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Jane’s Fame – Authors Too Ourselves (Chapter One)

This post is a bit delayed because I’ve been away (for school holidays) anyway …

Chapter One of Claire Harman’s Jane’s Fame provides some biographical detail, but more interestingly focuses on the writers in her family and amongst her acquaintance.

We read about her brothers James and Henry who produced The Loiterer (every Saturday from January 1789 to March 1790). James was considered to be the the writer of the family …

His seniority, his sex and his choice of the art of poetry over prose meant that even after his sister had become a highly praised novelist, he was still in all important respects still regarded as the writer of the family.

James Austen

They briefly had as a neighbour Samuel Egerton Brydges (the younger brother of Mrs Anne Lefroy) who published a book of poetry (poorly received) and later had some success as a novelist. He was the first published author with whom Austen came into contact – although she wasn’t that impressed with him as an author …

[after reading Arthur Fitz-albini] My father is disappointed – I am not, for I expected nothing better. Never did any book carry more internal evidence of its author. Every sentiment is completely Egerton’s. There is very little story, and what there is is told in a strange, unconnected way. There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated.

Her mother’s first cousin Cassandra Cooke wrote Battleridge but more importantly lived in the house opposite Fanny Burneyf or several years. Austen must have been intrigued by stories about Burney’s publishing dilemmas. There is some speculation as to whether Austen ever meet Burney, but she at least must have seen her from a distance. Austen was a fan of Fanny Burney and Harman believes ‘Pride and Prejudice is an elaborate homage to Camilla’ – having never read Camilla I couldn’t say.

Harman also believes that the delay in Austen getting published contributed to her brilliant novels…

Frustrating though this must have been for the author, the benefit to posterity could hardly have been greater […]The longer Austen remained unpublished, the more experimental she became, and the more licence she assumed with bold, brilliant moves.

Next chapter Praise and Pewter.

My local Jane Austen group (jasaperth.com) have an Emma movie challenge – check it out.

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