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Jane Austen. The name which, over the last few centuries, has been synonymous with the ideal romance novel. The name which has been adored by a gaggle of Darcy-stricken females. The name which has been equally detested by those who consider themselves to be above the trivialities depicted in her writings. The name of a woman who, although she never married herself, has nevertheless preached a philosophy of love to her millions of readers. The name of an author.
A remarkable woman, Jane Austen. A first-rate penetrator of foibles. An acute observer of human nature. And, above all, a woman who was amused with the world.
I do not consider myself to be a Jane Austen aficionado. It is true that I have read all seven of her completed novels, some with great enjoyment. I am not an ‘adorer’ – but I am an ‘appreciater’. I appreciate Austen’s wicked sharpness as she describes the faults of pride, self-pity, and out right idiocy. I appreciate the intricate personalities and elaborate communities which she stroked into existence. I appreciate that she created, not merely stories of love, but stories of life. Are her stories of life true to life? Not always. But when they are, they are deathly accurate.
This book was in a sense a tribute to Jane Austen, and in another sense, an offering from Jane Austen. It is a collection of her wit at its finest moments. The most enjoyable section, I found, was the very first – her ‘Early Exuberances’. I learned here that, what was later refined into a poignant wit began as an outrageous sense of humor. Her descriptions of melodramatic heroes and heroines madly rushing about and fainting on cue kept me laughing throughout the entire section. The first two quotes in the next section are examples of these exuberances.
“[Elfrida] flew to Frederic and in a manner truly heroick, spluttered out to him her intention of being married the next day.
Frederic’s reply is less than encouraging:
“Elfrida, you may be married tomorrow, but I won’t.”
This answer distressed her too much for her delicate constitution. She accordingly fainted and was in such a hurry to have a succession of fainting fits, that she had scarcely patience enough to recover from one before she fell into another.” [Frederic and Elfrida]
:) “spluttered out”, indeed…
Edward’s friend and husband of Sophia, Augustus, returns from a solitary walk:
Never did I see such an affecting scene as was the meeting of Edward and Augustus.
‘My life! My soul!” (exclaimed the former) ‘My adorable angel!’ (replied the latter), as they flew into each other’s arms. It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself – We fainted alternatively on a sofa.” [Love and Freindship, 1790]
The rest of these quotes, saving the very first, are all taken from letters written by Jane Austen. She must have been an amusing correspondent!
Happily [Mr. Woodhouse] was not farther from approving matrimony than from foreseeing it. – Though always objecting to every marriage that was arranged, he never suffered beforehand from the apprehension of any; it seemed as if he could not think so ill of any two persons’ understanding as to suppose they meant to marry till it were proved against them. [Emma, 1816]
“Charlotte Craven… looks very well, and her hair is done up with an elegance to do credit to any education.” [Letter to Cassandra, May 20, 1813]
Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of the mouths of other people. [Letter to Anna Austen, September 28, 1814]
“I could no more write a [historical] romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life, and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.” [Letter to James Stanier Clarke, April 1, 1816]
“Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret and only known to half the neighborhood, you must not mention it.” [Letter to Cassandra, September 5, 1796]
“Charles Powlett gave a dance on Thursday, to the great disturbance of all his neighbours, of course, who, you know, take a most lively interest in the state of his finances, and live in hopes of his being soon ruined.” [Letter to Cassandra, December 1-2, 1798]
“If Mrs. Freeman is anywhere above ground give my best compliments to her.” [Letter to Cassandra, February 9, 1813]
“I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.” [Letter to Cassandra, May 31, 1811]
Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end. [Letter to Cassandra, January 21, 1801]
Early in her career, Jane Austen wrote a letter from the perspective of “a Young Lady, whose feeling being too Strong for her Judgment, led her into the commission of Errors which her Heart disapproved.” In the letter, the Young Lady confesses to having murdered both her parents and planned to murder her sister.
Mistresses are mentioned twice, and Jane claims to having detected an adultress at a party. She also writes that a certain person’s object in life was “to be seductive”. Reference is made to Mr. Wickham’s seductive activities as well.
A reference is made to naked cupid statues.
‘Damme’ is used once.
Conclusion. A delightful read for those who appreciate wit, The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen is a succinct collection of her most pithy observations.