Jane Austen’s Admiration for Maria Edgeworth

This month, we’ve really enjoyed reading and discussing The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth. Neither of us had read the Anglo-Irish writer before, but we’d long heard of her as an influence on Jane Austen. This is particularly interesting since Edgeworth held progressive views for her time, her novels exploring issues such as inter-racial relationships, feminism and same-sex desire.

‘The authoress of Pride and Prejudice has been so good as to send me a new novel just published, Emma’

‘The authoress of Pride and Prejudice has been so good as to send me a new novel just published, Emma’

Jane Austen

Jane Austen greatly admired the novels of Maria Edgeworth. Both these images are in the public domain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austen singled out for praise one of Edgeworth’s most controversial books, Belinda, in her own novel, Northanger Abbey:

“And what are you reading, Miss –?” “Oh! it is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “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.”

Austen so prized her fellow novelist’s good opinion that in 1816 she asked her publisher to send a precious presentation copy of Emma to Edgeworth in Ireland.

You might remember that a presentation copy of Emma cropped up in our post on Austen’s radical bond with the family governess and amateur playwright, Anne Sharp. Just as Sharp was the only friend whom Austen singled out to receive these rare volumes, so Edgeworth appears to have been the only professional author.

Maria Edgeworth's presentation copies of Emma, sent to her by Jane Austen

Maria Edgeworth’s presentation copies of Emma, sent to her by Jane Austen. This image is used with permission from Sotheby’s.

Anne Sharp's presentation copies of Emma, sent to her by Jane Austen. This image is used with permission from Bonham's.

Anne Sharp’s presentation copies of Emma, sent to her by Jane Austen. This image is used with permission from Bonham’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In our recorded conversation, we talk about Edgeworth’s and Sharp’s wildly different responses to Austen’s gift and their respective reactions to the novel itself. We also share our reasons for believing that Edgeworth’s The Absentee played a crucial and illuminating role in the unlikely friendship between Austen and Sharp.

Our book: A Secret Sisterhood

Having blogged about the subject of female writers’ friendships for the past two years, we’re delighted to have now been given the chance to explore this fascinating subject in much greater depth.

Our book, A Secret Sisterhood, will look at the literary bonds between Jane Austen and amateur playwright, Anne Sharp; Charlotte Brontë and feminist author, Mary Taylor; George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

A Secret Sisterhood will be published, by Aurum Press in the UK and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA, in late 2017. The year coincides with the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death.

An announcement appears in the Bookseller today, and we’ll look forward to sharing more details about these trailblazing relationships with our readers over the coming months.

As many of you know, it was our own writing friendship that first sparked our interest in these historical creative pairings. But it was the support we’ve received from Something Rhymed readers that encouraged us that there would be an audience for this book and convinced us to start writing it together.

So, thank you. We are both extremely grateful to all our Something Rhymed friends.

Remember

We’ll soon be following up on last month’s conversation about Jane Austen’s Emma with a new post on The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth – a novel that Austen enjoyed discussing with her friend, Anne Sharp. Over the coming months, we’ll look forward to sharing our thoughts on other books by, or associated with, the authors we’ll write about in A Secret Sisterhood.

 

On Re-Reading Jane Austen’s EMMA

As we mentioned in our last post of 2015, one of our readers, Sarah Emsley, offered us the perfect opportunity to re-read Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, for her online celebration of the bicentenary of its publication.

You can see our post about the role of female friendship in the novel as part of the Emma in the Snow celebrations on Sarah’s site.

This gave us the idea to record a conversation about Emma to post on here. We ended up talking about the role of female friendship in the novel, and our different responses to this theme on first reading the book and on re-visiting it now. Our discussion also took us into the territory of Jane Austen’s own life and the female friendships she established off the page.

We do hope that some of you also took the opportunity to re-read Emma exactly two hundred years since the very first readers got their hands on the published book.

Jane Austen jotted down the opinions of her nearest and dearest, so you can read what Anne Sharp and others had to say about it here:

This image is in the public domain.

This image is in the public domain.

Please do share your thoughts with us by using the comment facility below.

Activity

We enjoyed this so much that we have decided to share more literary conversations about female friendship over the coming months. In January, we are challenging ourselves to read The Absentee  – a novel by Maria Edgeworth, which we believe Jane Austen enjoyed discussing with her governess and amateur playwright friend, Anne Sharp.

We’ll post up our conversation at the beginning of February and we do hope that some of you will choose to read along with us.

The Maternal Line

When we began to work on this month’s challenge to create a ‘family tree’ showing the literary ancestral lines that we’ve traced on the site, we soon realised that we couldn’t possibly accommodate all the intertwined connections between the forty-five authors we’ve profiled so far.

Instead, we decided to focus on the literary forebears and successors of just four of our favourite novelists: Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. You’ll need to click on the image and zoom in to read it.

The Maternal Line

Our literary family tree includes the following connections:

Jane Austen

  • George Eliot re-read Austen novels prior to writing her own.
  • Eliot’s partner, George Henry Lewes, was a vocal fan of Austen.
  • Charlotte Brontë couldn’t understand what Lewes saw in Austen’s work.
  • Virginia Woolf called Austen ‘the  most perfect artist among women’.
  • Katherine Mansfield described Woolf’s Night and Day as ‘Miss Austen up to date’.
  • Mansfield and her husband read Jane Austen together. Mansfield admired Austen’s abilities to plot novels.
  • Elizabeth Bowen wrote a BBC programme about Austen’s life.
  • Iris Murdoch counted Mr Knightly as her favourite fictional character.
  • Austen fantasised that her friend, Anne Sharp – a governess and amateur playwright – might marry her employer.

Charlotte Brontë

  • In Jane Eyre, Brontë fictionalised the kind of scenario Austen had dreamed of for Sharp.
  • Brontë’s lifelong feminist author friend, Mary Taylor, helped Elizabeth Gaskell with the first biography of their mutual friend.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe claimed that Brontë appeared to her from beyond the grave.
  • Woolf claimed that Brontë ‘will write in a rage when she should write calmly’.
  • Woolf felt that Austen had ‘less genius’ than Brontë but ‘got infinitely more said’.
  • Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre.
  • Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca owes a debt of gratitude to Jane Eyre.
  • Du Maurier wrote a biography of Brontë’s brother, Branwell.
  • The young Maya Angelou found the experience of reading the Brontë sisters inspiring and empowering.

George Eliot

  • Gaskell found Eliot’s unmarried status an impediment to friendship.
  • Woolf described Middlemarch as ‘one of the few English novels written for grown up people’.
  • Woolf also felt that Eliot ‘committed atrocities’ by aping masculine prose.
  • Rhys’ friend, Eliot Bliss, chose her pen-name as a mark of respect for both George Eliot and T.S. Eliot.

Virginia Woolf

Katherine Mansfield

  • Du Maurier’s night nursery directly faced Mansfield’s bedroom.
  • Du Maurier corresponded with the younger author, Oriel Malet, and the pair shared their love of Mansfield’s work in their letters.

Activity

One of our readers, Sarah Emsley, offered us the perfect excuse to re-read Jane Austen’s Emma as she is hosting Emma in the Snow – an online celebration of the bi-centenary of its publication. Our piece will go live on her site on January 1st, and we’ll also post a conversation between the two of us about the novel here on Something Rhymed. We’ve had such fun reacquainting ourselves with this novel – an old favourite.

If you are looking for a holiday read, we’d love you to choose Emma so that you can share your thoughts with us in the new year.

In the meantime, we both hope that you have a peaceful holiday and that 2016 is full of creativity and friendship.

A Second Year of Hidden Friendships… and More Unexpected Connections

As 2015 draws to a close, this feels like another good moment to look back on the friendships we’ve profiled on Something Rhymed, and the surprising, often intergenerational, connections between some of our literary heroines.

Daphne du Maurier, whose friendship with Oriel Malet we featured in June, is well-known to have been a fan of Haworth’s most famous sisters. Du Maurier’s most famous novel, Rebecca, has drawn comparisons with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and du Maurier also wrote a biography of Charlotte’s troubled brother, Branwell, published in 1960.

On reading du Maurier’s letters to Malet, though, we were surprised to find several references – not just to the Brontës – but also to Katherine Mansfield.

Katherine Mansfield - this image is in the public domain.

Katherine Mansfield – this image is in the public domain.

An admirer of Mansfield’s writing when she grew older, du Maurier’s fascination with the author of The Garden Party went all the way back to her earliest years. As a child, du Maurier used to look out of the night nursery window of her Hampstead home and see a light burning bright in the opposite house. She used to wave at the light each evening and wonder whose lamp it was.

Only years later would she discover that she had been looking in at the window of Mansfield’s bedroom, a place to which she was sadly often confined thanks to the health problems brought on by her tuberculosis.

Noticing these sorts of unexpected links between the different authors we have profiled has been one of the pleasures of our research into their literary friendships. This has been particularly so when we’ve stumbled upon these links by chance, when we were looking for other things.

George Eliot - this image is in the public domain.

George Eliot – this image is in the public domain.

On re-reading the opening of Agatha Christie’s 1926 Murder of Roger Ackroyd while preparing to write our April post on her friendship with Dorothy L. Sayers, we spotted an admiring reference to George Eliot delivered by one of the novel’s principal characters.

And when we were studying the friendship between Elizabeth Bowen and Iris Murdoch the month before, we were delighted to learn that, in the 1940s, Bowen wrote a radio play for the BBC on the life of Jane Austen.

Over the two years that we’ve been running Something Rhymed, we’ve come upon so many of these unanticipated branches between our literary heroines that it’s become difficult to hold them all within our heads. So we’ve set ourselves the challenge this month of creating a ‘family tree’ depicting some of these fascinating connections.

We hope you’ll join us again next week to see the literary ancestral lines that we’ve traced back through the ages.

 

For Someone to Get Me, They Have to Know Her: Lauren Elkin and Joanna Walsh

After reading our recent guest blog by Sarah LeFanu and Michèle Roberts, writer and 3:AM fiction editor Joanna Walsh got in touch to tell us about her friendship with writer and critic Lauren Elkin. In this month’s guest blog, the two share some thoughts on the things that make their relationship work…

Lauren

Joanna and I went to the Latitude festival together a while back. She was part of the festival, doing some kind of craftsy thing in the woods that involved making capes out of cellophane and spraying synthetic snow on them. I don’t remember why.

Joanna is a performance artist before anything else and she likes to make things. I am a critic and a writer, a dealer in abstractions. She makes the stuff herself. I admire that about her.

At this particular festival, it rained so hard and there was so much mud that we had to drink a lot to cope with it. We sat on a tree trunk masquerading as a bench, I think we probably put plastic bags down so we wouldn’t sit in the wet, and we drank beers, and talked about Lacan and Freud and twee Britannia, while all around us frolicked the fine fleur of British youth.

I was miserable, wet, and hungry. Joanna, when she is those things, gets kind of rascally, and makes it all much more bearable. Dinner was some chips, consumed while some boys we met recited ‘The Dream of the Rood’ in Old English. We drank even more. And then we camped.

My inevitable hangover the next day was so bad Joanna had to get the festival’s medical services to peel me off the floor of our tent and install me on a cot next to where Anna Calvi played a thudding set that seemed to go on for hours.

Because of my migraine we missed our train back to London and had to spend the night in nearby Southwold. A lesser friend would have wanted to kill me. But instead, as I recovered, Joanna and I walked next to the angry Northern Sea talking about Sebald and camping shoes and gastropubs and penis-bearing know-it-alls and how I really, really need to eat dinner when I’m drinking.

All of this has nothing and everything to do with why Joanna and I have an enduring friendship that both is and isn’t sustained by the fact that we’re both writers.

I don’t know what else to say about this except that as I told her last night, I feel like for someone to get me, they have to know her.

Lauren Elkin and Joanna Walsh at their recent event at the Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris.

Lauren Elkin (left) and Joanna Walsh at their recent event at the Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris.

Joanna

So here we are, Snow White & Rose Red, Dorothy and Lorelei, Flaubert’s blonde and brunette (who are exactly like redheads, of course, so what’s the difference?). Lauren’s from the US, I’m from the UK (Lauren’s now French). Lauren’s a critic who writes fiction; I’m a writer who also reviews.

There’s enough distance (I think). There’s tension, but it’s the right kind of tension. We read each other’s work before publication, well, some of it. She reins me in when the rhetoric threatens the logic, or I’m just going off on one. She can tell me I’m wrong without our falling out (so far).

We both like to read, and drink, and look at expensive clothes we don’t buy. We have some of the same lipsticks, and a lot of the same books. We give each other our duplicate copies.

I’ve chaired her at events and she’s chaired me. I always wonder whether we’ll forget we’re in public and start talking about something private: it’ll happen one day…

When things are good, when things are bad, she’s the person I want to talk to: she knows it all. One day we’ll write something together. And we’re just as likely to talk about books behind closed doors.

Lauren Elkin’s next book, Flâneuse: Essays in Wandering, will be published by Chatto & Windus in 2016.

Joanna Walsh’s memoir / essay collection Hotel was published by Bloomsbury this year.

Long-Distance Neighbours

Inspired by the evolving nature of Margaret Mason and Mary Shelley’s friendship, this month we’re reflecting on the moments of change that we have experienced. As Emily’s post revealed, some long-anticipated forks in the road have ended up continuing to lead us along parallel routes. But we have also stumbled on unexpected cross roads…

Emily and I first became friends when we were both living in Japan: her in a tiny apartment surrounded by carparks and convenience stores; me in a tatami-floored house that looked out onto rice paddies and groves of bamboo. In these very different environments, each of us picked up our pens.

Although we hadn’t yet come out to each other as aspiring writers, Emily and I began at weekends to take the three-hour round trip between her urban flat and my country home. This way, we forged our friendship in both the ice cream parlours of the neon-choked city and in bath houses hidden up dark mountain lanes.

This image is in the public domain.

This image is in the public domain.

But, after just one short season, we each had to decide in advance whether or not we would stay in Japan the following year. By the time the maple leaves had fallen from the trees, Emily had chosen to continue her unofficial writing apprenticeship in Matsuyama, enduring the chill of a second Japanese winter. I set my sights instead on a long trip with my boyfriend, imagining myself penning stories on sun-bathed verandas in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

Many messages pinged between the computer in Emily’s Japanese staffroom and the internet cafés I visited in Chiang Mai and Hanoi and Luang Prabang. On the surface, I was having the time of my life. But, although my boyfriend and I journeyed together all the way from Bangkok to Beijing, our relationship was falling apart.

While Emily was continuing to write fiction in between teaching lessons, I wasn’t jotting down much more than an angst-ridden journal. Looking back on it, I see just how easily I could have retreated into solitude during that time. And so I feel especially grateful that my faraway friend kept on making efforts to remain close.

When Emily and I both moved back to Britain, we continued our friendship – each of us, over the years, travelling thousands of miles across country to meet in Liverpool’s underground bars; riverside cafes in York; the walled garden of Ely cathedral; a Cumbrian bunkhouse; Portobello Market; a field in Herefordshire. More often than not, we’d come laden with drafts of each other’s novels that we had annotated in advance.

During those years of long-distance friendship, we anticipated the literary success of one before the other as a fork in the road, just beyond the line of sight.  But, gradually, our writing lives became so intertwined and our vision of ‘success’ so complex and incremental, that jobs and awards and publications no longer felt like junctions that required much navigation.

This image is in the public domain.

This image is in the public domain.

I was delighted when, in 2011, Emily told me that she’d be moving to London. For the first time in a decade, she would live nearby. What’s more, she would be teaching at the same universities as me, so we’d also get to see each other each week at work.

Not long after Emily’s move, we embarked on co-writing literary journalism, sitting side-by-side at the same desk. I was newly single again, so it was all too easy to lose myself in work – especially work with Emily, which was so convivial, and always punctuated with shared meals: cinnamon buns; home-made soups; late-night dashes to the Turkish take-away for shish kebabs in spicy sauce.

But work, however fun, cannot replace a social life. This struck me one evening after a staff meeting, when Emily and I went off our separate ways. I’d come to miss our long-distance friendship, when we saw each other less often but, perhaps, prized our time together more highly.

When I eventually mentioned this to Emily, she immediately arranged a night out to a jazz bar, and we spent the evening listening to music and drinking cocktails and catching up on all those things we’d forgotten to tell each other while sat at a desk side by side.