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Jane’s Fame – Chapter Six – Jane Austen TM

I finished!

Chapter Six is about the Jane Austen brand.

Austen is both a popular author and a great one. As such she exists in several mutually exclusive spheres – she is all things to all men.

The middle aged, the middle class and those who consider themselves slightly above the middlebrow are Austen’s natural constituency. They (we!) love Austen – the idea as much as the books – because she comes from our own ranks and rocks no boats.

One of the main reasons for Austen’s popularity is the romance plot. In 2004 more than half of all paperbacks sold were romances. Contemporary ‘chick lit’ owes much to Austen – her heroes don’t dominate they can almost seem like ‘sensitive new aged men’. In fact, some critics (mostly men) complain that her heroes are a bit girly and recent screen adaptations have included extra manly scenes; Edward Ferrars chopping wood, Darcy fencing, etc.

Since 1995 there has been many film and television adaptations. Viewers seem happy to see multiple treatments of the same story. Changes in technology has also affected the way we watch the adaptations – we are now ‘super-familiar’ with the material.

There is a section on prequels and sequels and another section on the Internet (blogs, etc).

An appealing attribute of Austen is ‘being for us and for our time’. She is timeless – like all great artists she inhabits a sphere outside time. Harman believes Austen worked to make her novels timeless because it is so hard to update a contemporary novel – think about the delay between the writing of First Impressions and Pride and Prejudice.

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Jane’s Fame – Chapter Five – Divine Jane

Chapter Five – Divine Jane

In this chapter Harman discusses how Jane Austen became ‘Divine Jane’ or ‘Dear Jane’.

In the 1880s the increasing audience was more for Miss Austen than the novels. She was still, however, being read by ‘a few cultured men’ which ensured her critical success. An idea seemed to emerged that liking Austen was a sign of ‘taste and intellect’. This idea generated a literary cult around Austen.

George Saintsbury in a forward to Pride and Prejudice coined the term ‘Janeite’ …

[the fans] now had a banner under which to rally.

The cult of ‘Divine Jane’ provoked violent reactions in people; Mark Twain thought ‘her impossible’ and Ralph Waldo Emerson thought her ‘sterile in artistic invention …’.  It must be noted that Mark Twain didn’t have the most propitious meeting with Austen.

W D Howells (Mark Twain’s friend) was a one mad austenolatry machine. In his magazine roles he kept Austen forever in the public eye.

In the late 19th Century Austen’s most ardent fans were American. Henry James thought the industry around Austen created unreal and disproportionate attention (what would he think today?).

Constance and Ellen Hill created a new type of Austen research (or tourism) a trip to ‘Austen Land’.

I found it interesting to know that during the Great War Austen’s novels were recommended reading for the severely shell-shocked.

Of course there is information on Rudyard Kipling’s Janeites.

And the final section is about R W Chapman (and his wife) and how their serious study of Austen ‘was pivotal to her establishment as a classic author in the twentieth century’.

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Jane’s Fame – Chapter Four – A Vexed Question

In this chapter Harman writes about the Austen families response to Austen’s growing popularity (as Caroline wrote to James Edward ‘this vexed question between the Austens and the public’)and the demand for more information.

  • Catherine-Anne Hubback (Frank’s daughter) wrote a novel (which was essentially a continuation of The Watsons – not that the public knew)
  • James Edward Austen Leigh wrote the memoir
  • Lord Brabourne published the letters that were in his mother’s possession (his mother was Fanny Knatchbull – Edward’s daughter).

James Edward wrote the memoir to stop the speculation and to provide more information (the family hoped enough information). The memoir, however, generated more demand, people wanted to read her earlier works that were mentioned in the memoir and to know even more details about her life.

Harman believes two distinct groups of fans emerged; those who ‘were keen to celebrate Austen’s mental distinctiveness and Artistry and those who ‘took comfort in such an artist being just like the rest of us‘.

There is also a discussion on the different portraits of Jane Austen (the sketch by Cassandra, the prettied up version of the sketch and the Rice portrait).

I found it interesting that no one person was in charge of Jane Austen (so to speak). Her papers were spread amongst her family (when Cassandra died there was 23 living nieces and nephews) with Fanny having the majority. Harman dispels to Austen myths; one about Austen refusing to have a door oiled so she could hear people coming and therefore hide her writing and the second about the ‘little bit of ivory’.

Next Chapter – The Divine Jane

I don’t think I’m going to meet the 31st July deadline, but maybe I’ll make up some time in the later months. I plan to watch Mansfied Park in December – surely that won’t take an entire month?

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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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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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Everything Austen Challenge – Jane’s Fame

My first selection in the Everything Austen Challenge was Jane’s Fame – How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman.

I found my copy (under a pile of to-be-dealt-with magazines and books) and I have planned my reading for the month. The book has seven chapters – I plan to read two chapters a week.

In a completely unrelated aside I just finished watching the latest version of Little Dorrit. It was fabulous – if you like a period drama, then you’ll definitely want to see this (and let’s face it you’re reading a blog about Jane Austen so you must like period dramas). You can buy it from the BBC Store and it is in regions 2 and 4 (that means you can watch it in Australia).

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