“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid”*…
Anyone who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen is aware of [two] facts: first, that of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness; second, that there are twenty-five elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who resent any slight upon her genius as if it were an insult to the chastity of their aunts…
– Virginia Woolf,
As the anniversary of her death approaches, Jane Austen and her work will be celebrated across the UK and the world. Lucy Worsley explores why such a well-loved author remains so mysterious.
“Downright nonsense” was the verdict of Mrs Augusta Bramston, a Hampshire friend and neighbour of the Austen family, on reading Pride and Prejudice. In 1814, Jane Austen published Mansfield Park, a sophisticated study of love and family life. Mrs Bramston nevertheless thought she ought to give it go, and having struggled through volume one, “flattered herself she had got through the worst”.
Jane Austen recorded this and other hilarious remarks from friends in a list of opinions on Mansfield Park. The document, in Austen’s own neat handwriting, is just one of the funny and sad items in the British Library’s new exhibition, Jane Austen Among Family and Friends [which opened yesterday].
Austen surely recorded the comments in a spirit of malicious mockery rather than regret. Even if only a small number of readers appreciated her at the time of her death in 1817, she hopefully knew just how brilliant a writer she was. Two hundred years later, everyone knows it. Her face is to appear on £10 notes and £2 coins, and the bicentenary of her death will see a slew of exhibitions showcasing her writing and world…
More on “The Divine Jane” at “Jane Austen at 200: still a friend and a stranger.”
* Jane Austen
As we muse on manners, we might send nostalgic birthday greetings to A.A. Milne; he was born on this date in 1882. Milne spent the earliest years of his career as a playwright, screenwriter, and the author of a single mystery novel, but is remembered for the two volumes of Winnie-the-Pooh stories he wrote for (and featuring) his son, Christopher Robin. His transitional work, written immediately after the birth of his son, was a book of children’s verse, When We Were Young, famously ornamented by Punch illustrator E. H. Shepard.