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Mary Brunton: The Forgotten Scottish Novelist

We have tried to get Self-controul, but in vain.–I should like to know what her Estimate is–but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever–& of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled.
Jane Austen
Tuesday 30 April 1811

Author Mary Brunton was a direct contemporary of Jane Austen’s and wrote two published novels, one of which the Austen family is known to have read and enjoyed–though not without some laughter at the Author’s expense. Some scenes, including one in which the heroine escapes her captors by piloting a canoe down a river and over a waterfall, were just a bit too much for practical Jane, who wrote in 1813, “I am looking over Self Control again, & my opinion is confirmed of its’ being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura’s passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible, every-day thing she ever does.” Later, in 1814, Austen would comment on the scene again, “I will redeem my credit…by writing a close Imitation of Self-control as soon as I can;–I will improve upon it;–my Heroine shall not merely be wafted down an American river in a boat by herself, she shall cross the Atlantic in the same way, & never stop till she reaches Gravesent.–”

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