Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen

Unpacking my much loved books to store them on my shelves here in Florida, the task took longer than anticipated because I got distracted each time I rediscovered an old favourite. One such was a small tome entitled “The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen”. Flicking through it, I came across extracts from her letters to her niece Anna Austen, written in 1814, offering tips in the novelist’s art.



Listen to this advice about writing what you know:

We think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland, but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters.

On practical plotting:

Your aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather fearful yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequent a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be sometimes introduced of apparent consequence, which will lead to nothing. It will not be so great an objection to me, if it does. I allow much more latitude than she does – and think nature and spirit cover many sins of a wandering story…

And on the need for consistency in characterisation:

I like your Susan very much indeed, she is a sweet creature, her playfulness of fancy is very delightful. I like her as she is now exceedingly, but I am not so well satisfied with her behaviour to George R. At first she seemed all over attachment and feeling, and afterwards to have none at all; she is so extremely composed at the Ball, and so well-satisfied apparently with Mr Morgan. She seems to have changed her character.

On finding a situation that works, and the right sort of character-chemistry:

You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a sport as is the delight of my life; - 3 0r 4 families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on – and I hope you will write a great deal more, and make full use of them whilst they are so very favourably arranged. You are now coming to the heart and beauty of your book…

Not much different to the advice writers get two hundred years on. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wendy

10 comments:

Barbara Longley said...

Cool. I didn't read Jane Austen until recently. Interesting how pertinent something from the past still is today.

Alyssa Everett said...

I love how good Jane was at tempering constructive criticism ("She seems to have changed her character") with encouragement ("I like her as she is now exceedingly"). She was a great writer and, judging from her letters, she might have made a fine editor, too. Thanks so much for this, Wendy!

Taryn Kincaid said...

I just love this! Thanks, Wendy!

MaureenAMiller said...

I would do the same thing, Wendy. I would get stuck for hours unpacking the books and pouring through them.

Wendy Soliman said...

Thanks for your comments, ladies. I agree with those of you who admire Jane's foresight.

Veronica Scott said...

Imagine what Jane Austen could do in today's world of romance! I'd love to see her take on things. Or conversely, what would we write if we were living in her time? Really enjoyed this blog.

Wendy Soliman said...

Interesting point, Veronica. I wonder if Jane was with us today she'd be drawn into writing about S.E.X.?

Thanks for stopping by and glad you're enjoying the blog.

Susanna Fraser said...

I just wish Jane Austen hadn't died so relatively young! I wish we had all the books she might've written had she lived to a ripe old age.

And I like all of her advice except the part about sticking to what you know and have experienced. I'd rather write what I want to know, and just do research.

Georgie Lee said...

What a great book. Thanks for sharing the wonderful quotes.

Claire Robyns said...

I love her books and now I think I might have loved the woman herself... she was so gentle and kind in her critique, but still able to give useful advice so her niece could improve.