Jane's World: A Literary Panorama

by Barry Baldwin

(This essay grew out of a talk given to the Jane Austen Society, Calgary branch, at the kind invitation of its members; I am happy here to re-live that most enjoyable afternoon.)

A nod for the title to Mike Myers, true exponent of Austin's Powers.

It is a truth NOT universally recognised that Jane Austen is an 18th-Century writer.

She is left out of the Penguin Dictionary of 18th Century History; on library shelves she rubs shoulders with Matthew Arnold rather than Joseph Addison; she pops up in the 19th-Century section of George Sampson's Concise Cambridge History of English Literature - I could go on.

Did this point ever occur to Jane herself? We have no letters from dates appropriate to raising it. It WAS raised by an older contemporary and rival Johsonianist, Hester Thrale Piozzi, against whom Jane (Letters 21 & 63) has a couple of epistolary digs, apropos 1800: "They fancy a new century begun, forgetting that Number ONE is the first of all numbers." A shame she was not here at our pseudo-millennial 2000.

Jane straddled the centuries. Still, 25 of her 42 years were spent in the 18th. Her 3-volumed Juvenilia, possibly begun at age 13, were complete by 1794, soon to be followed (most think - some prefer 1805) by her epistolary novel Lady Susan. This was also the decade of that extraordinary burst of first versions of P&P, S&S, and NA, i.e. 50% of her mature novels.

21 letters are quoted or alluded to in S&S, 44 in P&P, a plethora that persuades Brian Southam, Jane Austen's Literary MSS, that both novels were originally epistolary. Since the 1st MS of P&P is lost, we don't know what Jane "lop't and crop't." And do we draw a similar conclusion from the mass of correspondence in MP?

Emma, ch 9, pokes fun at the contemporary craze for riddles: "In THIS AGE of literature, SUCH collections on a very grand scale are not uncommon" - we can practically catch the sneer and the curled lip. A similar mockery informs Anne Elliot's response, Persuasion, ch 11, to Scott's Marmion and Lady of the Lake plus Byron's Giaour and Bride of Abydos, while I doubt it a coincidence that her philistine father should be called Sir Walter. In her letters, Jane reflects that she should have included a critique of Scott in P&P, including a joke about Lady in the Lake, and parodies a couplet of Marmion; Byron gets only a single mention, for his Corsair. A decade after her death, Scott, privately in his Diary for 14 March 1826, published by his biographer Lockhart, rhapsodised over Jane's "talent for descrribing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, the most wonderful I have ever met with." But his Quarterly Review notice of Emma was lukewarm, as were his allusions to P&P and S&S, while Jane, writing to her publisher John Murray, is exasperated that it ignored MP, thus making it ironic that this novel contains a flattering mention of the QR.

Persuasion, the novel mentioned in Kipling's honorific poem Jane's Wedding, bestrides the centuries. Its opening paragraph quotes the Elliot of Kellynch Hall entry in the Baronetage, Sir Walter's only reading: the 7 dates given are all 18th-Century. This is offset by the Scott-Byron seminar - a contrast to Marianne's zeal for Thomson and Cowper in S&S - also by mention of Trafalgar and all the maritime material, a clear case of Jane contemplating her navals. At least this shows that Jane did include contemporary events in her fiction, despite the disparaging by Tony Tanner's Penguin introduction to P&P: "During a decade in which Napoleon was effectively engaging, if not transforming, Europe, Jane Austen composed a novel in which the most important events are that a man changes his manners and a young lady changes her mind," though he does recognise that "She was brought up on 18th-Century thought and was fundamentally loyal to the respect for limits, definition, and clear ideas which it inculcated," thereby refuting the silly criticisms of her by Charlotte Bronte, Henry James, and D.H. Lawrence. Of course, to be disliked by the last two is a double compliment. Ironic that Lawrence should tap a quintessential Austen theme in his short story Daughters of the Vicar, viz. how to marry off the girls of an elderly indigent parson. I never thought these words would pass my lips, but Virginia Woolf got it right in The Common Reader: "Jane Austen is a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears on the surface," comparing her precision and economy to Sophocles' Electra.

Jane herself (Letters 113,113a,120a,126a) was pestered by the egregious Rev. James Stanier Clarke to write novels about heroic clergymen in sea-going settings - by no coincidence, Clarke himself was a naval chaplain; also, historical romances about the House of Saxe Coburg, to flatter the Prince Regent. She refuses in a way that allows no possibility of a change of heart, even if we detect a lacing of false modesty: "Science and philosophy, of which I know nothing...a woman like me, who knows only her mother tongue, and has read very little in that, may boast, with all possible vanity, to be the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress." Jane's profession of ignorance may also intend to distance herself from the Blue Stockings, a term that entered English c.1760; the movement is explored in Sylvia Myers' The Blue Stocking Circle (1990). Its leading figures were immortalised in Richard Samuels' 1778 Royal Academy painting The 9 Living Muses of Great Britain, depicting Apollo surrounded by: Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Carter, Elizabeth Griffith, Elizabeth Linley, Charlotte Lennox, Catharine Macauley, Angelica Kauffman, Hannah More, Anne Barbauld. True, the classical Muses were traditionally female, yet it remains striking that an 18th-Century man should honour women in this way.

Of this nonet, Jane deprecated Hannah More's novel Caelebs in Search of a Wife (1809), finding it spoiled by affectation, pedantry, and religiosity: "My disinclination for it before was affected, but now it is real; I do NOT like the Evangelicals" (Letter 65). There may be a further unspoken Austen-More link. The latter, along with Elizabeth Montagu, having patronised the milkwoman-poet Ann Yearsley in the good sense, then did so in the bad, provoking an acrimonious and public feud, which Donna Landry, The Muses of Resistance: Laboring-Class Women's Poetry in Britain 1739-1796 (1991) thinks is reflected in the "Heiress' disastrously misguided adoption of Harriet Smith in Emma.

Charlotte Lennox, on the other hand, Jane adored, finding (Letter 48) her Female Quixote (1752) as delightful on a second reading as on the first. Samuel Johnson thought Lennox the greatest woman novelist; she is one of the very few living authors cited in his Dictionary, suggestively s.v. Talent, alongside Swift. A titular Quixote naturally evokes Cervantes, first Englished around this time (1752) by doctor-novelist Tobias Smollett. It may also parody stuff like The Spiritual Quixote (1773), a novel glorifying early Methodist missionaries by the literary parson Richard Graves (1715-1804), the sort of thing Clarke wished Jane to do. She will have gone on preferring the purging by Lennox of romantic delusions from her heroine Arabella.

One thing that drew Jane to Tom Lefroy was his "very great admiration" for Tom Jones (Letter 3). But did she read any of the 4000 pages of fiction turned out by Fielding's Blue Stocking sister Sarah? In the words of Gerda Bree's Sarah Fielding and the Idea of Blue-Stocking Fiction (2001), she - as Emeril would say - kicked the 18th-Century novel up a notch or two by rejecting proto-Harlequin tales of love and passion for the philosophica/ethical/social issues that "make up the labyrinths of the human mind," including the dangerously vulnerable situation of genteel women left without paternal protection, an obvious Austen topic.

By way of sad contrast with Jane, Lennox lived to 84, More 88, Carter 88, Montagu 80, Fanny Burney 87 despite her mastectomy without anaesthetic, Hester Thrale-Piozzi 80, actor David Garrick's widow 98. Various letters (44.62,145 - the last just before her death) suggest Jane did not aspire to such longevity, defining old ladies as "unequal to anything and unwelcome to everybody." One hopes this sentiment was shared by another working-class woman poet, Mary Leapor, dead (1746) at 24.

Did Clarke really expect the ultimate parson hero from the creator of Mr Collins? Overall, her concern was with Conduct, not Religious Experience, often using the word Mind but rarely Soul, possibly influenced by the Earl of Shaftesbury's (1671-1713) Inquiry Concerning Virtue - a point elaborated by philosoper Gilbert Ryle's Jane Austen & the Moralists. It is NICE - to venture a word ridiculed at length by Henry Tilney in NA - that this is one of many things Jane had in common with Ann Radcliffe, whose novels and journals minimise the role of God, a theme pursued (18-19) in Rictor Norton's Mistress of Udolpho (1999).

Jane's Juvenilia include a potted History of England, whose content - except the obtruded hostility to Elizabeth I, later recanted (Letter 81) - is less interesting than its language, e.g. using ROW meaning disturbance, a brand-new slang word first attested for 1787 in the OED, though 2 years earlier Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue had noted it as Cambridge student argot, a detail missed by her Penguin editors Doody & Murray, who also err in accusing her of filching the epithet Admirable for Lady Jane Grey from David Hume's History of Great Britain (1754), though she uses the word of half a dozen Kings, and often in her letters.

In NA, ch 14, Catherine Morland and Miss Tilney debate the pros and cons of historiography. Catherine complains, "A very great deal of it must be invention. The speeches put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs; the chief of all this must be invention..." She is here quoting almost verbatim Samuel Johnson: "We must consider how very little history there is; I mean real authentic history...That certain kings reigned, and certain battles were fought, we can depend upon as true; but all the colouring, all the philosophy of history is conjecture...Motives are generally unknown. We cannot trust to the characters, unless when drawn by one who knew their persons."

Miss Tilney's response, too long for quotation, ends with her expressed preference for David Hume's History of England (1762) and William Robertson's History of Scotland (1759). We hope Dr Johnson remembered both were Scotch. Back in 1724, Voltaire had sneered, "As for good English historians, I know of none; a Frenchman (sc. Rapin) has had to write their history." Miss Tilney conspicuously omits both Catherine Macauley's History of England (1763-83) and the biggest fish of all, Edward Gibbon. Also, when she proceeds to ridicule those who confect speeches for the likes of Caractacus, she scores another hit on Mrs Radcliffe, who often quoted William Mason's 1759 Druidic drama of that name.

In 1778 (Life 3.333), Johnson observed, "It must be considered that we now have more knowledge generally diffused; all our ladies read now, which is a great extension." Johnson and Jane, of course, never met. She was only 9 when he died. How she would have reacted to his famously terrible appearance and gross eating habits is a good question. Throughout her literary life, he was her "favourite author in prose," being thus identified in her brother Henry's 1817 biographical notice prefixed to the first editions of NA and Persuasion, repeated in her nephew James Austen-Leigh's Memoirs of Jane Austen (ed. Chapman, 1926, 89). At a quick tangent, basing themselves on her remark (Letter 91) "She admires Crabbe as she ought," the Penguin editors of MP call George Crabbe (1754-1832) her favourite poet.

A recent essay by Gloria Grose, In a Fast Coach with a Pretty Woman - NOT Julia Roberts (Age of Johnson 12, 2001, 199-254), explores the influence of Sam on Jane, largely on the stylistic side, beginning with the obvious fact that Jane's epigrammatic narrative style is pure Johnson. To avoid repeating what Grose has done well, I look to other details. "My DEAR Dr Johnson," Jane calls him in a letter (49) to Cassandra, in other sisterly correspondence quoting him on the "full tide of existence at Charing Cross" (Letter 90) and jesting (Letter 20) over her meeting a "Very young man, just entered at Oxford, wears spectacles, and has heard that Evelina was written by Dr Johnson" - how amused by this was Fanny Burney? His "celebrated judgement" (Jane's phrase) that Marriage has many pains but Celibacy no pleasures is suggestively parodied in MP (v3 ch 8), where (v1 ch 16) his Idler magazine is provided for bedside reading.

Despite Boswell's claim to have 'Johnsonised the land,' memory and reputation of his hero were dwindling by 1808, the year in which Jane chose to include this verse in her Poem on the Death of Mrs Lefroy:

At Johnson's death by Hamilton was said (H = Rt Hon William Hamilton, d 1796)

Seek we a substitute - Ah, vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead -
None can remind us even of the man.

Jane is closely paraphrasing Hamilton's words as reported by Boswell (Life 4.420-1). By the by, having no other context, I here shove in a bit of Canadian content, Jane's poetic comparison of her niece Anna's charms to Lake Ontario ("Ontario's lake may fitly speak/Her fancy's ample bound...") - not every woman would take this as a compliment. A letter (43) expresses wonder at the Wallop family's fondness for Nova Scotia.

Johnson's Dictionary defines Candour as: Free from malice; not desirous to find fault. The noun is so used of Jane in her obituary in the Salisbury & Winchester Review, "Her candour was not to be surpassed," an echo of Jane's own employment of it in P&P. Likewise, the adjective Candid, associated with Jane in Fowler's Modern English, tracing its "worsened sense" to George Eliot's Middlemarch.

The first detectable case of Johnsonian influence goes back to a Scottish scene in the epistolary Love & Freindship (sic) in her Juvenilia, beginning "We sate down by the side of a clear limpid stream to refresh our exhausted limbs..." Too long to quote, it imitates a passage in Johnson's 1775 Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland, "I sat down on a bank, such as a writer of romance might have deigned to feign..."

This paralle can be doubly enriched. Johnson's sequence ends, "Here I first conceived the thought of this narration," a sentence strikingly similar to Gibbon's recollection of how he conceived the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, sitting amid the classical ruins of Rome. And both passages resound through the famous finale of Tropic of Cancer where the narrator sits down by the Seine. From Jane Austen to Henry Miller may seem as far as one could go. She is not mentioned by name in his The Books in My Life, but is she hinted at by this intriguing remark on Wuthering Heights? "One of the very great novels in the English language, and I almost missed it THROUGH PRIDE & PREJUDICE."

Miller, indeed, might have been shocked by the rawness of 18th-Century pornography, while in MP, as is seldom remembered, Fanny Price who has a brother at sea - an obvious autobiographical flourish - makes (v1 ch6) a thudding joke about shipboard sodomy: "Of REARS & VICES, I saw enough. Now, do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat." This may also owe something to Johnson's following up his own description of a woman as "a bottom of good sense" with the gloss "I said she was fundamentally sensible." Jane's Penguin editors tactfully failed tp annotate the MP passage.

George Orwell, Inside the Whale, attacked Miller for ignoring contemporary events in terms similar to Tanner's broadside against Austen. Even if one grants the premise, the simple answer is, both knew their métier. As Jane put it, "Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, DO divert me and I laugh at them whenever I can," a programme putting her squarely in the tradition of 18th-Century satire, glossed by this Lady Middleton joke in S&S (ch 36): "Because they (sc. Elinor & Marianne) were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical, perhaps without knowing what it was to be satirical." No satirist can function who ignores the word around them. As Johnson defined it: Proper satire is distinguished by the generality of the reflections from a lampoon, which is aimed against a particular person; but they are too easily confounded."

The famous opening sentence of P&P echoes that of Johnson's Rambler 115 essay. "I was known to possess a fortune, and so to want a wife..." I subjoin the beginnings of Idler 62, "An opinion prevails almost universally in the world that he who has money has everything," and Idler 95, "It is universally agreed that seldom any good is gotten by complaint." Many more of Johnson's essays kick off in this universalising way. There is no suggestion of plagiarism. Jane intended her source to be recognised. She also wanted to launch P&P with a cod periodical opening. As one would expect, and as is made clear in her letters, the mass of naval information in Persuasion and MP is partly owed to her brothers and partly to Jane's own keeping up with the news. Not usually recognised is that its lighter side has an inspiration in Johnson's Idler 7 satire on newspapers, which targets their passion for maritime minutiae. Boswell defined periodicals as a "Truly British mix of instruction and entertainment." The word Magazine had always meant military storehouse until its 18th-century debut in the literary sense in the title Gentleman's Magazine, in whose pages Johnson began his Grub Street career. As seen, the QR, where Scott reviewed Jane, and the Idler, are mentioned in MP. Her brothers founded their own at Oxford, the Loiterer. In NA (ch 5), NOT Emma (ch 4), as textbooks such as Boris Ford's Penguin from Dryden to Johnson wrongly state, the vulgar language of the Spectator is derided, during one of that book's seminars on the propriety of reading novels.

Its Penguin editors timidly introduce MP as "the least popular of all JA's novels." It has been slaughtered, most notably by Reginald Farrer ('JA', in - ironically - QR, July 1917), Queenie Leavis (Scrutiny, Jan. 1942, 272-94), and Kingsley Amis, 'What became of Jane Austen?' (Spectator 1957, now in book form). A rare defender is Lionel Trilling ('JA & MP,' in The Opposing Self, 1955, 210), adding the proviso, "There is scarcely one of our modern pieties that it does not offend."

Jane, for once, is not always on top of the details. She erred (v1 ch 6) in having a James II chapel fitted up with magohany, something not attested until Bramston's Man of Taste, 1733 - here, the 18th-Century has got on top of her. Then there is the slip of continuity (v2 ch5) - "Never used to ask her" - where she forgets that Fanny HAD actually dined "with the rest" at the parsonage. But these tiny holes do not sink the ship. Clare Tomalin (232) calls Mrs Norris "One of the great villains of literature, almost too horrible to be comic." I recalled this while watching (2002) the second Harry Potter film: the rebarbative Hogwart's school caretaker's cat is called Mrs Norris - a J.K. Rowling homage to Jane? The aforementioned sodomy joke reflects 18th-Century legal and moral concerns over homosexuality, male and female; the Oxonian Dudley Ryder confided to his Diary in 1715, "Sodomy is very usual, so that it is dangerous sending a young man that is beautiful to university."

MP is stuffed with literary quotation and allusion, often with names and titles given, sometimes - significantly - without such help, trusting the reader to catch (e.g.) a casual "As the starling said" (v1 ch10) from Sterne's Sentimental Journey, or (v1 ch14) "My name is Norval" from John Home's popular 1757 stage tragedy, Douglas. In NA (ch1), Catherine "in training for a heroine" found suitable quotations for this trade from, Shakespeare apart, Gray, Pope, and Thomson - all 18th-Century.

In MP, after all the to-ing and fro-ing over what play to do, the choice settles on Lovers' Vows, Kotzebue's 1791 Das Kind der Liebe, Englished in 1798 by Elizabeth Inchbald, dramatist-poet-novelist, admiring friend of Mrs Radcliffe, one of Eleanor Ty's (11993) Five Unsex'd Revolutionary Women Novelists of the 1790s. Jane very likely saw this version at the Theatre Royal, Bath, during her 1801-05 sojourn there. This business recalls the private theatricals of the Austen household, for which some of her Juvenilia were designed, not just the playlets. Letter 8, Laura to Marianne, concludes, "We fainted alternately on a sofa." As delicious here as it had been in Sheridan's The Critic (1779 - III.1), "They faint alternately in each others' arms." Jane recycled it in a letter (27) of 1800: "James and Mrs Augusta alternately read Dr Jenner's pamphlet on the cow-pox." Sheridan also adapted a Kotzebue play for his own Pizarro (1799), dismissed by Sampson as "dismal."

The Penguin editors berate Jane's players for "behaving irresponsibly in doing what they know Sir Thomas will not like." Remarkably for English professors - or perhaps not, they miss the surely obvious allusion to Hamlet, especially in light of all the novel's talk about the Bard's plays and merits (v3 ch3), also the separate (v1 ch13) To Be Or Not o Be joke.

One contemporary actress famous for her Hamlet (Dublin, 1802) was Sarah Siddons, Johnson's favourite ("Madame, wherever you go, there are no seats to be had" - Life 4.243), whom Jane was desperate to see doing Queen Constance in King John while in London to correct the proofs of S&S - whether she managed to, we don't know. In Emma, Robert Martin and Harriet Smith re-unite in a crucial plot development at a London theatre. All this is now meticulously explored in Paula Byrne's Jane Austen & the Theatre (2002).

Mrs Radcliffe was also a Siddons devotee. Not everyone was. Her perfomance in Dodsley's Cleone was thus reviewed in the Devil's Handbook (1786), the modern equivalent of which is Diana Rigg's anthology of hatchet-jobs, No Turn Unstoned: "The most confirmed idiot of the theatre can tell her 3 characters: the extension of an arm - when to expect an Ah! - the brandishing of the other arm to expect an Oh!" One recalls Dorothy Parker's assassination of Katherine Hepburn: "She ran the whole gamut of emotions from A to B."

This same Devil's Book said of another actor, "It may be a compliment to the charity of the nation that Mr Bensley is allowed to perform." All characteristic 18th-Century knocking-copy, congenial to Jane, whose letters are not short of catty remarks, e.g:

"Mrs Hall was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she was expected - I suppose she happened unaware to look at her husband."

"Mr Waller is dead - I cannot grieve, nor perhaps his widow very much."

"How horrible it is to have so many killed! And what a blessing that no one cares for none of them!" (Letters 10, 52, 73)

This last is an eyebrow-raiser - how would Jane have reacted to September 11? We needn't follow amateur psychologists in linking the first two acidities to Jane's supposed unhappiness over her spinsterhood. So long as she was not one of her impoverished heroines, I doubt she much wanted to be wed. Witness not just the Tom Lefroy refusal, but her dislike of children - something else shared with Mrs Radcliffe - and this percipient remark (Letter 133) on the perennial woman's problem of marriage v. career: "How Mrs West could have written such books and collected so many hard words with all her family cares is still a matter of astonishment! Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."

This lapel-grabbing anticipation of Cyril Connolly's notorious "the pram in the hall" in Enemies of Promise was dispassionate. Mrs Jane West (1758-1852). in the off-putting compliment of the Dictionary of National Biography, wrote "novels of good moral tone." In Letter 101, one of several criticising her niece Anna's own attempt at fiction, Jane proclaims, "I am quite determined not to be pleased with Mrs West's Alicia de Lacey, should I ever meet with it, which I hope I may not. I think I can be STOUT against anything written by Mrs West. I have made up my mind to like no novels really, but Miss Edgeworth's, yours, and my own."

Here, we have to pause and mutter an imprecation from the OT, Job 31.35: "O that mine adversary had written a book!"

Taking her last words seriously - we don't have to - puts Jane in the league of Jeanette Winterton who recently nominated herself as England's best novelist. There's a lot in this letter, though you'd never guess it from their celebrated editor R.W. Chapman who astoundingly offers not a single note on it. STOUT in various senses - except Guiness, an aside justified by Johnson's Dictionary definition "A cant term for strong beer" - is one of her favourite words. Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), a Radcliffe fan, also another of Ty's Unsex'd Revolutionaries, poured out stories in 3 genres - regular novels/Irish novels/children's tales - like a Joanna Trollope. Chapman calls her a favourite of Jane, ignoring Letter 99 where Cassandra is complimented for NOT reading her Patronage (1814), hardly a mark of esteem.

Jane's stylistic tips include avoidance of the phrase 'Vortex of Dissipation' - "I cannot bear the expression; it is such thorough novelistic slang." She sounds like Marianne in S&S, ch 9, denouncing 'To Set One's Cap At' as "a most odious expression," albeit Jane herself had used it in the juvenile Lesley Castle. It so happens that one of the two attested Vortex users was Maria Edgeworth herself, in Moral Tales, Breakfast (1802)! The other was Dr James Fordyce (1720-96) in his 1766 Sermons To Young Women (1.7.268, "a whirl of dissipation, like some mighty vortex"), a volume Mr Collins ostentatiously picks up nd reads in opposition to novels in P&P; John Wesley (Sermon 79) had condemned 'Dissipation' as "threadbare cant."

Jane the word-fancier can't fully be savoured by those who approach her only via Merchant-Ivory films; cf. J. Wiltshire's Recreating Jane Austen (1997). I hit off with BASEBALL, introduced into English literature through NA. Not coined by Jane, though; unknown to the OED, it had cropped up in the Little Pretty Pocket Book of 1744. On a non-verbal tangent, Catherine Morland also played cricket, that game's headquarters then being Hambledon in Hampshire, Jane's neck of the woods.

She was not always an enemy of slang, taking IN FOR IT (i.e. In Trouble) from Restoration playwright Farquar via Richardson's Pamela. PIN-MONEY was likewise a 17th-18th-Century theatre word. The Penguin editors (Doody & Murray) of her Juvenilia miss the precision of applying TOAD-EATER in Lesley Castle to a woman; Grose's Dictionary defines the term "A poor female relation, or reduced gentlewoman." She may have invented (Letters, bis) I AM A HONEY, not in OED. I used innocently to think that AT THE HOP = Dance was a 50s Americanism, courtesy of Danny & The Juniors' song; but it is as old as 1739, and is in both a juvenile Letter and S&S (ch 9).

Jane is credited as the first user of CODDLE (Emma), quickly followed by Scott (Antiquities 9, 1816), of DEEDILY (after her Juvenilia and Emma, elsewhere only in an 1859 academic tract), of COZE as a noun (MP v2 ch8), of EPIGRAMMATISM, of TITUPPY (NA), of SWEEP = Driveway: OED notices only S&S, but it was in her juvenile novelette Catherine - notice how the young teenaged Jane is already enriching the language.

She has an apparent monopoly on MAMALONE (Turkish head-gear), NIDGETTY (relating to midwives), and TALOBERT (meaning unknown) - all in her Letters, as are the unique terms OXFORD SMACK and SUNDAY CHAISE.

Chapman was baffled by her description (Letter 9) of a Kentish coachman who "really drove as fast as CAX." We can solve this by reading the mystery word as CAZ, since that leads to the expression 'As Good as Caz' (= Cheese), meaning to achieve complete success at what you are doing, attested in Henry Vaux' 1812 A New & Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language. Chapman was also bothered by her epistolary DISTINGUISHED KINDNESS, wishing to emend to 'Distinguishing' but Fanny Burney (Cecilia) has 'Distinguished Politeness' and Rowe's Ulysses 'Distinguished Hatred;" the French letter-ending 'Sentiments Distingués' might also play a part. Finally, QUERULOUS SERENITY (P&P, ch42) seems a unique oxymoron; I imagine Carol Shields in her lovely Jane Austen book is paying stylistic homage when she describes Jane in Cassandra's sketch as exuding "a querulous air of sad reasonableness."

Jane's titles intrigue. She might sportively (Letter 86) promise to name a heroine after Miss Charlotte Williams, but of the 6 mature novels only Emma is the eponym. Susan became Catherine became NA, Elinor & Marianne mutated into S&S. A departure from the Richardson models Pamela and Clarissa. Johnson regarded him as the greatest male novelist, making nonsense of his perverse Dictionary definition of Novel - A Small Tale, generally of Love, though kept quiet about his Sir Charles Grandison, denounced by Horace Walpole and Lord Chesterfield for verbosity and by novelist Mary Montagu for its "mean sentiments meanly expressed." It was, though, the almost obsessional inspiration of Jane's Juvenilia; cf. Jocelyn Harris, 'Sir Charles Grandison in the Juvenilia,' also Frank Bradbrook's Jane Austen & Her Predecessors. In NA (ch6), Mrs Morland often read it, Catherine calls it "very entertaining," Isabella shudders at "that amazingly horrid book."

Why did First Impressions become P&P? I prefer the original title. P&P evidently owes something, perhaps everything, to the ending of Burney's Cecilia, where the phrase thrice occurs, a motive compounded of admiration and commercialism. Edward Gibbon also has it in chapter two of Decline...Perhaps the change was similarly intended to expunge memory of and divorce from Thomas Cadell's notoriously bad first impression of the original. Jane suffered much frorm publishers, like all modern authors. Witness also the long delaying over NA, albeit not because of her sex or primitive technology: Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre was in the bookshops 2 months after submission (Aug 24/Oct 16, 1847), Eliot's Silas Marner took only a fortnight (March 10/25, 1861). Of course, Cadell's rejection would remain publishing's biggest own goal until Animal Farm was turned down by T.S. Eliot, who at Harvard played Mr Woodhouse in a stage Emma - the mind boggles.

'First Impressions' is an expression Jane will have seen in Sir Charles Grandison, also the Mysteries of Udolpho. Tanner plausibly traces the further influence of Hume's philosophical tracts (Treatise on Nature & An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding) encapsulating "That 18th-Century suspicion of imagination to which Jane Austen subscribed."

A further commercial reason for the change may have been the 1801 publication by a Mrs Holtby of a novel actually entitled First Impressions. In that case, though, why retain Emma, there already being at least 4 novels circulating under that name. Likewise, there were lots of Quixote titles after Lennox and Mysteries Of...after Radcliffe.

Talking of mysteries, what is Jane's spirit making of her reincarnation as ace detective in Stephanie Barron's series?

It is easier to understand the titular quashing of Elinor & Marianne. Along with the words Aesthetics /Ideology/ Neurosis/ Pessimism/ Socialism/ Statistics, SENSIBILITY was an 18th-Century innovation, shifting from specific physical sensitivity to denoting an emotional/moral faculty = a special and admirable susceptibiity to non-physical feeling, particularly associated with heroines, whom it both signified and disabled. The quality is marked in both Richardson and Radcliffe. Feminist Mary Wollstonecraft saw it as a degrading stereotype. Jane herself has been regarded as thinking it indulgent individualism, though we cannot be too narrow: in a letter (129) to Anna Lefroy, she writes that Cassandra's "Sensibility seems to be opening to the perception of great actions." She took to the word early; it is is EVERY one of her juvenile Love & Freinds (sic) Letters. As a title, S&S comports a polemical vein; to quote John Mullan (Penguin Dict. 18th-C History), "the importance of the concept can be gauged by the pressing need of writers to debunk it," while it has modernly spawned an entire book, Janet Todd's Sensibility: an Introduction (1986). In S&S, the quality is chiefly associated with Marianne Dashwood, though it is also allowed to Mr Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, while denied to Edward Ferrars. The shifting usages of SENSIBLE also repay investigation, e.g. (ch21) the eldest Miss Steele has "a very plain and not a sensible face, nothing to admire," especially in the light of one of Johnson's definitions: "Convinced, persuaded; a low use."

But Lord Palmerston gets the last word: when asked if English had a word to compare to French 'Sensibilité', he replied, "Yes, HUMBUG!"

Jane (Letter 14) wrote to Cassandra, "Our family are great novel-readers and not ashamed of being so." An obvious personal joke, then, in P&P, when Kitty and Lydia are amazed at Mr Collins' protestation that he never read novels and his distress over young ladies' lack of interest in books "of a serious stamp;" the latter theme is comically developed in Catherine's NA reflections on novels v. periodicals.

The new (2001) bibliography by Peter Garside and others (PG/James Raven/Rainer Schowering, The Eng. Novel 1770-1829), running to 1617 pages, lists 1421 novels 1770-90 and 2256, 1800-29. Their remark that Jane's were written "not against the grain but during a period of female ascendancy", along with the fact that 50% of the total output ws Anonymous, should finally bury certain old shibboleths - Mrs Radcliffe began anonymously, Fanny Burney likewise with Evelina, while Scott long hid his authorship of the Waverly Novels, If Southam was right about the first versions of P&P/S&S, their remark "the epistolary style slowly declines" may help explain the change. And, even granting the premise that Jane ignored contemporary events, she would have been in good company: "The English Novel passes by the American and French Revolutions and the Napoleonic Wars with never a sideways single glance."

Jane's letters abound with acidities on novelists, all female, e.g: Madame de Genlis' Alphonsine "Will not do. We were disgusted in 20 pages...;" "We are reading Sarah Burney's Clarentine (1798), and are surprised to find how foolish it is;" Mary Brunton's Self-Control (1810) has "Nothing of nature or probability in it;" Laetitia Hawkins' Rosanne (1814) has "A 1000 improbabilities in the story;" Sydney Owenson's (= Lady Morgan) Ida of Athens (1806) "Must be very clever, because it was written as the authoress says, in 3 months - we have only read the Preface yet, but her Irish Girl does not make me expect much."

Apart from Mrs Sykes' Margiana, or Widdington Fair (1808) - "We like it very well," Jane is warm only to Eaton Stanley Barrett's Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader: "A delightful burlesque, particularly on the Radcliffe style." Two advance points. This 1813 publication might be one reason why (in Jane's words) her Catherine was still on the shelf in ealry 1817. And she makes no other mention of Mrs Radcliffe. Publication of NA and Persuasion was posthumous; she never knew how they were received. Mrs Radcliffe got 500 pounds for Udolpho, Jane 10 for NA: she never lets on in any extant letter how she felt about that. Is there anybody now who would not reverse these rewards? But Jane would relish her literary victory. William Forsyth, Novels & Novelists of the 18th Century - notice in which age he places Jane (1871, 313-17) - devoted 1 sentence to Udolpho, 4 pages to NA, a proportion that has remained pretty constant.

Udolpho was published on Thursday 8 May 1794, in bizarre coincidence with the French guillotining of the husband of Jane's outlandish cousin, Eliza de Feillade, now (2002) the subject of a biography by Deirdre Le Faye. Also in conditions of extreme publicity. Contemporary newspapers, also Sir Walter Scott, describe how people were trampled and killed in the riots to get copies. This outdoes even Harry Pottermania - eat your heart out, J.K. Rowling. It was the first best-selling blockbuster in literary history. Not just in Britain. the Marquis de Sade (Idées sur le Roman, 1800) declared Mrs Radcliffe carried the Torch of Liberty.

Who reads Udolpho now? Many dismiss it as tripe, without the bother of reading it. NA, though, must not blind us to its rapturous reception by and influence on the likes of Coleridge, Byron (Giaour & Lara - he was accused of plagiarising it), Scott, and Keats (Eve of St Agnes). Sampson (611) has his critical cake and eats it: "Her rank is low; but she gave Scott his method and Byron his hero (Childe Harold), and so, through them, she may be said to have moved all Europe."

London publisher Richard Crosby bought NA in 1803, promised quick publication, then sat on it for years. Jane ventured a polite remonstrance in 1809, receiving a dusty answer (Letters 67-8). She tinkered with it until nearly her death, after which (with Persuasion) it was brought out by John Murray, publisher of Emma; Thomas Egerton had published the first three. As one who deals much with the breed, I can confirm that publishers never change.

NA was conceived as a quick topical reaction to Udolpho. These delays meant it appeared nearly 20 years after the Gothic nove craze had peaked. Though still alive (ttill 1823), Mrs Radcliffe had published nothing since The Italian in 1796 and had dropped from sight, rumoured dead or confined to a lunatic asylum. And Jane had been scooped by Barrett. So, the danger of a damp squib looks high. But Barrett had waited until 1813. Good literary satire is timeless. Witness the countless modern burlesques of Shakespeare (above all, Beyond The Fringe's, 1958); people laugh, whether or not they know the originals. NA seems to me good-natured, even affectionate, parody, like Stella Gibbons (Cold Comfort Farm, 1932) doing over Mary Webb's Golden Arrow & Dormer Forest - and who now reads Mary Webb?

NA is my desert island choice. Not just for the Radcliffe fun, but also the Bath society satire, in diamond-hard Johnsonian prose - no surprise she coined the noun Epigrammatism to describe what she thought best about P&P, atoning for its supposed defects (Letter 77). NA is all about style. There was nothing new in sending up Bath. Smollett had done that back in 1771, in Humphrey Clinker, far more crudely, though he does adumbrate an Austen theme: "Jery suspects a strapping fellow, the knight's nephew, of some design upon the girl's heart. I shall keep a strict eye over her aunt and her, and shift the scene if I find the matter grow more serious...You perceive what an agreeable task it must be, to have the cure of such souls as these."

Why Mrs Radcliffe? There was an abundance of Gothic novelists, women and such men as 'Monk' Lewis, penner of the immortal sentence "The worms they crawled in, and the worms they crawled out" (The Monk). Female writers were more closely associated. An 1807 brochure, Flowers of Literature, which 4 years earlier had advertised NA as imminent, ranted "The grossest and most immoral novelists of the present day are women," (Blagon & Prevost), while Hugh Murray (Morality of Fiction, 1805) branded Gothics "the wretched productions of brain-sick females just escaped from boarding school." Rivals in the field, e.g. Charlotte Smith (The Banished Man, 1794) and Anna Mackenzie (Mysteries Elucidated, 1795) naturally sniped at the Queen of Horrid Mysteries, while Mary Wollstonecraft attacked from the feminist rear of her 1798 The Wrongs of Women.

A letter to the August 1797 issue of Monthly Magazine, signed 'E, a Jacobin Novelist from Greenwich,' drew up under his title 'The Terrorist System of Novel Writing' a list of rules for the Radcliffe novel that was appropriated almost verbatim by Henry Tilney, NA, ch 20. Then there was Thomas Mathias, editor of Gray's Poems and Royal Librarian, who satirised the Gothicists in his poem The Pursuits of Literature, or What You Will in 1794, adding 3 years later in Part Three a note exempting Mrs Radcliffe from his strictures. Thus, 2 convergent inspirations for Jane: the idea of the satire and the use of Mrs Radcliffe as its exemplar.

In NA, ch 14, Jane addressd her readers with the statement "The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have already been set forth by the capital pen of a sister author." Presumably Fanny Burney is meant. The last two words leap out. Normally, Jane and company referred to themselves as Authoress, a term now - like Actress, etc. - 'politically incorrect', indeed stigmatised as long ago as Fowler as "a word that has always been disliked by authoresses themselves, perhaps on the grounds that sex is irrelevant to art and that the word implies disparagement of women's literary abilities." - notice his cautious 'Perhaps'. Fowler first appeared in 1926. he was from the age that in 1885 was invited by Gilbert & Sullivan to applaud the sentiment "That singular anomaly, the Lady Novelist/ Never would be missed..."

I end as I began, with a quasi-Janeism, adapting the last sentence of NA - "I leave the tendency of this essay to be settled by whomsoever it may concern."


Since writing this, I have read, and recommend, Karen Joy Fowler's delicious novel, The Jane Austen Book Club (2004), which is equipped with a multi-page appendix of literary criticisms favourable and other wise of Jane; also Richard Jenkyns' subtle A Fine Brush On Ivory: An Appreciation of Jane Austen (2004).

Kipling was not the only one to produce a versified tribute. W.H. Auden wrote:

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amorous effects of "brass".
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

Toby Young, the British journalist working at Vanity Fair in the 1990s, quotes this to support his contention that "The reason Austen adaptations struck such a chord with American audiences was because they recognised their own society up there on the big screen. The world Austen depicts - a world in which ambitious young women compete with each other to attract the attention of rich, eligible men - is uncannily like modern Manhattan. Both societies are rigidly hierarchical, with power concentrated in the hands of a plutocratic elite, and the swiftest route to the top is through marriage. The cavernous mansions of the Hamptons that New York's ruling class retreat to every summer are the equivalent of Pemberly, Darcy's estate in Derbyshire."

In other words, what price Jane as the Candice Bushnall of the 18th Century?

Jane's World: A Literary Panorama
2006 by Barry Baldwin


About the Author

Barry Baldwin was born in 1937 and educated in England. He emigrated to Australia in 1962, re-moving to Canada in 1965, where he is Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Calgary, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has published around 30 short stories in print (magazines and book anthologies), and has a novella, "Not Cricket", in Chapbook form (Rembrandt & Company Press, USA), also in e-zines. He has been a Finalist in the Arthur Ellis Awards (Canada 1999) and the Anthony Awards (Bouchercon, 2000, USA) in the mystery short story category.


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