Category Archives: Writing

A vortex of dissipation

More advice from Jane to her writing niece:

“Devereux Forester’s being ruined by his Vanity is extremely good; but I wish you would not let him plunge into a ‘vortex of Dissipation’.  I do not object to the Thing, but I cannot bear the expression;–it is such thorough novel slang–and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened.”

letter to Anna Austen
September 28, 1814 [108]

Jane was writing from her home at Chawton, which is now Jane Austen’s House Museum.

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Filed under Austen family, Humor, Letters, niece Anna Austen, Writing

Advice to a writing niece

A couple letters survive where Jane gives advice to her niece Anna, who was writing a novel.  Unfortunately, it seems that Anna later destroyed the manuscript in a fit of desperation, but Jane’s advice is still wonderful, even if we don’t have the manuscript she was commenting on.

“Henry Mellish I am afraid will be too much in the common Novel style–a handsome, amiable, unexceptionable Young Man (such as do not much about in real Life) desperately in Love, & all in vain.  But I have no business to judge him so early.”

letter to Anna Austen
September 28, 1814 [108]


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A dangerous thing

More today from James:

“Of all chymical mixtures, ink is the most dangerous.”

James Austen
The Loiterer, number 1
Saturday, January 31, 1789

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Just don’t pretend

Today’s quote is from James Austen’s The Loiterer, a journal he edited and published while he was at Oxford.  Many thanks to the Chawton House Library for allowing me to do research there when I was in England.  Great to have a chance to read some of James’s stuff.  It seems he considered himself the writer in the family, though his sister Jane would eventually outstrip him.

“The world will forgive an author’s being a little dull, provided he does not pretend to be very witty.”

James Austen
The Loiterer, number 1
Saturday, January 31, 1789

I have been thinking along these lines as I edit my book — I am officially not pretending to be very witty, so forgive me if I am occasionally dull.  😉

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From G.K. Chesterton

A slight diversion today — ran across this Chesterton quote from his introduction to a 1922 edition of Jane’s Love and Freindship and had to share it.

“Jane Austen was not inflamed or inspired or even moved to be a genius.  Her fire, what there was of it, began with herself; like the fire of the first man who rubbed two sticks together.  Some would say that they were very dry sticks which she rubbed together.  It is certain that she by her own artistic talent made interesting what thousands of superficially similar people would have made dull.

Love and Freindship is one of Jane’s juvenalia stories, dedicated to her glamorous cousin Eliza, the “Madame La Comtesse De Feuillide.”  Eliza’s French husband was not actually a count, he only liked to be known as one, which is a story for another day.  I’ve not read it yet, and I’ve actually not read any Chesterton, but he’s on my list.

The misspelling of friendship in the title is on purpose — that’s how Jane wrote it.  I’ve heard people say that she did that as a joke, but if you read through her letters, she was always reversing the i‘s and e’s in things (then again, she was always joking).

Emphasis mine.

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An off day

“I do not know what is the matter with me to day, but I cannot write quietly; I am always wandering away into some exclamation or other.—Fortunately I have nothing very particular to say.”

letter to Cassandra
June 11, 1799 [21]

Jane is here only referring to her letter to Cassandra

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The greatest powers of the mind

“‘I am no novel reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.’ — Such is the common cant — ‘And what are you reading, Miss—?’ “Oh! it is only a novel!’ replies the young lady; while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame.–‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda;’ or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.”

Jane as narrator commenting on the value of her profession; the books she refers to are by Fanny Burney (Cecilia and Camilla) and Maria Edgeworth (Belinda)
Northanger Abbey, chapter 5

I have read Burney’s Evelina–a wonderful Christmas gift from my roommate last year–and loved it.  If you are done with the Austen canon and looking for further reading, I highly recommend Burney.  Another related book on my to-be-read list is Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, which Jane spoofs here in NA.

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An injured body

“Yes, novels; — for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding — joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust.  Alas! if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?  I cannot approve of it.  Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans.  Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body.  Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried.”

Jane launches into this little commentary (isn’t it wonderful?) after saying that Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe would shut themselves up together to read novels, when it was raining and there was no other entertainment to be had
Northanger Abbey, chapter 5

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Poor, slighted novelists

” . . . there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labor of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.”

Jane as narrator commenting on the value of her profession
Northanger Abbey, chapter 5

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An artist’s nature

“I hope George was pleased with my designs.  Perhaps they would have suited his as well had they been less elaborately finished; but an artist cannot do anything slovenly.”

letter to Cassandra
November 17, 1798 [11]

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