Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Literary Thought About Jane Austen

This story about the favorite books of twenty-five famous women has a fascinating Virginia Woolf quote about Jane Austen:

J.K. Rowling:
“Emma by Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf said of Austen, ‘For a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness,’ which is a fantastic line. You’re drawn into the story, and you come out the other end, and you know you’ve seen something great in action. But you can’t see the pyrotechnics; there’s nothing flashy.” —Oprah, June 2014
Compare that to Austen's own statement from a letter to J. Edward Austen:

What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?
She sells herself short, of course, and probably J. Edward Austen too long, because she worked very hard erasing, editing and rewriting.

That can be seen by comparing her last book, Persuasion, with her earlier ones.  She didn't have the time (having a date with death) to hone and hone and hone Persuasion the way the earlier books were polished, to make the sarcasm subtler and harder to spot (which makes the spotting more hilarious).