Jane’s Fame – Praise and Pewter (Chapter Two)

When I set myself the task of reading two chapters a week of Jane’s Fame, I thought it would be easy. However, I have found myself at the end of a chapter without any real idea what I was reading. I haven’t been able to focus. This is in part because the book is such an easy read, but mostly because I’m just lazy. Anyway, here are my thoughts on Chapter Two.

Chapter Two is about the business of publishing and writing. James Edward Austen Leigh (in his memoir) believed Austen wasn’t distressed about her lack of early success.

I do not think that she herself was much mortified by the want of early success. She wrote for her own amusement. Money, though acceptable, was not necessary for the moderate expenses of her quite home.

She was, however, mortified she did want to make money and she wasn’t writing for her own amusement.

Tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls pewter too.

There is a prevailing idea that Austen had two creative phases separated by a period of silence (while living in Bath). Harman disagrees she just thinks there isn’t any documentation. She thinks Austen might still have been trying to get her work published and being rejected.

The move to Bath bought the family into closer contact with the book world – easier access to book sellers and printers. It was through a book seller she came into contact with Crosby who bought Susan for £10. This sale came at a good time in Austen’s life to justify her aspirations as a writer. She had just rejected Harris Bigg-Wither (a very eligible young man). However, the novel appeared. In 1809 a novel called Susan was published anonymously. Austen must have thought it was hers. Alas, like First Impressions her title was pre-empted. She wrote to Crosby to try to speed the publication. His son replied that they had never guaranteed publication and she could purchase it back for £10. This was a huge sum to Austen – her yearly allowance was £10. Of course to her brothers, Henry and Edward, this was a paltry amount, but her pride both personal and professional would not let her borrow money.

Harman also writes about the method of publication of each novel:

Sense and Sensibility by commission (Egerton paying all of the costs and receiving 10% Austen liable for all of the costs)

Pride and Prejudice she sold the copyright (for £110)

Mansfield Park by commission

She then swapped from Egerton to John Murrary (the publisher of Lord Byron).

Emma by commission.

I was fascintated to discover that Mansfield Park was the most successful finacially for Austen.

There is also information in this chapter on the reviews that appeared immediately after the novels were published. For example, about Pride and Prejudice

this performance … rises very superior to any novel we have lately meet with in the delineation of domestic scenes.

And also opinions Austen collected from family and friend. For example,

Mrs Austen thought the heroine [Fanny Price] insipid

Austen wrote The Plan of a Novel, according to hints from various quarters as a private (and satirical) response to all of the advice and opinions. Particularly from James Stanier Clarke the Prince Regent’s Librarian (who had many story ideas).

There is also a bit of information about the reworking of the resolution of the love story in Persuasion.

Next chapter: Mouldering in the Ground

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