The following is an short article by Richard Cavendish and which appeared in History Today magazine, volume 61, issue 10, 2011.
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was first published in London by Thomas Egerton on October 30th, 1811.
Jane Austen was 35 when her first published novel appeared and had less than six years left to live. The youngest of seven children of a Hampshire clergy-man, George Austen, she wrote stories and poems from her childhood on and read them aloud to her family, who enjoyed them, as well as plays that the family acted out. The anarchic, boisterous humour of some of the early work has been compared to Monty Python. According to her sister Cassandra, Jane had written the first version of a novel she called Elinor and Marianne by 1796 and she began First Impressions (later Pride and Prejudice) in October that year. Late in 1797 her father offered it to a London publisher, who sent it straight back by return post without bothering to read it. She drastically altered Elinor and Marianne in 1797-98.
In 1801 the Austens moved to Bath where Jane’s output fell off, whether because the move made her happy or unhappy is unclear. The family moved back to Hampshire in 1809 and settled in Chawton, near Alton, in the house which is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum. Revised once more in 1809-10, Elinor and Marianne came out at last in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility, ‘a novel in three volumes, By a Lady’, published in London by Thomas Egerton. The Lady in question was obliged to cover any losses, but in fact she cleared £140 from the first edition, equivalent to £9,000 or more today. To Cassandra she compared her feelings about seeing her work in print with those of a mother with a suckling child.
Miss Austen took care to conceal her identity. When she and her niece Anna saw a copy of the novel in the local circulating library Anna said, that with a title like that it must be rubbish. Her aunt looked amused, but made no comment. She let Anna into the secret later.
The novel made a good impression and Egerton published Pride and Prejudice in 1813 and Mansfield Park the following year. The later novels were published by John Murray. Word of the author’s identity spread through the literary and fashionable worlds and the Prince Regent, who was a fan, suggested she dedicate Emma to him, which she reluctantly did. Richard Brinsley Sheridan called Pride and Prejudice ‘one of the cleverest things he ever read’. Another admirer was Sir Walter Scott, who wrote after Jane Austen’s death in 1817:
The big wow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is beyond me.
The plaudits have very properly gone on raining down ever since.
For those who do not subscribe to the UK magazine Jane Austen’s Regency World, here follows a little synopsis of the news and articles contained in the September/October 2011 edition.
- A new film, Austenland is in production and stars American Keri Russell whose thirty-something single character finds her love life ruined by her obsession with Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy. (I am sure there are a few of us who could relate to that!) Her obsession draws her to England in the hope of meeting the perfect Regency gentleman. The film also stars the gorgeous J.J. Feild who recently wooed female audiences with his portrayal of Henry Tilney in the 2007 television adaptation of Northanger Abbey.
- If you are interested in Regency charades you may want to check out Mark Turner’s new blog which will be devoted to the topic. Mark intends to provide his readers with historical information about the charades, as well as posting examples from his charade collection.
- A handwritten manuscript of The Watsons was sold by Sotheby’s London in July for a meagre £993,250 by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.
- Check out Australian musicologist Gillian Dooley’s website which contains the fruits of her research into Jane Austen’s music as well as some recordings to enjoy.
In ‘Your Letters’, Anne Rice writes to the editor about an article that appeared in edition No. 44 about the controversial Rice Portrait, which some believe to be of a young Jane Austen and disputes the claims of Deidre La Faye about her dating of the portrait subject’s dress making the subject unlikely to be Jane.
You can follow the controversial debate on the good-old Internet. The painting belonged to recently deceased Henry Price, a descendant of Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Mr Price claimed that his family had always believed the painting to be a portrait of their illustrious ancestor. The National Portrait Gallery of London has spent many years investigating the painting and its experts believe that this could in no way be a portrait of Jane Austen. A Google search for the ‘Rice Portrait Jane Austen‘ will take those of you with an interest in finding out more to a few articles on the subject.
Apparently the recently wed Catherine Middleton, aka the Duchess of Cambridge, is related to Jane Austen via Henry Percy (1382-1455), the great-great grandson of Edward III. Ancestry.co.uk have discovered that Henry Percy is the Duchess’ 15th great grandfather and his wife Catherine, the 15th great aunt of Jane Austen. For those who are interested in trying to discover if there is some chance they are a distant relative of the great Miss Austen you may want to sign up to Ancestry.co.uk and get searching. What do they say on their ads?: “You don’t need to know what you’re looking for, you just need to start looking.”
Other articles include Penelope Friday on how illness and death was tackled in the Regency Period and in Jane Austen’s novels; Maggie Lane on how Jane Austen used the plot device of characters overhearing others talking to move her story forward; Linda Slothouber on the issue of the shortage of copper coins and the resulting hardship during the period 1775-1797; and Sue Wilkes on the life of Sir Robert Peel, not the famous PM, but his equally illustrious father, a politician and “prime mover in factory reform”.
While the topics for our meetings are still to be finalised, our dates have been set for 2012, so have your diaries to the ready to book us in! And it’s still the traditional time of 2:30pm.
Saturday February 4th – Members Helen and Alanah will be presenting on ‘How to research Jane Austen’. – Bring along your pen and paper, or whatever electronic form of note-taking you are using in these technologically advanced times, because the girls will be giving us lots of splendid clues on how to delve deeper into the archives of the Austen World.
Saturday April 7th – Member Lauris will be presenting on ‘Sisters in Jane Austen’s Novels’. – Oh no, how awful! We will have to do some reading of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion in preparation. Won’t we hate that. [insert smiley wink here]
Saturday June 2nd – Topic to be confirmed
August – Date and topic to be confirmed
Saturday October 6th – Members Kay and Marcel will be presenting on ‘Jane Austen and Crime’. – I would suggest that a useful research tool for this meeting would be our very own President Susannah Fullerton’s tome titled Jane Austen and Crime. You may even want to check out the Old Bailey website and find some Regency Rogues for us to discuss.
Saturday December 1st – Christmas Meeting with topic to be confirmed and drinks to be ordered!
If you would like to come along to our meeting, please contact our Meeting Coordinator Helen at email@example.com.
Greetings to my Fellow Perth Janeites and to anyone else who happens to wander across our blog.
This blog has been inspired by our new Meeting Coordinator Extraordinaire, Helen Atkinson, who would like our humble little group to reach a wider audience and attract new members, or simply reach those of you who, like us, love all things Jane Austen, but are unable to make it to meetings for whatever reason. While I, Lisa Keane Elliott, will be managing the blog and looking after most of the posts, the idea behind the blog is that it is a communal endeavour with all our members contributing items for your reading pleasure. I will also be listing details regarding our meetings so anyone interested in joining us will know the wheres and whens of our gatherings.
I do hope we are able to provide an informative and diverting place for Perth Chapter members and others to wile away an hour or two revelling in all things Jane Austen. As Miss Austen herself wrote, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”. Here you will find “delightful diversions” from a “company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation” and passion for all things Jane Austen.
I shall return presently with details of our upcoming meetings, so please visit us again if you are interested in coming along.