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All the World’s a Critic

It is a truth universally acknowledged that not everyone who comes across Jane

Austen’s work is an ardent admirer. Still, some of the most vicious comments come from

fellow authors, even respected ones in their own right, whom, one would presume, would

all the better appreciate the genius of what was before them.

One of these outspoken Critics was Charlotte Bronte, known for her novel, Jane

Eyre, among others. Her comments, which follow, do tend to smack of wounded pride,

more than anything else.

This letter of January 12th 1848 to George Lewes (in response to his advice to her, after

the publication of her novel Jane Eyre to write less melodramatically, like Jane Austen):

 

“Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced

you to say that you would rather have written Pride and Prejudice or Tom Jones, than any

of the Waverley novels?

I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I had read that sentence of yours, and then I

got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped [photographed] portrait of a

commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and

delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh

air, no blue hill, no bonny beck [stream]. I should hardly like to live with her ladies

and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably

irritate you. but I shall run the risk.

Now I can understand admiration of George Sand [Lucie Aurore Dupin]…she has a grasp

of mind which, if I cannot fully comprehend, I can very deeply respect: she is sagacious

and profound; Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant.’

Letter of January 18th 1848 to George Lewes (in response to his reply to the preceding):

 

“You say I must familiarise my mind with the fact that “Miss Austen is not a

poetess, has no “sentiment'” (you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas), “has

no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry”; and then you add, I must

“learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of

human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that

ever lived”.

The last point only will I ever acknowledge. … Miss Austen being, as you say,

without “sentiment”, without poetry, maybe is sensible (more real than true), but she

cannot be great.’

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