George Orwell, How the poor die (#Review)

“It is a sound instinct that warns people to keep out of hospitals if possible, and especially out of the public wards.” George Orwell may have written this in 1946, in his essay, “How the poor die”, but I can’t help thinking that it is still a sound instinct, something only too vividly confirmed by the experience of COVID-19, world-wide. How many people have contracted COVID-19 in hospital, for a start? How many hospitals have been so over-run that they’ve had patients in corridors, in foyers, in ambulances on ramps, in quickly erected marquee wards, not to mention people on the streets waiting to get in. This isn’t the experience of all patients in all hospitals in all countries, but as far as I can tell one or more of these things has happened in every place that COVID-19 has taken hold. It’s not pretty.

But, I digress. Back to Orwell. The essay was inspired by an experience he had in a public ward of a hospital in Paris in 1929, but why leave it to 1946 to publish? According to Wikipedia, the editor of Orwell’s Collected Works, Peter Davison, suggests that it may have been first written between 1931 and 1936, when Orwell was writing about “the unemployed, tramps and beggars”, and that he reworked it over 1940 to 1941. It was submitted to a journal around then but was rejected, “possibly because readers would have been unwilling to read about ‘how the poor die’ at such a time”. In the end, a section [which section, I wonder?] was retyped and it was published in November 1946.

Orwell’s experiences were awful. He had pneumonia, he says, and was placed in a packed ward – “a long, rather low, ill-lit room … with three rows of beds surprisingly close together” – and treated with cupping and a very painful mustard poultice. This, however, was not the worst of it. He describes the impersonal, disrespectful way in which the patients were treated by the doctors, medical students and nurses, the lack of basic cleanliness and care (with patients, not nurses, for example, often getting bedpans for those who couldn’t do it themselves). That this was going to be the sort of story he’d tell is heralded in the second paragraph where he describes having a bath on admission as “a compulsory routine for all newcomers, apparently, just as in prison or the workhouse”.

Anyhow, Orwell then moves on to death. He suggests that the lonely, ignored death of patient numéro 57, would be seen as “an example of a ‘natural’ death, one of the things you pray for in the Litany”. He considers it might be “better to die violently and not too old”, because, for all the horrors of war, he writes, death via a man-made weapon nowhere near “approaches in cruelty some of the commoner diseases”.

At this point, I was wondering about what hospital experiences Orwell had had, but he goes on to mention a Spanish hospital and an English cottage hospital, both of which he experienced in the 1930s. So, when he argues that the English cottage hospital was superior, he is speaking from experience. I wonder, though, whether a French cottage hospital might have been similarly decent? I don’t know.

Orwell next gives a brief history of hospitals through the nineteenth century, describing how they were places where medical students practised on the poor. He focuses on surgery, which, at that time, was “believed to be no more than a peculiarly gruesome form of sadism”. This apparently inspired a nineteenth century genre (though he doesn’t use that term) of horror-literature “connected with doctors and hospitals”. All you horror lovers will be familiar with this, I’m sure. Doctors in these stories had names like Slasher, Carver and Fillgrave. He also mentions Tennyson’s poem “The Children’s Hospital” (1880) as being part of this anti-surgery literature.

I found all this interesting, but wondered what his point was. A page or so before the end, I thought I found a hint, when, after referencing the improvements brought by anaesthetics and disinfectants, he says

Moreover, national health insurance has partly done away with the idea that a working-class patient is a pauper who deserves little consideration.

And yet … he concludes by saying that, despite improvements, hospitals are still not the best place to die, and that “the dread of hospitals probably still survives among the very poor”. It takes a long time, he implies, for past experiences and history to die out in the collective imagination. Not necessarily a bad thing, I think.

Wikipedia tells us that in 1948, two years after this story was published, and one year before Orwell died, Britain’s National Health Service was established “as publicly-funded medical provision for all”. The person behind it was the Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan, who had once been Orwell’s colleague at the Tribune.

Previous reviews from this book: “Books v. Cigarettes“, “Bookshop memories“, “Confessions of a book reviewer“, “The prevention of literature” and “My country right of left“?

George Orwell
“How the poor die” (orig. 1946, in Now)
in Books v. cigarettes (Great Ideas)
London: Penguin Books, 2008
pp. 50-64
ISBN: 9780141036618

Available online at the Orwell Foundation.

George Orwell, My country right or left (#Review)

Having recently posted on the fourth essay, “The prevention of literature“, in my book of George Orwell essays, I’ve decided to plough on and try to finish it. The next essay is the short, cleverly titled, “My country right or left”. It was first published in Autumn 1940 in Folios of new writing.

It’s a curious little essay. I’m going to introduce it by sharing the Orwell quote used by the Orwell Foundation under its banner: “What I have most wanted to do… is to make political writing into an art”. You can certainly tell from “The prevention of literature” that he sees literature as being necessarily political. That essay was written in 1946, just after World War 2 had ended. “My country right or left” was first published just one year into this war – and is politically-driven.

The essay starts with:

Contrary to popular belief, the past was not more eventful than the present. If it seems so it is because when you look backward things that happened years apart are telescoped together, and because very few of your memories come to you genuinely virgin. It is largely because of the books, films and reminiscences that have come between that the war of 1914-18 is now supposed to have had some tremendous, epic quality that the present one lacks.

I wasn’t sure at all, from this opening, where it was going. Soon, however, it’s clear that war is the driver for the essay which turns out to be about Orwell trying to rationalise, or work through, his socialist beliefs, his previously avowed pacifism, and his patriotism (and thus support for the war).

He writes about being a middle-class school boy during World War 1 and being oblivious to what was happening, particularly to “the true significance” of the big events. He writes:

The Russian Revolution, for instance, made no impression, except on the few whose parents happened to have money invested in Russia. 

I’m sure that’s not unusual! He talks about how pacifism

had set in long before the war ended. To be as slack as you dared on O.T.C. parades, and to take no interest in the war was considered a mark of enlightenment.

Interestingly, however, this pacifism, he says, gradually gave way to a certain nostalgia in those who had not experienced the war! He suggests that this was why his generation was so interested in the Spanish Civil War. He then moves onto World War 2, to the growing awareness in the mid-1930s that it was coming and – this is his main point – his realisation that he “was patriotic at heart” and “would support the war”.

Orwell’s sees this as a no-brainer. He says:

If I had to defend my reasons for supporting the war, I believe I could do so. There is no real alternative between resisting Hitler and surrendering to him, and from a Socialist point of view I should say that it is better to resist; in any case I can see no argument for surrender that does not make nonsense of the Republican resistance in Spain, the Chinese resistance to Japan, etc. etc. 

But, he admits that this support stemmed primarily from “the long drilling in patriotism which the middle classes go through”. The drilling had, he said, “done its work … once England was in a serious jam it would be impossible for me to sabotage”. This patriotism, however, in not incompatible, he argues, with his socialist view that “only revolution can save England”. That “has been obvious for years”. “To be loyal both to Chamberlain’s England and to the England of tomorrow might seem an impossibility”, he writes, but it is, in fact, a fact, because such dual loyalties were happening everyday. Revolution could not happen with Hitler in control, so, Hitler must be resisted.

His final point is to criticise the left-wing intellectuals who do not understand this, though his method is curious. He turns to the idea of “patriotism”, arguing that “patriotism” should not be equated with “conservatism”, because, unlike “conservatism”, “patriotism” can encompass change. Indeed, he proposes that “socialism” can grow out of the emotions that underpin “patriotism”, whether “the boiled rabbits of the Left” like it or not.

So, curiously argued perhaps, but I can imagine the socialist-leaning, middle-class raised, intellectually open Orwell wanting to nut out how to marry his socialist beliefs with the very real threats his imperfect Britain was facing – and coming up with something confronting, but true.

Wikipedia writes that “according to his notes to his literary executor in 1949”, this was one of three essays that he did not want reprinted after his death. I can sort of see why, and I don’t know why the executor didn’t respect this. However, I do like the insight this essay provides into how Orwell thought, and that it shows him to be an independent thinker, rather than a parroter of received truths.

Previous reviews of essays from this book: “Books v. Cigarettes“, “Bookshop memories“, “Confessions of a book reviewer“, and “The prevention of literature“.

George Orwell
“My country right or left” (orig. 1940)
in Books v. cigarettes (Great Ideas)
London: Penguin Books, 2008
pp. 21-41
ISBN: 9780141036618

Available online at the Orwell Foundation.

George Orwell, The prevention of literature (#Review)

One of the reasons a work becomes a classic is its timelessness, its continued relevance to each period in which it is read. This is certainly why many of George Orwell’s works are seen as classics. Scarily, there is nothing more relevant now than his writing on the impact of totalitarianism – of which his 1946 essay, “The prevention of literature”, is one example.

The essay starts by responding to a PEN meeting that was held on the tercentenary of Milton’s Areopagitica. Milton defends, Orwell writes, “the freedom of the press”, and he was concerned that not one of several hundred people present “could point out that the freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticise and oppose”.

Orwell continues to say that there are two main threats to “the idea of intellectual liberty”: the theoretical enemies, or proponents of totalitarianism; and, the immediate, practical enemies, bureaucracy and monopoly. He spends little time on this latter, but I’ll mention it because it is as valid now as it was then. He sumarises it as:

the concentration of the press in the hands of a few rich men, the grip of monopoly on radio and the films, and the unwillingness of the public to spend money on books.

I’m not sure how the last of these stands now, but I believe Australians are buying books, and particularly did so during the pandemic. However, his first two points are certainly still valid concerns, eight decades later.

Orwell’s prime focus, however, was the impact of totalitarianism on intellectual freedom, and thus on literature. He spends some time discussing attacks on freedom of thought and the press. He argues that

in the foreground the controversy over freedom of speech and the press is at bottom a controversy over the desirability or otherwise of telling lies. What is really at issue is the right to report contemporary events truthfully, or as truthfully as is consistent with the bias and self deception in which every observer necessarily suffers.

I love this qualification, but I think you can see where this is going in terms of my opening paragraph. I’m not going to write a treatise on this, but Russian-American Masha Gessen wrote a response to it in The New Yorker, in 2018, which is well worth reading for their historical understanding of where Orwell was coming from as well as for their commentary on its relevance to how. They wrote that:

We live in a time when intentional, systematic, destabilizing lying—totalitarian lying for the sake of lying, lying as a way to assert or capture political power—has become the dominant factor in public life in Russia, the United States, Great Britain, and many other countries in the world. When we engage with the lies—and engaging with these lies is unavoidable and even necessary—we forfeit the imagination. But the imagination is where democracy lives. We imagine the present and the past, and then we imagine the future.

What Gessen is referring to here is, first, the point that Orwell makes about totalitarianism’s “disbelief in the very existence of objective truth” – its lack of interest in “truthfulness” – and, second, its quashing of the “imagination” which is fundamental to literature.

Orwell argues that totalitarianism engenders instability, that totalitarians alter their perspectives at a moment’s notice to suit the prevailing situation. Such a society, he writes, “can never permit either the truthful recoding of facts, or the emotional sincerity, that literary creation demands”. You don’t have to be in a totalitarian state for this to happen, he adds. This problem can also occur wherever there is “an enforced orthodoxy – or even two orthodoxies”, where you cannot write sincerely. This point, I think, is worth considering in terms of “rules” about who can write what. I am certainly sympathetic to the concern about people’s stories being appropriated and, more problematically, being over-ridden, but there are many stories and “truths”, and sincere (I like this word) writing about them should be welcomed and respected. We learn about ourselves through the give-and-take, the conversation, that the arts facilitates. It is truly positive that we are now hearing more voices – this is what we must encourage and protect – but it would be dangerous if all these voices were confined to boxes.

Related to this is Orwell’s understanding of literature. He writes that “above a quite low level, literature is an attempt to influence the viewpoint of one’s contemporaries by recording experience”. For him, essentially all literature – particularly “prose literature” – is political in some sense. He says “there is no such thing as a genuinely non-political literature, and least of all in an age like our own, when fears, hatreds, and loyalties of a directly political kind are near the surface of everyone’s consciousness”. It sounds very much like our time.

Finally, after some other fascinating discussions – some of which made sense, some less so to me, such as his discussion of verse – he concludes that “a bought mind is a spoilt mind” and that “the imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity”.

“The prevention of literature”, although written at a very particular point in world history, turned out to be more relevant than I would have hoped possible. It raises many questions about the threats we are currently facing to intellectual liberty and freedom of expression, and thus, to “truthfully” reporting, to “sincerely” questioning, what we see happening.

Previous reviews of essays from this book: “Books v. Cigarettes“, “Bookshop memories“, and “Confessions of a book reviewer“.

George Orwell
“The prevention of literature” (orig. 1946)
in Books v. cigarettes (Great Ideas)
London: Penguin Books, 2008
pp. 21-41
ISBN: 9780141036618

Available online at the Orwell Foundation.

Jane Austen, Juvenilia, Volume the third (#Review)

This month my Jane Austen group completed our reading of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia. (Click the links for my thoughts on the first and second volumes.)

Volume the third is a little different to the other two, as it contains just two unfinished works:

  • Evelyn
  • Catharine, or The bower

Both were written in 1792, when she was 16 to 17 years old.

As with the other volumes, the pieces were later transcribed by her into three notebooks, but there is evidence in this volume of other handwriting. There is uncertainty about the provenance, but the thought is that they were transcribed by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh and his daughter Anna. Certainly, handwriting analysis suggests it is their hands, but probably not their words.

Evelyn

Evelyn is an absurd, preposterous story about the idyllic town of Evelyn. A young man comes to town and wants to live there, but every house is inhabited, due to “the sweetness of the Situation, & the purity of the Air” not to mention the fact that “neither Misery, Illhealth, or Vice are ever wafted”. Luckily for him, a family there has “a peculiar Generosity of Disposition” and, immediately on meeting him, agree to give him their house and their daughter in marriage. The laugh-out-loud ludicrousness continues from there.

This story has received very little attention, compared with most of the other juvenilia. Shawn Normandin suggests this is partly because it

seems relatively distant from feminist concerns: its protagonist is male, and its female characters lack the refreshing assertiveness that distinguishes many of the juvenilia’s heroines.

Normandin argues, however, that it is worth considering because it “attempts with extreme–and hilarious–rigour to imagine a true gift”. He discusses it in the light of Jacques Derrida’s work Given time. I’m afraid that I didn’t give this time. However, I do like the idea that Evelyn could be considered within the context of Austen’s questioning “the new Enlightenment capitalism”, as Doody suggests, because it is clear that Austen was engaged in the political ideas of her time. Anyhow, Normandin concludes that Evelyn “may be western literature’s keenest examination of the gift because, not in spite of, its absurd frivolity.”

It’s probably worth giving this article more time, but, meanwhile, one thing I did notice about Evelyn is that although the story is extreme, like the earlier juvenilia, the actual writing is a little more controlled, a little less breathless, and injected with a little more setting and description.

Catharine, or The Bower

Not only does Catharine continue – I’m assuming it was written after Evelyn – in this more controlled vein, but even more so, as it moves into the realism for which Austen’s published novels are known. Catharine, or The bower tells the story of a young woman, who, having been orphaned when very young, is being brought up lovingly but severely protectively by “a Maiden Aunt”, who fears the impact on her charge of “Young Men”. Of course, a Young Man appears!

Catharine is a little tricky to read because, while Austen had done some editing as late as 1810/11, there are confusing changes of names. Catharine is variously named Catherine and Kitty in the text, but, even trickier, is that her aunt is sometimes called Mrs Peterson and sometimes Mrs Percival!

Anyhow, for me, and for some others in our group, it contains clear hints of Northanger Abbey (which Austen first wrote around 1798/9) – of Catherine (note the name) Morland (her youthful naïveté tempered by some good sense), of Isabella Thorpe, and of the interest in young men and propriety.

Catharine also contains one of my favourite Austen quotes about reading. Catharine tells her friend Camilla:

but for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.

Some of the themes that we see in Austen’s later novels are here, including women’s education (the focus on the attainment of accomplishments versus “useful knowledge and Mental Improvement”), indulgent parenting, city versus country, the idea of women and daughters made destitute on the death of a husband/father (as happens to the Dashwoods in Sense and sensibility), thoughtless young men (like Frank Churchill in Emma). Margaret Anne Doody claims that these “early works were important companions to her during the rest of her writing career” which supports my suggestion that these works were used as sources for ideas, like writers use notebooks today.

The style, as I’ve already said, is calmer, and more formal. There is more of the sort of authorial commentary that we see in her later works. Here’s Catharine, having been easily convinced that the young man who had departed without a farewell, did really like her:

She went in high spirits to her Aunt’s apartment, without giving a Moment’s recollection on the vanity of Young Women or the unacountable conduct of Young Men.

Also, Catharine evinces, says Doody, Claudia Johnson’s argument for Austen’s engagement with politics. Certainly, our character Catharine is frustrated by Camilla’s ongoing chatter about fashion and her refusal to talk about anything else – “She found no variety in her conversation; She received no information from her but in fashions”. Catharine, on the other hand, wants to talk about books and politics.

Here is a good time to share some ideas from Doody’s Introduction to the World Classics edition of the juvenilia. She suggests that Austen, following the rejection in the 1800s of Susan (later Northanger Abbey) and First impressions (later Pride and prejudice), tamed her writing to meet the marketplace. Perhaps, but, I see Catharine as already showing some of this taming down.

Doody discusses the different ways the juvenilia can be approached, and the drawbacks to these. For example, she suggests that seeing them as pointers to later writings – which most of us do – results in our missing “their important effects”. I take her point, but only to a degree, because I’m convinced that we can see the later Austen in these early works.

However, I like that she sees the subversiveness of Austen’s early work, something that was not recognised, she says, by critics like David Cecil. GK Chesterton, on the other hand, praised the early works. In 1922, he said

she was original … naturally exuberant … she could have been a buffoon like the Wife of Bath if she chose. This is what gives an infallible force to her irony. This is what gives a stunning weight to her understatements.

Doody concludes that the mature Austen chose to write “the realistic novel of courtship”, because that was the way to publication. She “had to pretend that the world was better and its general fictions more reliable than she knew them to be”. That’s possibly true, but Austen was seen as formally innovative in her writing, which suggests that her published novels were not completely against the grain, even if they were toned down versions of what she privately felt?

References:

  • Doody, Margaret Anne. “Introduction” in Jane Austen’s Catharine and Other Writings, edited by Margaret Anne Doody and Douglas Murray. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Normandin, Shawn. “Jane Austen’s “Evelyn” and the “Impossibility of the Gift”.” Criticism 60, no. 1 (2018): 27-46. (Accessed via JSTOR)

Jane Austen
“Juvenilia. Volume the third” (ed. R.W. Chapman & Brian Southam)
in The Oxford illustrated Jane Austen. Vol VI, Minor works
London: Oxford University Press, 1969 (rev. ed.)
pp. 179-242
ISBN: 19 254706 2

Jane Austen, Lesley Castle (#Review)

I mentioned in my post on the second volume of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, that I might do a separate post on one of its longer pieces, Lesley Castle. It’s one of her three longer pieces in that volume, and is often published separately or in other compilations, so warrants some attention, methinks!

Lesley Castle

Lesley Castle is another of Austen’s epistolary pieces. According to Juliet McMaster, writing in Persuasions Online, it represented a “step forward” in epistolary novels because the writers correspond with each other, rather than to someone “off-stage”. In this piece, in fact, there are several correspondents, writing to each other, resulting in different perspectives being offered on some of the main “characters”.

Lesley Castle is essentially an unfinished collection of correspondence between various “friends” who talk mostly of marriage – and of each other. Like many of the Juvenilia pieces, it demonstrates Austen’s love of writing about wickedness. It starts with Margaret writing of her brother’s adulterous wife running off, leaving not only her husband but her 2-year-old child, and of her widowed father, “fluttering about the streets of London, gay, dissipated and thoughtless at the age of 57”. Her correspondent, Charlotte, reports back about her tragedy, the death of her sister’s fiancé from falling off his horse, but she is more interested in food than in her bereaved sister. Insensitively, she describes her distraught sister’s face being “as White as a Whipt syllabub“. Such-self-centredness is rife in Austen – and you can hear her cheeky teenage self laughing as she wrote it!

Interestingly, this story is set largely in Scotland, which Austen never visited, and rarely mentioned in her works. Why Scotland, then? One reason could be to mock the vogue at the time for things Scottish. Margaret claims that she and her sister are happy there:

But tho’ retired from almost all in the World, (for we visit no one but the M’Leods, the M’Kenzies, the M’Phersons, the M’Cartneys, the M’donalds, the M’Kinnons, the M’lellans, the M’Kays, the Macbeths and the Macduffs) we are neither dull not unhappy …

The inclusions of “the Macbeths and Macduffs” is an additional pointer to Austen’s love of nonsense. She used lists frequently in the Juvenilia, often ending them with something extra “silly” to make her point. As I said in my first Juvenilia post, subtlety was to come in her mature works!

The new Lady Lesley, the aforementioned dissipated father’s new wife, is not so taken. She is also a friend of Charlotte’s and writes to her about her new Scottish-based step-daughters:

I wish my dear Charlotte that you could but behold these Scotch giants; I am sure they would frighten you out of your wits. […] Those girls have no music, but Scotch airs, no drawings but Scotch mountains, and no books but Scotch poems–and I hate everything Scotch.

Charlotte, meanwhile, had written to Margaret about Lady Lesley whom she sees as favouring “haunts of Dissipation” (essentially, cities):

Perhaps however if she finds her health impaired by too much amusement, she may acquire fortitude sufficient to undertake a Journey to Scotland in the hope of finding it at least beneficial to her health, if not conducive to her happiness.

The piece continues in this sort of vein with the correspondents often writing at cross-purposes, and, it must be said, focusing more on self-interest than the needs of others.

Of course, Austen readers always look for hints not only of style and themes (here, self-centredness, snobbishness, sensibility, hypocrisy, country versus city, and marriage) but of characters to come. In Lesley Castle, Charlotte reminds us particularly of a few Emma characters: Mr Woodhouse and his focus on food (though his is of a very particular type), Mrs Elton and her self-centred obliviousness to the needs of others, and, even, says Heller (referenced below) of Miss Bates in her garrulousness.

Margaret is a good example of Austen’s deluded characters who see themselves one way, while showing themselves to be very different. Many of the letters open affectionately, but contain or end with cutting remarks. Margaret, for example, writes to Charlotte complaining about being admired by too “many amiable Young Men” and expressing her “Aversion to being so celebrated both in Public, in Private, in Papers, & in Printshops”. She continues:

How often have I wished that I possessed as little personal Beauty as you do; that my figure were as inelegant; my face as unlovely; and my Appearance as unpleasing as yours!

Lesley Castle is probably not for every-one. So, rather than try to convince you to read it, I’ll conclude with Zoë Heller in The Guardian. Writing about Austen’s youthful work, she says that “as always in Austen’s work, recklessness with facts and inattention to detail are the rhetorical clues to a deeper-seated, moral carelessness”. How perceptive.

Jane Austen
“Lesley Castle”
in
“Juvenilia. Volume the second” (ed. R.W. Chapman & Brian Southam)
in The Oxford illustrated Jane Austen. Vol VI, Minor works
London: Oxford University Press, 1969 (revision)
pp. 76-178
ISBN: 19 254706 2

Jane Austen, Juvenilia, Volume the second (#Review)

Last November, my Jane Austen group read the first volume (my review) of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia, with a plan to read the next two volumes during 2021. This month, we read the second volume, which contains pieces written, it is believed, between 1790 and 1793, when Austen was 14 to 17 years old. As with the other volumes, the pieces were later transcribed by her into three notebooks, with the original manuscripts now being lost (as far as we know). Interestingly, the notebook contents are not presented in perfect chronological order of her writing the pieces, so did she “curate” them in some way? Or did she just transcribe them, randomly, picking up pieces as she felt like it?

Anyhow, volume 2 includes three longer works – Love and freindshipLesley Castle and The history of England – plus other pieces. The contents are:

  • Love and freindship (13 June 1790, dated by Austen) (my separate post)
  • Lesley Castle (3 Jan to 13 April 1792)
  • The history of England (26 November 1791, dated by Austen) (my separate post)
  • A collection of letters (dedicated to a childhood friend, Miss Cooper, who was married on 11 December 1792)
  • Scraps (dedicated to niece Fanny Austen, who was born in Jan 1793)

For more intro, including why read the Juvenilia, please check my first post, linked above.

Thoughts

This volume contains fewer – but some longer – pieces than the first volume. As I’ve written separately on two of them (as linked above), I won’t focus on them here. Those two and, in fact, Lesley Castle, have been published in separate volumes and/or in other combinations, so they tend to be better known by Austen fans.

Austen scholar Brian Southam suggests that Austen transcribed these pieces (which, evidence suggests, she was still doing in 1809) in order to “keep” them? Why? One reason is that they were read aloud in family circles as a form of entertainment. We know this because her brother Henry said so in the biographical notice he (most probably, it was he) wrote for the posthumous edition of Northanger Abbey:

She read aloud with very great taste and effect. Her own works, probably, were never heard so much to advantage as from her own mouth; for she partook largely in all the best gifts of the comic muse. 

This is supported, say those who have seen them, by the fact that the notebooks look well used.

I’d like to ponder an additional reason for her wanting to “keep” them, the reason used by many novelists – Helen Garner, for example – which is for possible use in future works. This seems to me to be particularly relevant to the section called A collection of letters. These letters could be seen as character studies, she could turn to. The letters are:

  • From a mother to her friend: in this letter the mother writes of bringing “out” both her daughters at the same time, which reminds me of all the Bennet girls being out at once in Pride and prejudice (and Lady Catherine’s horror at such an idea!)
  • From a young lady crossed in love to her freind: this young lady suffers from acute “melancholy” after being disappointed in love, so much so that her friends are alarmed for her: “They fear my declining health; they lament my want of spirits; they dread the effects of both”. This is closely reminiscent of Sense and sensibility’s Marianne Dashwood and her falling apart after being rebuffed my Willoughy, and, interestingly, the names Willoughby and Dashwood appear in this letter.
  • From a young lady in distress’d circumstances to her freind: This young girl is treated with supercilious kindness by the local lady, which of course, calls to mind Lady Catherine in Pride and prejudice.
  • From a young lady rather impertinent to her freind: This young lady brazenly admits in a letter to her friend that “I am not wanting for impudence when I have any end in view”. She recounts being very nosy about a new acquaintance’s life “and what had befallen her”. I can’t bring to mind a direct match in the novels but authors don’t reuse all ideas they jot down, do they? And, there are plenty of impudent young women in Austen, including Lucy Steele in Sense and sensibility.
  • From a young lady very much in love to her freind: Again, Sense and sensibility comes to mind – and Marianne – with the young lady Henrietta’s comment on instant attraction “… for that is the only kind of love I would give a farthing for–There is some sense in being in being in love at first sight”. The romance, however, is impacted by the love object’s estate not being enough for “Henrietta who has had an offer from a Colonel and been toasted by a Baronet”!

Following this collection of letters is the final group in the volume, just labelled Scraps. It comprises a Dedication to her young niece, Fanny, in which she describes the pieces as comprising her “opinions and admonitions on the conduct of young women”. These are delightful pieces of absurdity and nonsense. I wonder if they are the young Austen’s response to the stuffy conduct books for women that were popular at the time, like Reverend James Fordyce’s conduct book, Sermons to young women (1777) from which Pride and prejudice‘s earnest but stuffy and unempathetic Mr Collins reads to his young cousins.

More themes/concerns

In my last post, I focused particularly on themes and styles in the first volume, and most of what I said there also applies to the second volume. However, I thought I’d mention here some of the issues that I picked up in the second volume that reminded me of her first three novels, in particular. So, in the second volume, she parodies:

  • Gothic (seen in Northanger Abbey); 
  • overactive imagination and sensibility (found particularly in Northanger Abbey and Sense and sensibility); 
  • snobbishness (pointing particularly to Pride and prejudice)
  • self-centredness (found in all the novels, really)

It seems petty clear that in these early writings she was making fun of Gothic and 18th century literature’s favouring of sensibility over sense. I’d argue that she took up these ideas again in the first novels she wrote, Northanger Abbey and Sense and sensibility (though the former was published much later), but, as I wrote in my previous post, her tone in the Juvenilia is one of exuberant exaggeration and parody rather than the more sophisticated wit and irony we have in her adult novels.

I’ll finish here, but will be back with more Juvenilia later, including, perhaps, a separate post on Lesley Castle!

Jane Austen
“Juvenilia. Volume the second” (ed. R.W. Chapman & Brian Southam)
in The Oxford illustrated Jane Austen. Vol VI, Minor works
London: Oxford University Press, 1969 (revision)
pp. 76-178
ISBN: 19 254706 2

Bill curates: Charles Dickens and Australia

Bill curates is an occasional series where I delve into Sue’s vast archive, stretching back to May 2009, and choose a post for us to revisit.

I’m such a fan of Monday Musings – I guess we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t all enjoy talking about books, and writing, and authors, and translators, and publishers – that all the posts that jump out at me, seem to be MMs. From Sept 2010 Sue discusses the Australianness of an author who was never in Australia. As Hannah Gwendoline D’Orsay Tennyson Bulwer [Last Name] wrote in Comments “I had no idea Dickens had such a connection with Australia.”

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My original post titled: Monday musings on Australian literature: Charles Dickens and Australia

Charles Dickens, c1860
Dickens, c. 1860 (Presumed Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

Here’s something completely different for my Monday musings! Not an Australian author, not even a foreign born author who came to Australia (though, being the great traveller he was, he did consider a lecture tour), but Charles Dickens does have a couple of interesting “connections” with Australia. These connections are supported by the existence of some letters written by him at the National Library of Australia.

On convicts and migration in general

Transportation of convicts to Australia – actual, implied or threatened – features in several of his novels. These include John Edmunds in Pickwick Papers (1836-37), the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist (1837-1839), Mr Squeers in NicholasNickleby (1838-39), Alice Marwood in Dombey and Son (1846-48), and Magwitch (probably the most famous of all) in Great expectations (1861)not to mention Jenny Wren who threatens her father with transportation in Our mutual friend (1864-65). Dickens apparently learnt quite a lot about convict life, and particularly the penal settlement on Norfolk Island, from his friend Alexander Maconochie (to whom I refer in my review of Price Warung’s Tales of the early days).

Clearly, it was this knowledge which inspired the letter he wrote to the 2nd Marquess of Normanby (George Augustus Constantine Phipps), who was Secretary of State for the Home Office . He suggests

a strong and vivid description of the terrors of Norfolk Island and such-like-places, told in a homely narrative with a great appearance of truth and reality, and circulated in some very cheap and easy form (if with the direct authority of the Government, so much the better) would have a very powerful effect on the minds of those badly disposed … I would have it on the pillow of every prisoner in England. (3 July 1840, Original in the National Library of Australia, Ms 6809)

He offers to write this narrative, gratis. As far as I know, although Dickens and the Marquess were friends, nothing ever came of this offer.

While Dickens deplored the treatment of convicts in the penal settlements, he also saw Australia as a land of opportunity. The transported Magwitch, as we know, made his fortune in Australia. Mr Micawber, debt-ridden at the end of David Copperfield, emigrates to Australia and becomes a sheepfarmer and magistrate. But, perhaps the strongest evidence of Dickens’ belief in Australia as a place where people could get ahead, is the emigation of his sons.

On his sons

Two of Dickens’ sons – Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson Dickens and Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens* (nicknamed Plorn) – emigrated to Australia, both with their father’s encouragement.

Alfred (1845-1912) migrated to Australia in 1865. He worked on several stations/properties in Victoria and New South Wales and as a stock and station agent, before partnering with his brother in their own stock and station agency, EBL Dickens and Partners. He died in the United States in 1912, having left Australia on a lecture tour in 1910. Dickens’  youngest son, Edward (1852-1902), went to Australia in 1869. He also worked on stations before opening the stock and station agency with his brother. He later worked as a civil servant and represented Wilcannia in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1889-94, but he died, debt-ridden, in 1902 at Moree. Australia did not quite turn out to be the land of opportunity for these two that Dickens had hoped, but fortunately he was not around to see it!

A couple of Dickens’ letters to his sons are held at the National Library of Australia. One was written in 1868, not long before Plorn left England, and includes some fatherly advice:

Never take a mean advantage of anyone in any transaction, and never be hard on people who are in your power …

The more we are in earnest as to feeling religion, the less we are disposed to hold forth on it. (26? September 1868, Original in National Library of Australia, Ms 2563)

One does rather wish that Dickens had taken his own advice regarding not being “hard on people who are in your power” in his treatment of his poor wife Catherine.

Eighteen days before he died in 1870, he wrote this to Alfred:

I am doubtful whether Plorn is taking to Australia. Can you find out his real mind? I note that he always writes as if his present life were the be-all and end-all of his emigration and as if I had no idea of you two becoming proprietors and aspiring to the first positions in the colony without casting off the old connexion (1870, Original in National Library of Australia, Ms 6420).

These are just two of the many letters that he wrote to (and about) his sons in Australia. More can be found in published editions of his letters. I have chosen these particular ones purely because we have them here in Canberra. It’s rather a treat to be able to see Dickens’ hand so far away from his home.

Do you enjoy close literary encounters of the handwritten kind?

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What an interesting choice of Bill’s but I am glad to be reminded of this post as I have been wanting to read more of Dickens’ journalistic writings. Whether I will is another thing but, you never know.

Are you a Dickens fan?

Jane Austen, Juvenilia, Volume the first (#Review)

Book coverJane Austen’s Juvenilia, which range over three manuscript notebooks, contain twenty-seven items, which, says Austen scholar Brian Southam, she put together “as a record of her work and for the convenience of reading aloud to the family and friends.”

While only four of the pieces are specifically dated, Austen scholars have worked out an order of writing. Most of those in “volume the first” date from 1787 to 1790 (from when Austen was 11/12 to 14/15.) The few pieces which she added at the end of this first volume come from 1793.

Why read the Juvenilia?

There are many reasons for reading an author’s juvenilia, which Juvenilia Press defines as “early writings by children and adolescents up to around 20 years of age”. They probably vary depending on the author and reader in question, but, for me, the reasons for reading Austen’s Juvenilia include for

  • insight into her development as a satirist;
  • insight into her understanding of the “depths of human perversity” (RF Brissenden);
  • insight into her understanding of the machinations of society, such as the nexus between marriage and money, and the place of women;
  • insight into her linguistic skill and wordplay;
  • insight into her writing development, including toying with forms like memoir, epistolary novels, adventures, plays, poems;
  • fun, because, depending on your sense of humour, they are a hoot.

If you love Austen, one of the reasons you love her is for her wit. In her Juvenilia, we see the origins of what later became a sophisticated (and arch) use of wit. In her Juvenilia, though, the humour is more variously described as nonsense, absurd, burlesque, farce, melodrama, parody, satire, comic, and so on. The humour is broad and realism absent, but oh, such fun.

For some recent thoughtful discussions of the Juvenilia, check out:

Meanwhile, I’m going to share, somewhat randomly, some of the things I enjoy!

Themes

Like many, I’m interested in the “proto-feminist” ideas in Jane Austen’s novels, and love that they are already apparent in the Juvenilia. Volume 1 is replete with heroines who are active, have agency, go on adventures, and drink with the best of them! Things may not always work out for them, but you can’t say they don’t give it a red hot go!

Take, for example, the resourceful Eliza (“Henry and Eliza”), whose “happy Junketings”, despite various misbehaviours, end up well in the end. Or Cassandra (“The beautiful Cassandra”), who runs off with a bonnet (rather than a man), gets into various scrapes, but returns home feeling she’s had a “day well spent”. (She reminded me, stupidly I suppose, of Pat Hutchins’ Rosie, in the picture book, Rosie’s walk. In fact, my Jane Austen group felt that “The beautiful Cassandra” would make a fine picture book”)

There are exceptions, though, like Mary in “The three sisters – a more sombre, and longer, work pointing to the adult Austen. Mary, the eldest of three sisters, receives “an offer of marriage” from a man she does not like. The problem is that he will marry one of her sisters if she doesn’t! She wants the “triumph” of marriage, but not the man. Mary’s superficial self-centredness reminded me of Sense and sensibility’s Mary Musgrove and, as one in my group said, of Pride and prejudice’s Lydia.

This brings me to a major theme found in the Juvenilia, that ongoing one in Austen’s novels, which I call “the marriage project”. It encompasses her understanding of the social and, particularly, economic factors affecting people’s marriage choices, and her support for marriages based on mutual affection and respect. Several of the stories are about marriage, and while the stories are frequently absurd, there is no doubt about the ideas lying behind them.

We also see in the stories, examples of hypocrisy, vanity, gullibility, deception, pomposity and greed – all of which appear, more subtly, in the novels. We see commentary on the times, suggesting Austen was a keen observer of what was going on around her. There are reference to the education of young women “in the Paths of Virtue” (by a Governess who elopes with the Butler!) (“Jack and Alice”); to large families which we know Austen saw as problematic, particularly for the poor child-bearing women; and to the preference for male children.

Something we don’t find so much in the Juvenilia are the delightful aphorisms that pepper Austen’s adult novels. The Juvenilia are, generally, too over-the-top to contain these more measured pronouncements. But, I did find a couple. In “Edgar and Emma”, there’s a couple who “were indeed very sensible people & tho’ (as in this instance) like many other Sensible people, they sometimes did a foolish thing …” The later Austen would have worked this up into something more general, but you get the gist.

And, in “The three sisters”, is:

he hates dancing & … what he hates himself he has no idea of any other person’s liking …

So wise so young! (And reminiscent of “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” Emma)

Style

The best fun though comes from the writing itself. It can be so absurd, so exaggerated, that you can’t help but feel what fun the young Austen had writing them, and how much laughter there must  have been when they were read in the family circle.

In the play, “The visit”, there is a dinner party for 8 people but, wah!, there are only 6 chairs:

Miss F: Pray be seated. [They sit] Bless me! there ought to be 8 Chairs & there are but 6. However, if your Ladyship will but take Sir Arthur in your lap, & Sophy my Brother in hers, I believe we shall do pretty well.

Lady H: With pleasure

The absurdity here is two-fold – not only do we have guests being asked to sit in each other’s laps, but men are asked to sit in women’s laps. How subversive the young Jane was!

Much of the fun, in these pieces, is situational, like the lap-sitting above, but these is also much evidence of Austen’s linguistic ability, her love of words and language. There are silly place names, like Crankhumdunberry (“Frederic and Elfrida”) and Pammydiddle (“Jack and Alice”). There’s alliteration, like Rebecca being “surrounded by Patches, Powder, Pomatum & Paint” (“Frederic and Elfrida”). There’s wordplay, like “variety of variegated flowers” (“Frederic and Elfrida”).

Exaggeration is a favourite technique in the Juvenilia, and is fundamental to much of the humour. We have a marriage not being supported in “Frederic and Elfrida”

on account of the tender years of the young couple, Rebecca being but 36 & Captain Roger little more than 63. To remedy this, it was agree that they should wait a little until they were a good deal older.

They waited 7 days! (And, note the inversion of the two ages.)

We have a young woman’s leg being caught in a steel trap (“Jack and Alice”). It is set by Lady Williams “with great skill which was the more wonderful on account of having never performed such a one before.” Even more miraculous is that the young lady “then arose from the ground” and found herself able to “walk with the greatest ease”.

We have another young woman, who, unrequited in love, retires to her room and “continued in tears for the remainder of her Life” (“Edgar and Emma”).

Austen also uses puns and irony. In “Henry and Eliza”, a ridiculous story is accepted as a “rational and convincing account”. And, of course, there’s melodrama with suicidal drownings, shootings and poisonings – all very un-Austen-like.

The overall effect is one of exuberance, of a precocious and confident young writer, enjoying and exploring her talent.

But … what to make of it all …

What conclusions though can we draw? Are these often silly tales pure nonsense – which White suggests is antithetical to moral imperative – or do they point to the development of Austen as the moral commentator that many of us see? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. In the Juvenilia – in the first volume anyhow – I’d argue that both are at play. Many of the stories could very well be seen as pure nonsense, written in great fun by a young woman working out what and how she could write. But others, like “The three sisters”, undeniably point to the Austen we know. Let’s see what I find when we do the second and third volumes next year.

Meanwhile. I’ll leave you with Devoney Looser’s assessment which accords perfectly with mine:

the juvenilia shows that Austen was a child-writer of great, raucous, gender-role-defying fun, an irreverent observer of life’s ridiculous conventions and fiction’s silly habits.

Jane Austen
“Juvenilia. Volume the first” (ed. R.W. Chapman & Brian Southam)
in The Oxford illustrated Jane Austen. Vol VI, Minor works
London: Oxford University Press, 1969 (revision)
pp. 1-75
ISBN: 19 254706 2

Bill curates: Jane Austen and the information highway

Bill curates is an occasional series where I delve into Sue’s vast archive, stretching back to May 2009, and choose a post for us to revisit.

Jane Austen comes up over and over in Sue’s posts, and as I’m as fascinated by her as Sue is, that suits me fine. Here though we are not looking at Austen’s wonderful writing but mining her for evidence of the way information was disseminated at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
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My original post titled: “The information highway, Jane Austen style”

The Times 1785 (must be public domain!)

Did you know there was an information highway in Jane Austen’s day? Well, there was – and it was forged by roads and newspapers.  This is the springboard for Dr Gillian Russell‘s talk, Everything Open: Newspapers in Jane Austen’s Fiction and Letters, which she gave to the Canberra group of  Jane Austen Society of Australia this weekend. She argued that the increase in the publication and distribution of newspapers in the late eighteenth century contributed to the development of a new style of nation – and in support of this quoted Henry Tilney’s statement to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey:

Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What are you judging from? … Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? … Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?

Dr Russell argued that this provides evidence that newspapers – supported by the roads which made transport of the papers easier and faster (because this was also the era of the Turnpike trusts) – were at the centre of a new style of openness and transparency in Austen’s time.

But, to provide some context. Jane Austen was born in 1775 – and the 1770s, Russell said, was the beginning of the heyday of newspapers. In 1790, some 60 newspaper titles were published in England; by 1821 there were 135. Newspapers comprised just four pages – the first page was primarily advertisements, the second page reported political (and war) news, while the third and fourth pages contained miscellaneous news, often more domestic in nature. Formal access to these newspapers, though, was gender and class-based. Men – of the gentry or middle-class – comprised the majority of subscribers. However, she argued – pretty convincingly, using the writings of Jane Austen, William Cowperand Leigh Hunt – that once newspapers were in the home, they were readily available for women to read. She described how newspapers were passed on from those who could afford them to friends, neighbours, relations. And Austen reflects this in her novels: the Dashwood women, in Sense and sensibility, received their papers from their generous landlord, Sir John Middleton; and Mr Price, Fanny’s rather impoverished father in Mansfield Park, likewise received his papers secondhand from a neighbour, signalling his lower position in the social pecking order. The fact that the Musgrove men in Persuasion read the paper while the foppish Sir Walter Eliot didn’t conveys a lot about the sorts of men they were. Anyone who’s read Persuasion will know that Sir Walter Eliot is not the one we admire!

Russell’s argument is that, while most historians study newspapers in order to understand the politics of their times, these early newspapers epitomise what Samuel Johnson called “intelligence”, which he defined as the commerce of information – that is, the way information moved around society and the role information played in that society. Austen’s writing shows how newspapers brought people together through sharing information: they promulgated domestic/family information regarding births, deaths, marriages, elopements and such, and, during the Napoleonic wars, they published naval information of critical interest to families at home such as who was promoted to what rank, who was on what ship and where the ships were. By publishing information of mainly domestic interest, newspapers validated families’ position in society. Mrs Bennet’s concern, in Pride and prejudice, about the inadequate reporting of Lydia’s marriage, for example, indicates her recognition of the importance of such reporting to establishing (or reflecting) the family’s social standing. Through this process, Russell said, newspapers played a significant role in nation-building, particularly in establishing the middling order as a bigger “player” in the life of the nation.

And, just as we have today, there was a complex information infrastructure in place to support this “commerce of information”. Papers were read by men in clubs, taverns and coffee houses. They were moved quickly from city to country via the roads and complex networks of tradespeople (one rural subscriber for example picked up his paper from the butcher). Reading rooms were an important feature of resort towns (a bit, perhaps, like the Internet Cafes of today?)

In other words, during Austen’s time newspapers became a more central part of the daily lives of the middle classes and the gentry. Papers were major bearers of domestic news and in this way, argued Russell, mirrored what Jane Austen’s novels did – that is, they conveyed information about the way the world worked and in so doing demonstrated that all forms of information exchange (domestic and political) had a public meaning. In this new world, as Henry Tilney said, everything was laid open, transparent.  Except, and here’s the rub, men were still the gatekeepers…

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Bill’s choice this time brought me up with a start. When I wrote this in 2009, newspapers were still, if I remember correctly, significant sources of news for most news-hungry people. But, the last 11 years have seen that landscape change considerably. For my parents, the newspaper was critical for keeping up with personal information like births, deaths and marriages. Reading such news would result in letters or phone calls of congratulation or condolence. What is happening to this information? Does anyone care anymore? And, what about those legally required public notices?

What would Jane make of today’s information highway? And, more to the point, what do YOU make of it? 

Bill curates: Jane Austen’s letters, 1814-1816

Bill curates is an occasional series where I delve into Sue’s vast archive, stretching back to May 2009, and choose a post for us to revisit.

Book coverI said, when I introduced this series, that Sue began writing Whispering Gums in May 2009. It seems that once begun she could not stop. There are WG posts for May 2,4,5,6,10,14,15,16,19,21,22,27,28,30,31. The May 31 post is titled, prophetically, “When too much Jane Austen is barely enough”, and is in fact the third Jane Austen post for the month. Today I reprise the second. But there will be more.

Diedre Le Faye ed., Jane Austen’s Letters, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014

More Jane Austen from Whispering Gums (here)

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My original post

By 1814, Jane Austen had published Sense and sensibility (1811) and Pride and prejudice (1813).  Mansfield Park (1814) was about to be published, and Northanger Abbey had been written many years previously but was not yet published. She was over half way through her major published oeuvre of 6 books and had less than 4 years to live. Tragedy!

Jane Austen's desk with quill

Austen’s desk, Chawton. (Courtesy: Monster @ flickr.com)

There have been several editions of her letters, the most recent being Jane Austen’s letters, published in 1995 and edited by Jane Austen scholar, Deirdre Le Faye. Of the estimated 3000 letters she wrote, only about 160 survive so it is well to savour them slowly. I have just (re)read the letters from 1814 to 1816, and found much to delight a Janeite. They contain some of her most famous quotes regarding her subject-matter and style, advice to her nieces on novel-writing, criticisms of other writing which provide insight into her own writing, as well as a lot of detail about her daily life.

One of her most famous comments was made to her niece Anna (nèe Austen) Lefroy in September 1814:

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.

Somewhat less well known is her response to James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s chaplain and librarian, who suggested she write a novel about an English Clergyman. She writes:

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 at times be on subjects of Science & Philosophy of which I know nothing  […] 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 any justice to your Clergyman. And I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible Vanity, the most unlearned, & uninformed Female who ever dared to be an Authoress. (December 1815)

False modesty perhaps, but she she knew what she was comfortable writing and this was not it. She makes clear in her letters exactly what she thinks makes good writing and one of those things is to write what you know. She tells Anna that it is fine to let some characters go to Ireland but not to describe their time there “as you know nothing of the Manners there” (August 1814). Interestingly, it would have been around this time that she was writing Emma – some of whose characters go to Ireland but no details are given of their life there. She also tells Anna that fiction must appear to be realistic as well as be realistic when she says:

I have scratched out Sir Tho: 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. (August 1814)

In other words, truth is allowed to be stranger than fiction!

In the September 1814 letter referred to earlier, she advises Anna to keep her characters consistent, and to be careful about providing too “minute” descriptions.  And in another letter written that same September she warns Anna off “common Novel style” such as creating a character who is “a handsome, amiable, unexceptionable Young Man (such as do not much abound in real Life)” and to not have a character “plunge into a ‘vortex of Dissipation’ … it is such thorough novel slang – and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened”!

There is a lot in these letters – about writing and getting published, the weather, fashion, health, and the like. However, in the interests of brevity I will close with something completely different but which, given the current popularity of Christos Tsiolkas’ The slap, seems very apposite. She writes this in 1815 about a young boy of her acquaintance: “we thought him a very fine boy, but in terrible want of Discipline – I hope he gets a wholesome thump, or two, whenever it is necessary”. If Jane thinks it’s a good idea, who are we to argue?

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When Bill offered this series to help me out, he said he’d start with Eve Langley’s The pea pickers, which he did. I wondered what he would choose next, but I should have guessed that he would have turned to another favourite that we share, Jane Austen.

We’d love all you other Austenites to show yourselves and tell us what you most love about her.