposal scene in Pride and Prejudice the quoted dialogue breaks off just before the critical point, giving way to the following report: "He [Darcy] expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do". Similarly in Emma: "She spoke then, on being so entreated [with a proposal]. What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does."
      In fact Jane Austen had something of an aversion to sappy language; thus in Pride and Prejudice she has Mrs. Gardiner question conventional romantic language (in fact, the very same expression "violently in love" that Austen saw fit to fob us off with later in the novel in the proposal scene!). Even in her more "romantic" last novel Persuasion, she still ruthlessly cut out Wentworth's line "Anne, my own dear Anne!" from her earlier draft, and replaced it with less pointed narration in the final version of the text; and she almost makes fun of her heroine Anne Elliot:
      "Prettier musings of high-wrought love and eternal constancy could never have passed along the streets of Bath, than Anne was sporting with from Camden Place to Westgate Buildings. It was almost enough to spread purification and perfume all the way."
      And in a letter of November 8th 1796, Jane Austen wrote "I have had a... letter from Buller; I was afraid he would oppress me with his felicity & his love for his wife, but this is not the case; he calls her simply Anna without any angelic embellishments".
    • Her heroines also famously never leave the family circle.

    One minor but interesting point is that, though Jane Austen never used a Jewish character, or discussed Judaism in any way in her writings, she manages to strike a blow against anti-Semitism anyway -- her sole mention of Jews is the phrase "as rich as a Jew", used repetitively in Northanger Abbey by John Thorpe (one of the most obnoxious and ridiculous characters in all her novels); significantly, the heroine Catherine Morland does not at first understand what he means.


    Jane Austen's literary reputation.

    Though she always had her admirers, Jane Austen was not the most popular or most highly-praised novelist of her era (none of her novels were reprinted in English between 1818 and 1831), and she was not generally considered a great novelist until the late nineteenth century (see Southam). During her lifetime, Sir Walter Scott boosted Jane Austen through his review of Emma, but nowadays it is Jane Austen who is used to boost Sir Walter Scott -- Jane Austen's comments (in a personal letter of September 28th, 1814) on Scott's Waverley have been used as a back cover blurb for recent reprintings of Scott's novel.

    *Go to 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Jane Austen.

    The ideal and the improbable vs. the real

    One thing that many contemporary readers felt to be lacking in Jane Austen's novels was their failure to be `instructive' (i.e. to teach a moral), or `inspirational' (that is "to elevate mankind by their depiction of ideal persons, even in defiance of the known realities of ordinary life" -- Southam, p.14). Jane Austen makes fun of such didactic tendencies in her ending to Northanger Abbey: "I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny or reward filial disobedience." In her last work (Sanditon), she has a very foolish character (Sir Edward Denham) criticize novels like those she herself writes as "vapid tissues of Ordinary occurrences from which no useful Deductions can be drawn". Jane Austen also once said (in a letter of March 23 1816) that "pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked", and she satirized the frequent lack of realism in the literature of the day in her Plan of a Novel: "there will be no mixture... the Good will 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". (See also quotes from Jane Austen on the "heroic" (i.e. falsely idealized) vs. the "natural".)

    What many other contemporary readers did admire in Jane Austen's novels was their plausibility and depiction of real life -- as opposed to the sensationalism, unlikely meetings between long-lost relatives, villainous aristocratic would-be ravishers, etc. that were the stock in trade of much of the literature of the period.

    Thus one Anne Romilly wrote in 1814 that

    "Mansfield park...has been pretty generally admired here, and I think all novels must be that are true to life which this is... It has not however that elevation of virtue, something beyond nature, that gives the greatest charm to a novel."

    In the Opinions of Mansfield Park, Jane Austen recorded the comments of one Lady Gordon:

    "In most novels you are amused for the time with a set of Ideal People whom you never think of afterwards or whom you the least expect to meet in common life, whereas in Miss A----'s works, & especially in M[ansfield] P[ark] you actually live with them, you fancy yourself one of the family; & the scenes are so exactly descriptive, so perfectly natural, that there is scarcely an Incident, or conversation, or a person, that you are not inclined to imagine you have at one time or other in your Life been a witness to, borne a part in, & been acquainted with."

    In a letter of May 1813, soon after the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Annabella Milbanke (later Lady Byron) wrote in a letter that

    "I have finished the Novel called Pride and Prejudice, which I think a very superior work. It depends not on any of the common resources of novel writers, no drownings, no conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs and parrots, nor chambermaids and milliners, nor rencontres [duels] and disguises. I really think it is the most probable I have ever read. It is not a crying book, but the interest is very strong, especially for Mr. Darcy. The characters which are not amiable are diverting, and all of them are consistently supported."

    In 1815 one William Gifford wrote

    "I have for the first time looked into P. and P.; and it is really a very pretty thing. No dark passages; no secret chambers; no wind-howlings in long galleries; no drops of blood upon a rusty dagger -- things that should now be left to ladies' maids and sentimental washerwomen." (See also Henry Tilney's gothic parody from Northanger Abbey.)


    Sir Walter Scott, Review of "Emma"

    In 1816 Sir Walter Scott reviewed Emma, as being one of "a class of fictions which has arisen almost in our own times, and which draws the characters and incidents introduced more immediately from the current of ordinary life than was permitted by the former rules of the novel", and "copying from nature as she really exists in the common walks of life, and presenting to the reader, instead of the splendid scenes of an imaginary world, a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him".

    Sir Walter Scott journal entry, March 14th 1826

    Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. 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!



    The following is part of a lecture the novelist Anthony Trollope gave in 1870 (in which he also expresses the Victorian sentiment that "Throughout all [Jane Austen's] works, a sweet lesson of homely household womanly virtue is ever being taught.").

    "Miss Austen was surely a great novelist. What she did, she did perfectly. Her work, as far as it goes, is faultless. She wrote of the times in which she lived, of the class of people with which she associated, and in the language which was usual to her as an educated lady. Of romance, -- what we generally mean when we speak of romance -- she had no tinge. Heroes and heroines with wonderful adventures there are none in her novels. Of great criminals and hidden crimes she tells us nothing. But she places us in a circle of gentlemen and ladies, and charms us while she tells us with an unconscious accuracy how men should act to women, and women act to men. It is not that her people are all good; -- and, certainly, they are not all wise. The faults of some are the anvils on which the virtues of others are hammered till they are bright as steel. In the comedy of folly I know no novelist who has beaten her. The letters of Mr. Collins, a clergyman in Pride and Prejudice, would move laughter in a low-church archbishop."


    Charlotte Brontë's Letters

    Her letter of January 12th 1848 to George Lewes (in response to his advice to her, after the publication of her novel Jane Eyre to write less melodramatically, like Jane Austen):

    ``Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would rather have written Pride and Prejudice or Tom Jones, than any of the Waverley novels?

    I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I had read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped [photographed] portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck [stream]. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you. but I shall run the risk.

    Now I can understand admiration of George Sand [Lucie Aurore Dupin]...she has a grasp of mind which, if I cannot fully comprehend, I can very deeply respect: she is sagacious and profound; Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant.''

    Letter of January 18th 1848 to George Lewes (in response to his reply to the preceding):

    ``You say I must familiarise my mind with the fact that "Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no ``sentiment''" (you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas), "has no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry"; and then you add, I must "learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived".

    The last point only will I ever acknowledge. ... Miss Austen being, as you say, without "sentiment", without poetry, maybe is sensible (more real than true), but she cannot be great.''

    Newsflash: Research by P. H. Wheat recently (1992) turned up the following lost paragraph to this letter, in which Charlotte Brontë expresses her preference for Jane Austen over one Eliza Lynn Lynton:

    ``With infinitely more relish can I sympathise with Miss Austen's clear common sense and subtle shrewdness. If you find no inspiration in Miss Austen's page, neither do you find mere windy wordiness; to use your words over again, she exquisitely adapts her means to her end; both are very subdued, a little contracted, but never absurd.''

    Letter of April 12th 1850 to W.S. Williams:

    "I have likewise read one of Miss Austen's works, Emma -- read it with interest and with just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable -- anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, or heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress."

    *Go to another Charlotte Brontë quote on Austen.


    Random Deprecatory Quotes

    "I... do not think the worse of him for having a brain so very different from mine. ... And he deserves better treatment than to be obliged to read any more of my works."
    -- Jane Austen, letter of March 23 1817

    Here are some deprecatory quotes on Austen:

    Mark Twain:
    "Jane Austen's books, too, are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn't a book in it."
    -- Following the Equator
    Ralph Waldo Emerson:
    "I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. ... All that interests in any character [is this]: has he (or she) the money to marry with? ... Suicide is more respectable."
    Cardinal Newman (1837):
    "Miss Austen has no romance... What vile creatures her parsons are!"

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