I am very much flattered by your commendation of my last letter, for I write only for fame, and without any view to pecuniary emolument. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 16 January 1796, The Letters of Jane Austen
Sometimes I take Jane Austen for granted. She is just there, – – like Starbucks and under-wire bras. But in her day, she was an unknown celebrity, modestly publishing her novels merely “By a Lady”, and collecting pecuniary emolument by post. She didn’t have a publicist or an literary agent touting her work, no book tours with interviews and signings to promote sales. Just Jane at home with her privacy and anonymity.
Today, she is everywhere. Like Shakespeare and the Bible, she is part of our cultural and entertainment identity. So, as I was lunching with two co-workers yesterday, it came as a jolting shock to me when one young and very bright student asked me if “she was a real person?” *%#^*? I just about fell out of my chair and choked unintelligibly for a good 15 seconds. Luckily, the other co-worker was able to fill her in while I composed myself, and we had a good laugh about it.
In retrospect, it was just as Jane had wanted it. Her paying public knew and appreciated her work, but she remained removed from fame as “By a Lady”.
Are you interested to know what other celebrities, authors and family members thought of Jane Austen’s fame? Check out the dish at A Memoir Of Jane Austen by her nephew J.E. Austen, on-line at Google books.
*Photo of mod Jane, from I Dream of Mr. Darcy article, Salon.com, 27 June 2007