Reflections upon Jane Austen’s death, July 18, 1817: “her talents, her virtues, and her engaging manners”

Much has been written on the cause of Jane Austen’s lingering illness and untimely death in Winchester on 18 July 1817. I have a stack of biographies that I perused in search of a poignant passage that would express the tenor of this solemn day. Her great biographers Claire Tomalin, David Nokes and Elizabeth Jenkins give detailed accounts from family in attendance and their own conclusions. I find her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s interpretation from his A Memoir of Jane Austen simple and touching. Even though it is not elaborate or detailed, it is the only version from the view point of someone who actually knew her, and I find that unique and invaluable.

Throughout her illness she was nursed by her sister, often assisted by her sister-in-law, my mother. Both were with her when she died. Two of her brothers, who were clergymen, lived near enough to Winchester to be in frequent attendance, and to administer the services suitable for a Christian’s death-bed. While she used the language of hope to her correspondents, she was fully aware of her danger, though not appalled by it. It is true that there was much to attach her to life. She was happy in her family; she was just beginning to feel confidence in her own success; and, no doubt, the exercise of her great talents was an enjoyment in itself. We may well believe that she would gladly have lived longer; but she was enabled without dismay or complaint to prepare for death. She was a humble, believing Christian. Her life had been passed in the performance of home duties, and the cultivation of domestic affections, without any self-seeking or craving after applause. She had always sought, as it were by instinct, to promote the happiness of all who came within her influence, and doubtless she had her reward in the peace of mind which was granted her in her last days. Her sweetness of temper never failed. She was ever considerate and grateful to those who attended on her. At times, when she felt rather better, her playfulness of spirit revived, and she amused them even in their sadness. Once, when she thought herself near her end, she said what she imagined might be her last words to those around her, and particularly thanked her sister-in-law for being with her, saying: ‘You have always been a kind sister to me, Mary.’ When the end at last came, she sank rapidly, and on being asked by her attendants whether there was anything that she wanted, her reply was, ‘Nothing but death.’ These were her last words. In quietness and peace she breathed her last on the morning of 18 July, 1817.

On the 24th of that month she was buried in Winchester Cathedral, near the centre of the north aisle, almost opposite to the beautiful chantry tomb of William of Wykeham. A large slab of black marble in the pavement marks the place. Her own family only attended the funeral. Her sister returned to her desolated home, there to devote herself, for ten years, to the care of her aged mother; and to live much on the memory of her lost sister, till called many years later to rejoin her. Her brothers went back sorrowing to their several homes. They were very fond and very proud other. They were attached to her by her talents, her virtues, and her engaging manners; and each loved afterwards to fancy a resemblance in some niece or daughter of his own to the dear sister Jane, whose perfect equal they yet never expected to see. [1]

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Jane Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for July

The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer (2009)The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in July, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.  

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired) 

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer 

July is The Grand Sophy month at Jane Austen Today in celebration of this very special Georgette Heyer Regency era novel. Its publisher Sourcebooks has made a serious commitment to reissue many of her beloved novels and we could not be happier. Like Jane Austen, Heyer’s style is often emulated but rarely matched. There is no subsitute for the original. The Grand Sophy is one of her most popular stories. Heroine Sophy Stanton-Lacy has the self assurance of Austen’s character Emma Woodhouse and the spirit of Eliza Bennet – a dynamic combo – leading to trouble and hilarity. (Publisher’s description) Sophy sets everything right for her desperate family in one of Georgette Heyer’s most popular Regency romances. When Lady Ombersley agrees to take in her young niece, no one expects Sophy, who sweeps in and immediately takes the ton by storm. Sophy discovers that her aunt’s family is in desperate need of her talent for setting everything right: Ceclia is in love with a poet, Charles has tyrannical tendencies that are being aggravated by his grim fiancee, her uncle is of no use at all, and the younger children are in desperate need of some fun and freedom. By the time she’s done, Sophy has commandeered Charles’s horses, his household, and finally, his heart. Sourcebooks, ISBN: 978-1402218941 

Colonel Brandon's Diary, by Amanda Grange (2009)Colonel Brandon’s Diary, by Amanda Grange 

In her fifth novel in the Austen Hero’s Series, Amanda Grange has actually succeeded in improving upon Austen’s character Colonel Brandon; — at least for me! He is not one of my favorite characters in Sense and Sensibility, though he certainly has his fangirls. I appreciated learning more about his back story – his days in India and his failed romance with his first love Eliza Williams. As always, Grange is one of the most gifted writers in the Austen subgenre, giving us a touching inside story that is hard to put down. (Publisher’s description) At the age of eighteen, James Brandon’s world is shattered when the girl he loves, Eliza, is forced to marry his brother. In despair, he joins the army and leaves England for the East Indies for the next several years. Upon his return, he finds Eliza in a debtor’s prison. He rescues her from her terrible situation, but she is dying of consumption and he can do nothing but watch and wait. Heartbroken at her death, he takes some consolation in her illegitimate daughter, who he raises as his ward. But at the age of fifteen, his ward goes missing. Devastated by the thought of what could have happened to her, he is surprised to find himself falling in love with Marianne Dashwood. But Marianne is falling in love with the charismatic Willoughby. Berkley Trade, ISBN: ISBN: 978-0425227794 

Ransome's Honor, by Kaye Dacus (2009)Ransome’s Honor (The Ransome Trilogy ),  by Kaye Dacus 

I love supporting emerging authors, and am happy to feature this new release with Austen undertones. Just think of the themes of lost opportunity and renewed romance from Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, and throw in a dashing Naval hero like Horatio Hornblower, and you’ll understand Dacus’ inspiration for her first book in the trilogy. I am such a sucker for a man in a blue uniform. (Publisher’s description) The war with France has ended, and Captain William Ransome, known for never letting women aboard his ship, has returned to Portsmouth, England. Julia Witherington, considered an old-maid at 29, discovers that she must marry immediately to receive a large dowry. Julia knows that the only man she doesn’t want to marry is William Ransome. And the only man her father will approve of is…William Ransome. When the couple strikes a financial deal to feign marriage for one year, the adventure begins. These stubborn people face humorous and hard situations that reveal what else they have in common—a growing affection for one another. This intriguing tale of faith and loyalty is a wonderful new offering for readers of all genres. Harvest House Publishers, ISBN: 978-0736927536 

Nonfiction 

Jane Austen and Marriage, by Hazel Jones (2009)Jane Austen and Marriage, by Hazel Jones 

A well connected Marriage. What every Regency Miss dreamed of, and every parent schemed for. An advantageous alliance could elevate social position, increase wealth and expand property; all critical elements in Regency society. Jane Austen was keenly aware of the importance of marriage through family, friends and her own life. Her novels are driven by it. Author Hazel Jones presents this important topic with aplomb and energy. (Publisher’s description) With original research, this book offers a new insight into Jane Austen’s life and writing. The question of marriage lies at the centre of Jane Austen’s novels. The issues bound up in the pursuit of love, happiness, money and status were those of her day and informed the plots and morals of her work. In this fascinating book, Hazel Jones explores the ways in which these themes manifest themselves in Jane Austen’s life and fiction, against the backdrop of contemporary conduct manuals, letters, diaries, journals and newspapers. Drawing on original research, this entertaining and detailed study provides a charming and profound insight into the world of Jane Austen. Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN: 978-1847252180 

Jane Austen's Sewing Box, by Jennifer Forest (2009)Jane Austen’s Sewing Box: Craft Projects and Stories from Jane Austen’s Novels, by Jennifer Forest 

All well-bred Regency ladies aspired to be highly accomplished. What is that you ask? Well, they painted tables, covered screens, and netted purses as Austen’s character Charles Bingley matter-of-factly describes in Pride and Prejudice (among other talents), all to allure and secure husband. Women of this era were great at handiwork – sewing, drawing and trimming bonnets. Author Jennifer Forest has researched Regency crafts compiling this lovely volume of projects to turn you into the accomplished woman that even Mr. Darcy might admire. (Publisher’s description) Jane Austen’s Sewing Box opens a window into the lives of Regency women during a beautiful period in arts, crafts and design. Jennifer Forest examines Jane Austen’s novels and letters to reveal a world where women are gripped by crazes for painting on glass and netting purses, economise by trimming an old bonnet, or eagerly turn to their sewing to avoid an uncomfortable conversation. Based on Jane Austen’s novels and with illustrated step-by-step instructions for eighteen craft projects, this beautifully presented book will delight Jane Austen fans, lovers of history and literature and craft enthusiasts alike. Murdoch Books, ISBN: 978-1741963748 

Austen’s Contemporaries & Regency era 

Camilla (Oxford World's Classics), by Fanny Burney (2009)Camilla (Oxford World’s Classics), by, Fanny Burney 

“I was thinking of that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant.” “I suppose you mean Camilla?” “Yes, that’s the book; such unnatural stuff! An old man playing at see–saw, I took up the first volume once and looked it over, but I soon found it would not do; indeed I guessed what sort of stuff it must be before I saw it: as soon as I heard she had married an emigrant, I was sure I should never be able to get through it.” John Thorpe and Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey 

Only one of Jane Austen’s horridly uncouth characters like John Thorpe would have the audacity to call Camilla a stupid book. Austen uses one of the most famous novels of her time as an example to defend novel writing. ‘”It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.’ No doubt that she valued its merits highly. (Publisher’s description) First published in 1796, Camilla deals with the matrimonial concerns of a group of young people – Camilla Tyrold and her sisters, the daughters of a country parson, and their cousin Indiana Lynmere – and, in particular, with the love affair between Camilla herself and her eligible suitor, Edgar Mandlebert. The path of true love, however, is strewn with intrigue, contretemps and misunderstanding. An enormously popular eighteenth-century novel, Camilla is touched at many points by the advancing spirit of romanticism. As in Evelina, Fanny Burney weaves into her novel strands of light and dark, comic episodes and gothic shudders, and creates a pattern of social and moral dilemmas which emphasize and illuminate the gap between generations. Oxford University Press, USA, ISBN: 978-0199555741 

Vanity Fair (Oxford World's Classics), by W. M. Thacheray (2009)Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero (Oxford World’s Classics), by W. M. Thackeray (Author), John Sutherland (Editor) 

Weighing in at a hefty one and a half pounds and numbering 1008 pages, this literary classic is a shining jewel, and well worth the patience to read its winding plot and numerous pages. From the title, you know right off the bat that Thackeray has a wry sense of humor. Of course the novel has heroes! the main one Rawdon Crawley is a charming wastrel, and the second, William Dobbin, is a bit of a namby pamby, taking his time to show his colors. Adapted unsuccessfully into numerous movies since the 1930’s, I am still waiting for the ultimate Rawdon and Becky on screen, though Miriam Hopkins’ interpretation of Becky Sharp is quite slipery and snarky in the 1935 film of the same name. (Publisher’s description) Set during the Napoleonic wars, Vanity Fair (1847-8) famously satirizes worldly society. The novel revolves around the exploits of the impoverished but beautiful and devious Becky Sharp, and Amelia Sedley, pampered child of a rich City merchant. Despite the differences in their fortunes and characters, they find their lives entangled from childhood. As Becky’s maneuvering ingratiates her with high society, the financial ruin of Amelia’s father forces Amelia into poverty. Destiny, of course, has further adventures in store for both women, whose lives Thackeray (1811-63) uses as theatres for the whims and foibles of their contemporaries. — This edition of one of the greatest social satires of the English language reproduces the text of the Oxford Thackeray and includes all of Thackeray’s own illustrations. Oxford University Press, USA; Reissue edition, ISBN: 978-0199537624 

Austen Ephemera 

British Library Jane Austen Desk Diary 2010British Library Jane Austen Desk Diary 2010, edited by by Freydis Welland, James Edward Austen-Leigh (Illustrator), Jane Austen (Contributor) 

Keep your journaling going in style with this beautiful desk diary from the British Library filled with images of silhouettes created by Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh and compiled by his descendant Freydis Welland. These images were also included in the recently published book, Life in the Country with Quotations by Jane Austen, which I reviewed last December. Lovely book, so no doubt this diary will not disappoint. (Publisher’s description) Jane Austen wrote of her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh: “We were happy to see Edward, it was an unexpected pleasure, and he makes himself as agreeable as ever, sitting in such a quiet comfortable way making his delightful sketches.” Edward brought the fine art of silhouettes to perfection, creating evocative images of landscapes and the creatures that lived in them. This appealing diary lets readers organize their thoughts and express their own artistry with the inspiration of Austen and her artist nephew. Frances Lincoln; Desk edition, ISBN: 978-0711230071 

British Library Jane Austen Pocket Diary 2010British Library Jane Austen Pocket Diary 2010, Edited by Freydis Welland, James Edward Austen-Leigh (Illustrator), Jane Austen (Contributor) 

Another variation of the before mentioned desk diary, this version is of a compact pocket diary. For every writer in the making, you can pop this in your purse, briefcase or backpack and scribble your thoughts and inspirations as they hit you on the go. (Publisher’s description) Like the desk diary, this pocket diary is based on the popular book Life in the Country, a celebration of Regency England published by the British Library in 2008. This book has the added advantage of being portable, allowing would-be writers and artists to take it anywhere to record their thoughts, compile a to-do list, sketch their surroundings, or any of a number of other activities — all in the stimulating presence of the brilliant English writer and her talented nephew. Frances Lincoln, ISBN: 978-0711230088 

Jane Austen Jigsaw Puzzle, by Potter Style (2009)Jane Austen Puzzle: 500-Piece Puzzle, by Potter Style 

The good people at Potter Style, who have brought us other great Jane Austen inspired ephemera such as note cards, address books and journals, now enter into the Jane Austen entertainment/games arena with this 500 piece jigsaw puzzle in a boxed shaped like a book, ready to sit right next to your collection of Jane Austen novels and reference books in your library. The main image is from Hugh Thomson’s 1894 illustration of Pride and Prejudice and depicts a scene of Mr. Darcy’s first failed marriage proposal. Good choice designers! Also included are quotes from Austen’s novels, images of a Regency era estates and a cameo of the Bardess of Basingstoke herself, Jane Austen. This looks like great fun, but what next? Jane Austen Game Boy?  Potter Style; Puzzle edition, ISBN: 978-0307453839 

Until next month, happy reading! 

Laurel Ann

Jane Austen Biographer: Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh

Portrait of Mary Augusta Austen-LeighWas Jane Austen a Moralist? No! many of her fervent admirers will exclaim – ‘Thank Heaven – that she was not!’ Her mission was to amuse, to delight, to refresh us – but neither to reprove nor to condemn us! Those who want ‘Moral Tales’ must seek them elsewhere; they are not to be found among Jane Austen’s writings! Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, Personal Aspects of Jane Austen, Chapter 5
Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh (1838-1922) was the author of a biography of her great aunt, Personal Aspects of Jane Austen. She was the daughter of James Edward Austen-Leigh who wrote A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1870. Inheriting her family views, she firmly believed in protecting Jane Austen’s reputation. This slim biography had an interesting beginning as an article in the Quarterly Review of 1919 which became chapter five in the book published the next year. It firmly defends ‘Jane Austen’s earnest adherents’ [1] who were recently under attack by critics also bashing Austen with the same tired complaints; her ‘narrow experience, reclusiveness, her life lacking in incident and consolations of culture.'[1] The pettiness of this argument and Miss Austen’s hyperbole (she dedicated the book ‘To All True Lovers of Jane Austen and Her Works’) sparked two witty and now famous reviews by two authors that Jane Austen would have been happy to have tea with, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

Portrait of author Katherine MansfieldKathleen Mansfield Murry (1888 – 1923) was a prominent New Zealand modernist writer of short fiction who wrote under the pen name of Katherine Mansfield. Her review of Personal Aspects of Jane Austen by Mary Austen-Leigh, was first published in the periodical The Athenaeum on December 3, 1920, and reprinted in the book Novels and Novelists, edited by her husband John Middleton Murry posthumously 1930. I was fortunate to find this except in my 1982 copy of Persuasions, the Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

It seems almost unkind to criticize a little book which has thrown on bonnet and shawl and tipped across the fields of criticism at so round a pace to defend its dear Jane Austen. But even with the undesirable evidence before us of the stupidity, nay, the downright wickedness of certain reviewers, we cannot help doubting the need for such a journey. True, Jane Austen exists in the imagination as a writer who has remained wonderfully remote and apart and free from the flying burrs of this work-a-day world, and it does come as a surprise to learn that so-called friends of hers have said these dreadful things. But, begging Miss Austen-Leigh’s pardon – who cares? Can we picture Jane Austen caring – except in a delightfully wicked way which we are sure the author of this book would not allow – that people said she was no lady, was not found of children, hated animals, did not care a pin for the poor, could not have written about foreign parts if she tried, had no idea how a fox was killed, but rather thought it ran up a tree and hissed at the hound at the last – was, in short, cold, coarse, practically illiterate and without morality. Mightn’t her reply have been, ‘Ah, but what about my novels?’ Though the answer would seem to us more than sufficient, it would not satisfy Miss Austen-Leigh…

Each of these charges can be met – and they are met, though, to be quite candid, it is somewhat quaintly at times. Take, for instance, the ‘baseless accusation that she always turned away from whatever was sad.’ It cannot, says Miss Austen-Leigh, be allowed to pass unnoticed. And she cites a family letter written by Mr. Austen on the occasion of a young friend’s having been invited to their house to have her attack of measles there: ‘She wanted a great deal of nursing, and a great deal of nursing she had,’ the nurses being Jane, her sister Cassandra and their friend Martha Lloyd. Well, that may go to prove that Jane was willing to face an unpleasant ordeal and to play her part, but we should not like our belief in her tenderness to depend on it. Does it not sound just a little grim? Might not a timid mind picture patient and pillows being shaken together; and, as to escaping one’s medicine, Cassandra and Martha to hold one down, and Jane to administer something awfully black in a spoon? The, again, someone having said that sermons were wearisome to her, Miss Austen-Leigh contradicts him triumphantly with Jane Austen’s own words, ‘I am very fond of Sherlock’s Sermons, and prefer them to almost any.’ But stare at that sentence as we may, we cannot see an enthusiasm for sermons shining through it. It sounds indeed as though Sherlock’s Sermons were a special kind of biscuit – clerical Bath Olivers – oval and crisp and dry…

[‘Ah, but what about my novels?’]

…For the truth is that every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone – reading between the lines – has become the secret friends of their author.

Virginia Woolf had pretty much the same thing to say in response to the book, which leads me to believe that they influenced each other.

Ever since Jane Austen became famous they [critics] have been hissing inanities in chorus ….  [D]ebating whether she was a lady, whether she told the truth, whether she could read, and whether she had personal experience of hunting a fox is positively upsetting.  We remember that Jane Austen wrote novels.  It might be worth while for her critics to read them.

Even though I agree with Mansfield and Woolf, ‘Who cares? – What about my novels?‘ we should be thankful that Miss Austen-Leigh got up on her soapbox and passionately defended her ancestor. In addition to her denunciation of Austen’s critics, she actually revealed some new information not previously included in other family biographies. I do confess to cringing when I read the introduction and came upon her statement that Jane Austen died in her forty-second year. Ok, I’m not good at math either.

Frontispiece and title page of Personal Aspects of Jane Austen (1920)

The biography is a quick read at 129 pages and happily available online through Canadian Libraries Internet Archive. Go to the ‘View Book’ on the left sidebar and then check out the “Flip Book” reader. Quite impressive software that I wish Google Books would adapt. Just to be contentious, I could not pass up including the title page for your amusement. Notice the comments by previous readers scribbled near the center of the page! They are tough critics those Canadians, and great Austen scholars I might add. I would not have been so severe on poor Miss Austen-Leigh. She was just defending her turf. Flip through the pages and you will notice additional marginal notes which I always feel are a bonus. This was timely for me as Janeite Deb of Jane Austen in Vermont Blog and I were just chatting about marking up good books with marginal notes and underlining. I know it is a personal thing, but books are so sacred to me that I just can not do it. Though, I confess I encourage others to leave their brilliant thoughts for posterity. Jane Austen did, and people are still talking about it!

A Secret Life, by Claire Tomalin (1988)And finally, the last serendipitous connection to this post is with Jane Austen’s biographer Claire Tomalin who wrote Jane Austen: A Life. She also wrote a biography of Katherine Mansfield. Now that I know Mansfield is a friend of Jane, and Tomalin thinks highly enough of her to write a biography, it is worth a gander.

1. Southam, B.C. (editor) Jane Austen, Volume 2, 1870-1940 The Critical Heritage, Published by Routledge, (1999) Introduction pp. 96-97

Life in the Country: with Quotations by Jane Austen and Silhouettes by Her Nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh – A Review

Life in the Country, by Jane Austen & Edward Austen-Leigh (2008)“We are happy to see Edward, it was an unexpected pleasure, & he makes himself as agreeable as ever, sitting in such a quiet comfortable way making his delightful little sketches.” Jane Austen to Caroline Austen, 23 January 1817 

What ‘CAN’ a loyal Janeite begin to say about a book whose creation involved so much Austen Royalty that I was obliged to curtsey when I opened the parcel from the post. Every hand engaged in Life in the Country is an Austen blueblood from editors Freydis Welland (great, great, great grandniece of Jane Austen) and Eileen Sutherland (Austen scholar and former President of the Jane Austen Society of North America), to contributors Maggie Lane, (author, Austen scholar and former Secretary of the Jane Austen Society), to Joan Klingle Ray, (author and first academic President of the Jane Austen Society of North America), to Joan Austen-Leigh (Austen descendent and co-founder of the Jane Austen Society of North America) all heightening my anticipation with a sense of awe and wonder. And to that a stunningly beautiful presentation of Victorian era silhouette art created by Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh enhanced by eloquent Jane Austen quotations and you have a masterpiece of Austenalia. 

Silhouette, James Edward Austen-Leigh, Barton Cottage

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles.

Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, Chapter 6

Not wishing to diminish their wonderful achievement in any way, I must point out that editors Freydis Welland and Eileen Sutherland had great material to start with. The beautiful silhouettes created by James Edward Austen-Leigh for the enjoyment of his family in the 1830’s are quite lovely. Exhibiting great style and skill in execution, the scenes that he chose reflect the English countryside through hunting, fishing, harvesting, animals and people engaged in activities that would have encompassed their country lives. It seems a perfect pairing to add Jane Austen’s quotes from her letters and novels which she admittedly preferred involving “three or four families in a country village.” Here is one of my favorites images from the book coupled with a quote by Elizabeth Bennet when she comes upon Mr. Darcy and his two sisters walking through the shrubberies in Netherfield Park.

Silhouette by James Edward Austen-Leigh, deer in parkland

But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, “No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly group’d, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth.”   

Pride and Prejudice, Volume I, Chapter 10 

The text includes a preface by the editors, a biography of the Austen family by Maggie Lane, an essay on silhouette art by Joan Klingle Ray and an afterward on James Edward Austen-Leigh by Joan Austen-Leigh adding just the right amount of information to support the images and the interesting history behind them. Any Jane Austen enthusiast or collector of silhouette art will be thrilled and honored to include this lovely volume in their library. Happily, it continues the tradition in the Austen-Leigh family to publish a book based on their unique family heritage. 

Life in the Country
with quotations by Jane Austen & silhouettes by James Edward Austen-Leigh
Edited by Freydis Welland and Eileen Sutherland
The British Library, London (2008)
ISBN 978-0712349857

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A Memoir of Jane Austen: The Beginnings of a Pop Icon

Illustration of Jane Austen after the frontispiece in A Memoir of Jane Austen (1871)“The Memoir of my Aunt, Jane Austen, has been received with more favour than I had ventured to expect. The notices taken of it in the periodical press, as well as letters addressed to me by many with whom I am not personally acquainted, show that an unabated interest is still taken in every particular that can be told about her.” James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Second Edition, November 17, 1870

When Jane Austen’s nephew Rev. James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote and published a family memoir of his aunt in 1869, he unknowingly opened the door to her modern popularity, sparking public interest and critical acclaim far beyond the family expectations, planting the seed of a future pop icon.

Illustration of Chawton Church, A Memoir of Jane Austen, (1871)

His publisher Richard Bentley & Son who also held  the copy write on Austen’s six major novels quickly saw the advantage of promoting an author already within their catalogue, and issued the second edition with a new preface by the author, additional content, letters, the fragment of the novel The Watson’s, the canceled chapter of Persuasion, and the novella Lady Susan in 1871.  Continue reading