Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book 4: Author Criticisms.

I like knowing how authors view the work of other authors. I think what they have to say about another’s work reflects on their own. I also find it humorous to see whether I agree or disagree with what they have to say about books and plays that I consider to be my favorites.

In my edition of Pride and Prejudice, there are a number of quotes in the back from other authors about her work (this is a fun addition to the Barnes and Noble Classics Editions, of which I own many and really like). Austen is obviously well-known and her work is loved. So in addition to the praise, I also wanted to post some of the more…scandalous things that other authors had to say about her work. Many of these authors are on my list and whether I have read their work or not, their words will be on my mind when I finally get around to their pieces.


Lady Byron:

"I have finished the Novel called Pride and Prejudice, which I think a very superior work. It depends not on any of the common resources of novel writers, no drownings, no conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs and parrots, nor chambermaids and milliners, nor rencontres [duels] and disguises. I really think it is the most probable I have ever read. It is not a crying book, but the interest is very strong, especially for Mr. Darcy. The characters which are not amiable are diverting, and all of them are consistently supported."

Charlotte Bronte:

“Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré or extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well. There is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy, in the painting. She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him with nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood ... What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study: but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and the sentient target of death--this Miss Austen ignores....Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless woman), if this is heresy--I cannot help it.”

Walter Allen:

“More can be learnt from Miss Austen about the nature of the novel than from most any other writer.”

Sir Walter Scott:

“Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going, but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”

Anthony Trollope:

“"Miss Austen was surely a great novelist. What she did, she did perfectly. Her work, as far as it goes, is faultless. She wrote of the times in which she lived, of the class of people with which she associated, and in the language which was usual to her as an educated lady. Of romance, -- what we generally mean when we speak of romance -- she had no tinge. Heroes and heroines with wonderful adventures there are none in her novels. Of great criminals and hidden crimes she tells us nothing. But she places us in a circle of gentlemen and ladies, and charms us while she tells us with an unconscious accuracy how men should act to women, and women act to men. It is not that her people are all good; -- and, certainly, they are not all wise. The faults of some are the anvils on which the virtues of others are hammered till they are bright as steel. In the comedy of folly I know no novelist who has beaten her. The letters of Mr. Collins, a clergyman in Pride and Prejudice, would move laughter in a low-church archbishop."

Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. ... All that interests in any character [is this]: has he (or she) the money to marry with? ... Suicide is more respectable."

E.M. Forster (who wrote A Room with a View which I just finished and loved):

“I am a Jane Austenite, and therefore slightly imbecile about Jane Austen. My fatuous expression, and airs of personal immunity — how ill they sit on the face, say, of a Stevensonian! But Jane Austen is so different. She is my favorite author! I read and reread, the mouth open and the mind closed. Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers.”

Mark Twain (who has many things to say about many authors—remind me to mention his hatred of Cooper when I get to it):

“To me his prose is unreadable -- like Jane Austin's [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

“I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

And my favorite, from W. Somerset Maugham:

“Nothing very much happens in her books, and yet, when you come to the bottom of a page, you eagerly turn it to learn what will happen next. Nothing very much does and again you eagerly turn the page. The novelist who has the power to achieve this has the most precious gift a novelist can possess."


  1. What Ralph Waldo Emmerson wrote really makes me laugh. I've read a book of his too, so it makes it even better.

  2. I liked Twain's, and the last one, personally. I read all the viciously cruel ones out loud to my boyfriend who had only read snippets but agrees passionately with all of them :)
    This made me giggle, and I'm definitely going through the rest of my Barnes and Noble copies to see this stuff :)

  3. Okay, I know I'm a year late, but I just realized you posted your entire lista and I'm going back and reading all the reviews. Anyhow -- Twain says, "EVERY time I read Pride and Prejudice . . ." if he hates it so much, why does he keep reading it?