Jane's World: A Literary Panorama
(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
nod for the title to Mike Myers, true exponent of Austin's
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
Waller is dead - I cannot grieve, nor perhaps his widow
horrible it is to have so many killed! And what a blessing
that no one cares for none of them!" (Letters 10,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 other words, what price Jane as the Candice Bushnall
of the 18th Century?
World: A Literary Panorama
by Barry Baldwin