Many of Jane Austen's warmest admirers have found her letters disappointing, and have thought they showed that she was cold and unfeeling and that her interests were trivial. I am surprised. They are very natural. Jane Austen never imagined that anyone but Cassandra would read them, and she told her exactly the sort of things she knew would interest her. She told her what people were wearing and how much she had paid for the flowered muslin she had bought, what acquaintances she had made, what old friends she had met and the gossip she had heard
Of late years several collections of letters by eminent authors have been published, and for my part, when I read them, I am now ans then disposed to suspect that the writers had at the back of their minds the notion that one day they might find their way into print. They give me not seldom the impression that they might have been used just as they were in the columns of a literary journal. In order not to annoy the devotees of the recently deceased I will not mention their names, but Dickens has been dead a long time and it is possible to say what one likes of him without offense. Whenever he went on a journey he wrote long letters to his friends in which he described eloquently the sights he had seen and which, as his biographer justly observes, might well have been printed without the alteration of a single word. People were more patient in those days; still one would have thought it a disappointment to receive a letter from a friend who gave you word pictures of mountains and monuments when you wanted to know whether he had come across anyone interesting, what parties he had been to and whether he had been able to get you the books or ties or handkerchiefs you had asked him to bring back.
Friday, 11 March 2011
Somerset Maugham on Jane Austen's Letters
Aw, shame that Irene didn't seem to tempt any of you. But I suspect more people will be intrigued by today's post - about Jane Austen. Susan in TX very kindly and sweetly sent me A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen last year, and I'm reading it slowly, savouring it. I'll write a proper review of it when I'm all done, which could be a while, but it's the sort of book I'll want to share bits from now and then. And today I'm quoting from W. Somerset Maugham about Jane Austen's letters, because I entirely agree with him. I don't understand the critics who are disappointed by her letters - they're wonderful. Also, all of the famous bits you'll have heard quoted (two inches of ivory; three or four families, etc.) are written so very tongue-in-cheek that they should never be taken as Austen's genuine opinion of herself. Just sayin'. Anyway, over to Maugham: