Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Jane Austen


Jane Austen's house in Chawton


Chawton House, near Jane Austen's own house. Owned by the Knights for generations, Herry used to go to dances there

One of my favourite pieces of writing is Lord Grey's essay on Jane Austen:

Jane Austen is to me the greatest wonder among novel writers. I do not mean that she is the greatest novel writer, but she seems to me the greatest wonder. Imagine, if you were to instruct an author or an authoress to write a novel under the limitations within which Jane Austen writes!

Suppose you were to say, "Now you must write a novel, but you must have no heroes or heroines in the accepted sense of the word. You may have naval officers, but they must always be on leave or on land, never on active service. You must have no striking villans; you may have a mild rake, but keep him well in the background, and if you are really going to produce something detestable, it must be so because of its small meannesses, as, for instance, the detestable Aunt Norris in 'Mansfield Park'; you must have no very exciting plots; you must have no thrilling adventures; a sprained ankle on a country walk is allowable, but you must not go much beyond this. You must have no moving descriptions of scenery; you must work without the help of all these; and as to passion, there must be none of it. You may, of course, have love, but it must be so carefully handled that it very often seems to get little above the temperature of liking. With all these limitations you are to write, not only one novel, but several, which, not merely by popular appreciation, but by the common consent of the greatest critics shall be classed amongst the first rank of the novels written in your language in your country."

Lord Grey of Falloden - The Falloden Papers

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