Posted: 29th Sep 2015
In the 3rd of our Insults & Inspirations posts and the extreme reactions that Jane Austen has provoked up and down the years we include four quotes from three female authors who didn't appreciate the Austen ouevre. What do you think about the points they make?
Why do you like Jane Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. ... I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? ...a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. (In reply to the critic G.H. Lewes)
She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. ... Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible (not senseless) woman, if this is heresy—I cannot help it. (In reply to her publisher’s reader, W.S. Williams)
Without brilliancy of any kind—without imagination, depth of thought, or wide experience, Miss Austen, by simply describing what she knew and had seen, and making accurate portraits of very tiresome and uninteresting people, is recognized as a true artist, and will continue to be admired, when many authors more ambitious, and believing themselves filled with a much higher inspiration, will be neglected and forgotten.
The chief reason why she does not appeal to us as some inferior writers do is that she has too little of the rebel in her composition, too little discontent, and of the vision which is the cause and the reward of discontent. She seems at times to have accepted life too calmly as she found it, and to anyone who reads her biographer or letters it is plain that life showed her a great deal that was smug, commonplace, and, in a bad sense of the word, artificial…. It happens very seldom, but still it does happen, that we feel that the play of her spirit has been hampered by such obstacles; that she believes in them as well as laughs at them, and that she is debarred from the most profound insight into human nature by the respect which she pays to some unnatural convention.