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How to Write a Novel – Advice from Jane Austen

How to write a novel by Jane Austen

Period Advice on How to Write a Novel

Jane Austen was extraordinarily close to her neice, Anna Austen. Anna, a budding novelist, made the most of this relationship by sending her aunt mauscript copies of her work to critique and correct. Although she would never see the book in print, Anna eventually had several works published, including, Mary Hamilton (1833), The Winter’s Tale (1841), Springtide (1842) and Recollections of Aunt Jane (1864). Jane’s advice on how to write a novel clearly made an impression!

The friendship and candor expressed in the following letters by Jane Austen to her neice also provide valuable advice on how to write a novel to any hopeful writer. Also of interest is Jane Austen’s own Plan of a Novel (according to hints from various quarters).


MY DEAR ANNA,

I am very much obliged to you for sending your MS. It has entertained me extremely; all of us indeed. I read it aloud to your Grandmama and Aunt Cass., and we were all very much pleased. The spirit does not droop at all. Sir Thos., Lady Helen and St. Julian are very well done, and Cecilia continues to be interesting in spite of her being so amiable. It was very fit you should advance her age. I like the beginning of Devereux Forester very much, a great deal better than if he had been very good or very bad. A few verbal corrections are all that I felt tempted to make; the principal of them is a speech of St. Julian to Lady Helen, which you see I have presumed to alter. As Lady H. is Cecilia’s superior, it would not be correct to talk of her being introduced. It is Cecilia who must be introduced. And I do not like a lover speaking in the 3rd person; it is too much like the formal part of Lord Orville, and I think it not natural. If you think differently, however, you need not mind me. I am impatient for more, and only wait for a safe conveyance to return this book.

Yours affectionately, J. A.


August 10, 1814.

MY DEAR ANNA,

I am quite ashamed to find that I have never answered some question of yours in a former note. I kept it on purpose to refer to it at a proper time and then forgot it. I like the name “Which is the Heroine” very well, and I daresay shall grow to like it very much in time; but “Enthusiasm” was something so very superior that my common title must appear to disadvantage. I am not sensible of any blunders about Dawlish; the library was pitiful and wretched twelve years ago and not likely to have anybody’s publications. There is no such title as Desborough either among dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, or barons. These were your inquiries. I will now thank you for your envelope received this morning. Your Aunt Cass is as well pleased with St. Julian as ever, and I am delighted with the idea of seeing Progillian again.

Wednesday 17. — We have now just finished the first of the three books I had the pleasure of receiving yesterday. I read it aloud and we are all very much amused, and like the work quite as well as ever. I depend on getting through another book before dinner, but there is really a good deal of respectable reading in your forty-eight pages. I have no doubt six would make a very good-sized volume. You must have been quite pleased to have accomplished so much. I like Lord Portman and his brother very much. I am only afraid that Lord P.’s good nature will make most people like him better than he deserves. The whole family are very good, and Lady Anne, who was your great dread, you have succeeded particularly well with. Bell Griffin is just what she should be. My corrections have not been more important than before; here and there we have thought the sense could be expressed in fewer words, and I have scratched out Sir Thos. from walking with the others to the stables, &c. the very day after breaking his arm; for, though I find your papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book. Lyme will not do. Lyme is towards forty miles from Dawlish and would not be talked of there. I have put Starcross instead. If you prefer Exeter, that must be always safe.

I have also scratched out the introduction between Lord Portman and his brother and Mr. Griffin. A country surgeon (don’t tell Mr. C. Lyford) would not be introduced to men of their rank, and when Mr. P. is first brought in, he would not be introduced as the Honourable. That distinction is never mentioned at such times, at least I believe not. Now we have finished the second book, or rather the fifth. I do think you had better omit Lady Helena’s postscript. To those that are acquainted with “Pride and Prejudice” it will seem an imitation. And your Aunt C. and I both recommend your making a little alteration in the last scene between Devereux F. and Lady Clanmurray and her daughter. We think they press him too much, more than sensible or well-bred women would do; Lady C., at least, should have discretion enough to be sooner satisfied with his determination of not going with them. I am very much pleased with Egerton as yet. I did not expect to like him, but I do, and Susan is a very nice little animated creature; but St. Julian is the delight of our lives. He is quite interesting. The whole of his break off with Lady Helena is very well done. Yes; Russell Square is a very proper distance from Berkeley Square. We are reading the last book. They must be two days going from Dawlish to Bath. They are nearly 100 miles apart.

Thursday. — We finished it last night after our return from drinking tea at the Great House. The last chapter does not please us quite so well; we do not thoroughly like the play, perhaps from having had too much of plays in that way lately [Mansfield Park had recently been published], and we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland; but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters. There you will be quite at home.

Your Aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather afraid yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequently a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be introduced of apparent consequence which will lead to nothing. It will not be so great an objection to me if it does. I allow much more latitude than she does, and think nature and spirit cover many sins of a wandering story, and people in general do not care so much about it, for your comfort.

I should like to have had more of Devereux. I do not feel enough acquainted with him. You were afraid of meddling with him I dare say. I like your sketch of Lord Clanmurray, and your picture of the two young girls’ enjoyment is very good. I have not noticed St. Julian’s serious conversation with Cecilia, but I like it exceedingly. What he says about the madness of otherwise sensible women on the subject of their daughters coming out is worth its weight in gold.

I do not perceive that the language sinks. Pray go on.


 

Chawton: (Sept. 9).

MY DEAR ANNA,I am very much obliged to you for sending your MS. It has entertained me extremely; all of us indeed. I read it aloud to your Grandmama and Aunt Cass., and we were all very much pleased. The spirit does not droop at all. Sir Thos., Lady Helen and St. Julian are very well done, and Cecilia continues to be interesting in spite of her being so amiable. It was very fit you should advance her age. I like the beginning of Devereux Forester very much, a great deal better than if he had been very good or very bad. A few verbal corrections are all that I felt tempted to make; the principal of them is a speech of St. Julian to Lady Helen, which you see I have presumed to alter. As Lady H. is Cecilia’s superior, it would not be correct to talk of her being introduced. It is Cecilia who must be introduced. And I do not like a lover speaking in the 3rd person; it is too much like the formal part of Lord Orville, and I think it not natural. If you think differently, however, you need not mind me. I am impatient for more, and only wait for a safe conveyance to return this book.

Yours affectionately, J. A.


August 10, 1814.

MY DEAR ANNA,

I am quite ashamed to find that I have never answered some question of yours in a former note. I kept it on purpose to refer to it at a proper time and then forgot it. I like the name “Which is the Heroine” very well, and I daresay shall grow to like it very much in time; but “Enthusiasm” was something so very superior that my common title must appear to disadvantage. I am not sensible of any blunders about Dawlish; the library was pitiful and wretched twelve years ago and not likely to have anybody’s publications. There is no such title as Desborough either among dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, or barons. These were your inquiries. I will now thank you for your envelope received this morning. Your Aunt Cass is as well pleased with St. Julian as ever, and I am delighted with the idea of seeing Progillian again.

Wednesday 17. — We have now just finished the first of the three books I had the pleasure of receiving yesterday. I read it aloud and we are all very much amused, and like the work quite as well as ever. I depend on getting through another book before dinner, but there is really a good deal of respectable reading in your forty-eight pages. I have no doubt six would make a very good-sized volume. You must have been quite pleased to have accomplished so much. I like Lord Portman and his brother very much. I am only afraid that Lord P.’s good nature will make most people like him better than he deserves. The whole family are very good, and Lady Anne, who was your great dread, you have succeeded particularly well with. Bell Griffin is just what she should be. My corrections have not been more important than before; here and there we have thought the sense could be expressed in fewer words, and I have scratched out Sir Thos. from walking with the others to the stables, &c. the very day after breaking his arm; for, though I find your papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book. Lyme will not do. Lyme is towards forty miles from Dawlish and would not be talked of there. I have put Starcross instead. If you prefer Exeter, that must be always safe.

I have also scratched out the introduction between Lord Portman and his brother and Mr. Griffin. A country surgeon (don’t tell Mr. C. Lyford) would not be introduced to men of their rank, and when Mr. P. is first brought in, he would not be introduced as the Honourable. That distinction is never mentioned at such times, at least I believe not. Now we have finished the second book, or rather the fifth. I do think you had better omit Lady Helena’s postscript. To those that are acquainted with “Pride and Prejudice” it will seem an imitation. And your Aunt C. and I both recommend your making a little alteration in the last scene between Devereux F. and Lady Clanmurray and her daughter. We think they press him too much, more than sensible or well-bred women would do; Lady C., at least, should have discretion enough to be sooner satisfied with his determination of not going with them. I am very much pleased with Egerton as yet. I did not expect to like him, but I do, and Susan is a very nice little animated creature; but St. Julian is the delight of our lives. He is quite interesting. The whole of his break off with Lady Helena is very well done. Yes; Russell Square is a very proper distance from Berkeley Square. We are reading the last book. They must be two days going from Dawlish to Bath. They are nearly 100 miles apart.

Thursday. — We finished it last night after our return from drinking tea at the Great House. The last chapter does not please us quite so well; we do not thoroughly like the play, perhaps from having had too much of plays in that way lately [Mansfield Park had recently been published], and we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland; but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters. There you will be quite at home.

Your Aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather afraid yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequently a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be introduced of apparent consequence which will lead to nothing. It will not be so great an objection tome if it does. I allow much more latitude than she does, and think nature and spirit cover many sins of a wandering story, and people in general do not care so much about it, for your comfort.

I should like to have had more of Devereux. I do not feel enough acquainted with him. You were afraid of meddling with him I dare say. I like your sketch of Lord Clanmurray, and your picture of the two young girls’ enjoyment is very good. I have not noticed St. Julian’s serious conversation with Cecilia, but I like it exceedingly. What he says about the madness of otherwise sensible women on the subject of their daughters coming out is worth its weight in gold.

I do not perceive that the language sinks. Pray go on.


Chawton: (Sept. 9).

MY DEAR ANNA,

We have been very much amused by your three books, but I have a good many criticisms to make, more than you will like. We are not satisfied with Mrs. Forester settling herself as tenant and near neighbour to such a man as Sir Thomas, without having some other inducement to go there. She ought to have some friend living thereabouts to tempt her. A woman going with two girls just growing up into a neighbourhood where she knows nobody but one man of not very good character, is an awkwardness which so prudent a woman as Mrs. F. would not be likely to fall into. Remember she is very prudent. You must not let her act inconsistently. Give her a friend, and let that friend be invited by Sir Thomas H. to meet her, and we shall have no objection to her dining at the Priory as she does; but otherwise a woman in her situation would hardly go there before she had been visited by other families. I like the scene itself, the Miss Leslie, Lady Anne, and the music very much. Leslie is a noble name. Sir Thomas H. you always do very well. I have only taken the liberty of expunging one phrase of his which would not be allowable — “Bless my heart!” It is too familiar and inelegant. Your grandmother is more disturbed at Mrs. Forester’s not returning the Egertons’ visit sooner than by anything else. They ought to have called at the Parsonage before Sunday. You describe a sweet place, but your descriptions are often more minute than will be liked. You give too many particulars of right hand and left. Mrs. Forester is not careful enough of Susan’s health. Susan ought not to be walking out so soon after heavy rains, taking long walks in the dirt. An anxious mother would not suffer it. I like your Susan very much, she is a sweet creature, her playfulness of fancy is very delightful. I like her as she is now exceedingly, but I am not quite so well satisfied with her behaviour to George R. At first she seems all over attachment and feeling, and afterwards to have none at all; she is so extremely confused at the ball and so well satisfied apparently with Mr. Morgan. She seems to have changed her character.

You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life. Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on, and I hope you will do a great deal more, and make full use of them while they are so very favourably arranged.

You are but now coming to the heart and beauty of your story. Until the heroine grows up the fun must be imperfect, but I expect a great deal of entertainment from the next three or four books, and I hope you will not resent these remarks by sending me no more. We like the Egertons very well. We see no blue pantaloons or cocks or hens. There is nothing to enchant one certainly in Mr. L. L., but we make no objection to him, and his inclination to like Susan is pleasing. The sister is a good contrast, but the name of Rachel is as much I can bear. They are not so much like the Papillons as I expected. Your last chapter is very entertaining, the conversation on genius, &c.; Mr. St. Julian and Susan both talk in character, and very well. In some former parts, Cecilia is perhaps a little too solemn and good, but upon the whole her disposition is very well opposed to Susan’s, her want of imagination is very natural. I wish you could make Mrs. Forester talk more; but she must be difficult to manage and make entertaining, because there is so much good sense and propriety about her that nothing can be made very broad. Her economy and her ambition must not be staring.

The papers left by Mrs. Fisher are very good. Of course one guesses something. I hope when you have written a great deal more, you will be equal to scratching out some of the past. The scene with Mrs. Mellish I should condemn; it is prosy and nothing to the purpose; and indeed the more you can find in your heart to curtail between Dawlish and Newton Priors, the better I think it will be — one does not care for girls until they are grown up. Your Aunt C. quite understands the exquisiteness of that name — Newton Priors is really a nonpareil. Milton would have given his eyes to have thought of it. Is not the cottage taken from “Tollard Royal”?

Sunday. — I am very glad, dear Anna, that I wrote as I did before this sad event occurred. I have only to add that your Grandmama does not seem the worse now for the shock.

I shall be very happy to receive more of your work if more is ready; and you write so fast that I have great hopes Mr. Digweed will come back freighted with such a cargo as not all his hops or his sheep could equal the value of.

Your grandmama desires me to say that she will have finished your shoes to-morrow, and thinks they will look very well. And that she depends upon seeing you as you promise before you quit the country, and hopes you will give her more than a day.

Yours affectionately,
J. AUSTEN.


Chawton: Wednesday (Sept. 28).

MY DEAR ANNA,

I hope you do not depend on having your book again immediately. I kept it that your grandmama may hear it, for it has not been possible yet to have any public reading. I have read it to your Aunt Cassandra, however, in our own room at night, while we undressed, and with a great deal of pleasure. We like the first chapter extremely, with only a little doubt whether Lady Helena is not almost too foolish. The matrimonial dialogue is very good certainly. I like Susan as well as ever, and begin now not to care at all about Cecilia; she may stay at Easton Court as long as she likes. Henry Mellish will be, I am afraid, too much in the common novel style — a handsome, amiable, unexceptionable young man (such as do not much abound in real life), desperately in love and all in vain. But I have no business to judge him so early. Jane Egerton is a very natural comprehendable girl, and the whole of her acquaintance with Susan and Susan’s letter to Cecilia are very pleasing and quite in character. But Miss Egerton does not entirely satisfy us. She is too formal and solemn, we think, in her advice to her brother not to fall in love; and it is hardly like a sensible woman — it is putting it into his head. We should like a few hints from her better. We feel really obliged to you for introducing a Lady Kenrick; it will remove the greatest fault in the work, and I give you credit for considerable forbearance as an author in adopting so much of our opinion.

I expect high fun about Mrs. Fisher and Sir Thomas. You have been perfectly right in telling Ben Lefroy of your work, and I am very glad to hear how much he likes it. His encouragement and approbation must be “quite beyond everything.” I do not at all wonder at his not expecting to like anybody so well as Cecilia at first, but I shall be surprised if he does not become a Susan-ite in time. Devereux Forester’s being ruined by his vanity is extremely good, but I wish you would not let him plunge into a “vortex of dissipation.” I do not object to the thing, but I cannot bear the expression; it is such thorough novel slang, and so old that I daresay Adam met with it in the first novel he opened. Indeed, I did very much like to know Ben’s opinion. I hope he will continue to be pleased with it, and I think he must, but I cannot flatter him with there being much incident. We have no great right to wonder at his not valuing the name of Progillian. That is a source of delight which even he can hardly be quite competent to.

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.

I do not like him, and do not mean to like “Waverley” if I can help it, but fear I must.

I am quite determined, however, not to be pleased with Mrs. West’s “Alicia De Lacy,” should I ever meet with it, which I hope I shall not. I think I can be stout against anything written by Mrs. West. I have made up my mind to like no novels really but Miss Edgeworth’s, yours, and my own.

What can you do with Egerton to increase the interest for him? I wish you could contrive something, some family occurrence to bring out his good qualities more. Some distress among brothers and sisters to relieve by the sale of his curacy! Something to carry him mysteriously away, and then be heard of at York or Edinburgh in an old great coat. I would not seriously recommend anything improbable, but if you could invent something spirited for him it would have a good effect. He might lend all his money to Captain Morris, but then he would be a great fool if he did. Cannot the Morrises quarrel and he reconcile them? Excuse the liberty I take in these suggestions.

Your Aunt Frank’s nursemaid has just given her warning, but whether she is worth your having, or would take your place, I know not. She was Mrs. Webb’s maid before she went to the Great House. She leaves your aunt because she cannot agree with the other servants. She is in love with the man and her head seems rather turned. He returns her affection, but she fancies every one else is wanting him and envying her. Her previous service must have fitted her for such a place as yours, and she is very active and cleanly. The Webbs are really gone! When I saw the waggons at the door, and thought of all the trouble they must have in moving, I began to reproach myself for not having liked them better, but since the waggons have disappeared my conscience has been closed again, and I am excessively glad they are gone.

I am very fond of Sherlock’s sermons and prefer them to almost any.

Your affectionate Aunt, J. AUSTEN.

If you wish me to speak to the maid, let me know.


Chawton: (Nov. 21, 1814).

MY DEAR ANNA,

I met Harriet Benn yesterday. She gave me her congratulations and desired they might be forwarded to you, and there they are. The chief news from this country is the death of old Mrs. Dormer. Mrs. Clement walks about in a new black velvet pelisse lined with yellow, and a white bobbin net veil, and looks remarkably well in them.

I think I understand the country about Hendon from your description. It must be very pretty in summer. Should you know from the atmosphere that you were within a dozen miles of London? Make everybody at Hendon admire “Mansfield Park.”

Your affectionate Aunt, J. A.


Hans Place (Nov. 28, 1814).

MY DEAR ANNA,

I assure you we all came away very much pleased with our visit. We talked of you for about a mile and a half with great satisfaction; and I have been just sending a very good report of you to Miss Beckford, with a full account of your dress for Susan and Maria.

We were all at the play last night to see Miss O’Neil in “Isabella.” I do not think she was quite equal to my expectations. I fancy I want something more than can be. I took two pocket-handkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either. She is an elegant creature, however, and hugs Mr. Young delightfully. I am going this morning to see the girls in Keppel Street. Cassy was excessively interested about your marriage when she heard of it, which was not until she was to drink your health on the wedding day.

She asked a thousand questions in her usual manner, what he said to you and what you said to him. If your uncle were at home he would send his best love, but I will not impose any base fictitious remembrances on you, mine I can honestly give, and remain

Your affectionate Aunt,
J. AUSTEN.


Hans Place (Wednesday).

MY DEAR ANNA,

I have been very far from finding your book an evil, I assure you. I read it immediately, and with great pleasure. I think you are going on very well. The description of Dr. Griffin and Lady Helena’s unhappiness is very good, and just what was likely to be. I am curious to know what the end of them will be. The name of Newton Priors is really invaluable; I never met with anything superior to it. It is delightful, and one could live on the name of Newton Priors for a twelvemonth. Indeed, I do think you get on very fast. I only wish other people of my acquaintance could compose as rapidly. I am pleased with the dog scene and with the whole of George and Susan’s love, but am more particularly struck with your serious conversations. They are very good throughout. St. Julian’s history was quite a surprise to me. You had not very long known it yourself I suspect; but I have no objection to make to the circumstance, and it is very well told. His having been in love with the aunt gives Cecilia an additional interest with him. I like the idea — a very proper compliment to an aunt! I rather imagine indeed that nieces are seldom chosen but out of compliment to some aunt or another. I daresay Ben was in love with me once, and would never have thought of you if he had not supposed me dead of scarlet fever. Yes, I was in a mistake as to the number of books. I thought I had read three before the three at Chawton, but fewer than six will not do. I want to see dear Bell Griffin again; and had you not better give some hint of St. Julian’s early history in the beginning of the story?

We shall see nothing of Streatham while we are in town; Mrs. Hill is to lye in of a daughter. Mrs. Blackstone is to be with her. Mrs. Heathcote and Miss Bigg are just leaving her. The latter writes me word that Miss Blackford ismarried, but I have never seen it in the papers, and one may as well be single if the wedding is not to be in print.

Your affectionate Aunt, J. A.


Chawton: June 23, 1816.

MY DEAR ANNA,

Cassy desires her best thanks for the book. She was quite delighted to see it. I do not know when I have seen her so much struck by anybody’s kindness as on this occasion. Her sensibility seems to be opening to the perception of great actions. These gloves having appeared on the pianoforte ever since you were here on Friday, we imagine they must be yours. Mrs. Digweed returned yesterday through all the afternoon’s rain, and was of course wet through, but in speaking of it she never once said “it was beyond everything,” which I am sure it must have been. Your Mama means to ride to Speen Hill to-morrow to see the Mrs. Hulberts, who are both very indifferent. By all accounts they really are breaking now — not so stout as the old Jackass.

Yours affectionately, J. A.

 

 

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Advice to Young Women

James Fordyce and Co.

By tea-time… the dose had been enough, and Mr Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies.

Mr Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for every thing announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. —

Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. —

Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce’s Sermons.

Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him…”

-Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Collins
During the Regency there were a wealth of books provided to instruct young girls in all the finer points of deportment and the arts of their sex. One such, Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women” (1765) was chosen by Mr. Collins as proper instruction for the Bennet girls. Reading Dr. Fordyce’s views, one can see why Lydia was so disgusted. I wonder if Jane Austen would have approved of mary Wollstonecrafts views, though?

James Fordyce
On Being Weak and Passive:
In your sex manly exercises are never graceful a tone and figure of the masculine kind are always forbidding men of sensibility desire in every woman soft features a form not robust and demeanor delicate and gentle Nature appears to have formed the (mental) faculties of your sex, for the most part, with less vigour than those of ours, observing the same distinction here as in the more delicate frames of your bodies.

On Submission to Neglect:
I am astonished at the folly of many women who are still reproaching their husbands for leaving them alone, for preferring this or that company to theirs, when, to speak the truth, they have themselves in great measure to blame.

had you behaved to them with more respectful observance studying their humours, overlooking their mistakes, submitting to their opinions in matters indifferent, giving soft answers to hasty words, complaining as little as possible your house might be the abode of domestic bliss.

On Education:

As a small amount of knowledge entertains a woman, so from a woman a small expression of kindness delights, particularly if she has beauty.

On Being Pleasing to Men:

Never perhaps, does a fine woman strike more deeply than when composed into pious recollection she assumes without knowing it superior dignity and new graces the beauties of holiness seem to radiate about her.

Dr. John Gregory
Dr. John GregoryOn Being Ignorant:

Be ever cautious in displaying your good sense. It will be thought you assume superiority over the rest of the company. But if you have any learning, keep it a profound secret especially from the men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts and a cultivated understanding.

On Being Pleasing to Men:

When a girl ceases to blush, to has lost the most powerful charm of beauty.

The men will complain of your reserve. They will assure you that a franker behaviour would make you more amiable. But, trust me, they are not sincere when they tell you so. I acknowledge that on some occasions it might render you more agreeable as companions, but it would make you less amiable as women; an important distinction, which many of your sex are unaware of.

On Reserve and Modesty:

One of the chief beauties in a female character is that modest reserve, that reitiring delicacy, which avoids the public eye.

On Concealing One’s Love:
Violent love cannot subsist, at least cannot be expressed, for any time together, on both sides, otherwise the certain consequence however concealed, is satiety and disgust.

Mary Wollstonecraft on Conduct Book Advice:
Mary WollstoncraftEverything that women see or hear serves to fix impressions, call forth emotions and associate ideas that give a sexual character to the mind. False notions of beauty and delicacy stop the growth of their limbs and produce a sickly soreness rather than a delicacy women perceive that it is only through their address to excite emotions in men, that pleasure and power are to be obtained. Besides, the books professionally written for their instruction, which make their first impression on their minds, all inculcate the same opinions.

Pleasure is the business of a woman’s life, according to the present modification of society; and while it continues to be so, little can be expected from such weak things Regard for reputation, independent of it being on of the natural rewards of virtue took it’s rise from the grand source of female depravity, the impossibility of regaining respectibility from a return to virtue, though men preserve theirs during the indulgence of vice.

I am persuaded that in the pursuit of knowledge women would never be insulted by sensible men, and rarely by men of any description, if they did not by mock modesty remind them that they were women Men are not always men in the company of women, nore would women always remember that they are women, if they were allowed to acquire more understanding.

Mary Wollstonecraft sees true modesty as ‘purity of mind’, rather than regulation of behaviour, and that it is acchieved by cultivating the understanding.

Reprinted with permission, from The Jane Austen Society of Australia’s Newsletter.

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The Young Man’s Guide

the young man's guide

The Young Man’s Guide

‘Mr Collins, you must marry.
A clergyman like you must marry. —
Chuse properly, chuse a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice.Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.’

Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Pride and Prejudice

The following chapter is abridged from

The Young Man’s Guide

by William A. Alcott, printed in 1835. While this was not published during Jane Austen’s lifetime, many of these ideals were in place long before the Regency period, though some appear almost ludicrous to our modern sensibilities.

Female Qualifications for Marriage

1. Moral Excellence

The highest as well as noblest trait in female character, is love to God.

Christianity is based on the most abundant evidence, of a character wholly unquestionable. But this I do and will say, that to be consistent, young men of loose principled ought not to rail at females for their piety, and then whenever they seek for a constant friend, one whom they can love, — for they never really love the abandoned, — always prefer, other things being equal, the society of the pious and the virtuous.

'On the contrary, nothing can be a stronger proof of it, Elinor; for if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure.'
2. Common Sense

Next on the list of particular qualifications in a female, for matrimonial life, I place common sense. In the view of some, it ought to precede moral excellence.

By common sense, as used in this place, I mean the faculty by means of which we see things as they really are. It implies judgment and discrimination, and a proper sense of propriety in regard to the common concerns of life. It leads us to form judicious plans of action, and to be governed by our circumstances in such a way as will be generally approved. It is the exercise of reason, uninfluenced by passion or prejudice. To man, it is nearly what instinct is to brutes. It is very different from genius or talent, as they are commonly defined; but much better than either. It never blazes forth with the splendor of noon, but shines with a constant and useful light. To the housewife — but, above all, to the mother, — it is indispensable.

'All this she must possess,' added Darcy, 'and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.'
3. A Desire for Improvement

Whatever other recommendations a lady may possess, she should have an inextinguishable thirst for improvement. No sensible person can be truly happy in the world, without this; much less qualified to make others happy. But the genuine spirit of improvement, whereever it exists, atones for the absence of many qualities which would otherwise be indispensable: in this respect resembling that ‘charity’ which covers ‘a multitude of sins.’ Without it, almost everything would be of little consequence, — with it, everything else is rendered doubly valuable.

With the fond, the ardent, the never failing desire to improve, physically, intellectually, and morally, there are few females who may not make tolerable companions for a man of sense; — without it, though a young lady were beautiful and otherwise lovely beyond comparison, wealthy as the Indies, surrounded by thousands of the most worthy friends, and even talented, let him beware! Better remain in celibacy a thousand years (could life last so long) great as the evil may be, than form a union with such an object. He should pity, and seek her reformation, if not beyond the bounds of possibility; but love her he should not! The penalty will be absolutely insupportable.

4. A Fondness for Children

Few traits of female character are more important than this. Yet there is much reason to believe that, even in comtemplating an engagement that is expected to last for life, it is almost universally overlooked. Without it, though a woman should possess every accomplishment of person, mind and manners, she would be poor indeed; and would probably render those around her miserable. I speak now generally. There may be exceptions to this, as to other general rules. A dislike of children, even in men, is an unfavorable omen; in woman it is insupportable; for it is grossly unnatural. To a susceptible, intelligent, virtuous mind, I can scarcely conceive of a worse situation in this world or any other, than to be chained for life to a person who hates children. You can purchase, if you have the pecuniary means, almost every things but maternal love.
She was always on friendly terms with her brother-in-law; and in the children, who loved her nearly as well, and respected her a great deal more than their mother, she had an object of interest, amusement, and wholesome exertion.
This no gold can buy. Wo to the female who is doomed to drag out a miserable existence with a husband who ‘can’t bear children;’ but thrice miserable is the doom of him who has a wife and a family of children, but whose children have no mother!

These remarks are made, not in the belief that they will benefit those who are already blinded by fancy or passion, but with the hope that some more fortunate reader may reflect on the probable chances of happiness or misery, and pause before he leaps into the vortex of matrimonial discord. No home can ever be a happy one to any of its inmates, where there is no maternal love, nor any desire for mental or moral improvement. But where these exist, in any considerable degree, and the original attachment was founded on correct principles, there is always hope of brighter days, even though clouds at present obscure the horizon. No woman who loves her husband, and desires to make continual improvement, will long consent to render those around her unhappy.

5. Love of Domestic Concerns

Without the knowledge and the love of domestic concerns, even the wife of a peer, is but a poor affair. It was the fashion, in former times, for ladies to understand a great deal about these things. and it would be very hard to make me believe that it did not tend to promote the interests and honor of their husbands.

The concerns of a great family never can be well managed, if left wholly to hirelings; and there are many parts of these affairs in which it would be unseemly for husbands to meddle. Surely, no lady can be to high in rand to make it proper for her to be well acquainted with the character and general demeanor of all the female servants. To receive and give character is too much to be left to a servant, however good, whose service has been ever so long, or acceptable.

It is cold comfort for a man, to marry a girl, who has been brought up only to ‘play music;’ to draw, to sing, to waste paper, pen and ink in writing long and half romantic letters, and to see shows, and plays, and read novels. Lovers may live on a very aerial diet, but husbands stand in need of something more solid; and young women may take my word for it, that a constantly clean table, well cooked victuals, a house in order, and a cheerful fire, will do more towards preserving a husband’s heart, than all the ‘accomplishments’ taught in all the ‘establishments’ in the world without them.

6. Sobriety

Surely no reasonable young man will expect sobriety in a companion, when he does not possess this qualification himself. But by sobriety, I do not mean a habit which is opposed to intoxication, for if that be hateful in a man, what must it be in a woman? Besides, it does seem to me that no young man, with his eyes open, and his other senses perfect, needs any caution on that point. Drunkenness, downright drunkenness, is usually as incompaticble with purity, as it is with decency.

Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age.Much is sometimes said in favor of a little wine or other fermented liquors, especially at dinner. No young lady, in health, needs any of these stimulants. Wine, or ale, or cider, at dinner! I would as soon take a companion from the streets, as one who must habitually have her glass or two of wine at dinner. And this is not a opinion formed prematurely or hastily. But by the word sobriety in a young woman, I mean a great deal more than even a rigid abstinence from a love of drink, which I do not believe to exist to any considerable degree, in this country, even in the least refined parts of it. I mean a great deal more than this; I mean sobriety of conduct. The word sober and its derivatives mean steadiness, seriousness, carefulness, scrupulous propriety of conduct.

Now this kind of sobriety is of great importance in the person with whom we are to live constantly. Skipping, romping, rattling girls are very amusing where all consequences are out of the question, and they may, perhaps, ultimately become sober. But while you have no certainty of this, there is a presumptive argument on the other side. To be sure, when girls are mere children, they are expected to play and romp like children. But when they are arrived at an age which turns their thoughts towards a situation for life; when they begin to think of having the command of a house, however small or poor, it is time for them to cast away, not the cheerfulness or the simplicity, but the levity of the child.

7. Industry

Let not the individual whose eye catches the word industry, at the beginning of this division of my subject, condemn me as degrading females to the condition of mere wheels in a machine for money-making; for I mean no such thing. There is nothing more abhorrent to the soul of a sensible man than female avarice. The ‘spirit of a man’ may sustain him, while he sees avaricious and miserly individuals among his own sex, though the sight is painful enough, even here; but a female miser, ‘who can bear?’

Still if woman is intended to be a ‘help meet,’ for the other sex, I know of no reason why she should not be so in physical concerns, as well as mental and moral. I know not by what rule it is that many resolve to remain for ever in celibacy, unless they believe their companions can ‘support’ them, without labor. I have sometimes even doubted whether any person who makes these declarations can be sincere. Yet when I hear people, of both sexes, speak of poverty as a greater calamity than death, I am led to think that this dread of poverty does really exist among both sexes. And there are reasons for believing that some females, bred in fashionable life, look forward to matrimony as a state, of such entire exemption from care and labor, and of such uninterrupted ease, that they would prefer celibacy and even death to those duties which scripture, and reason, and common sense, appear to me to enjoin.

'She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker.'Another mark of industry is, a quick step, and a somewhat heavy tread, showing that the foot comes down with a hearty good will. If the body lean a little forward, and the eyes keep steadily in the same direction, while the feet are going, so much the better, for these discover earnestness to arrive at the intended point. I do not like, and I never like, your sauntering, soft-stepping girls, who move as if they were perfectly indifferent as to the result. And, as the the love part of the story, who ever expects ardent and lasting affection from one of these sauntering girls, will, when too late, find his mistake. The character is much the same throughout; and probably no man ever yet saw a sauntering girl, who did not, when married, make an indifferent wife, and a cold-hearted mother; cared very little for, either by husband or children; and, of course, having no store of those blessings which are the natural resources to apply to in sickness and in old age.

8. Early Rising

Early rising is another mark of industry; and though, in the higher stations of life, it may be of no importance in a mere pecuniary point of view, it is, even there, of importance in other respects; for it is rather difficult to keep love alive towards a woman who never sees the dew, never beholds the rising sun, and who constantly comes directly from a reeking bed to the breakfast table, and there chews, without appetite, the choicest morsels of human food. A man might, perhaps, endure this for a month or two, without being disgusted; but not much longer.

9. Frugality

This means the contrary of extravagance. it does not mean stinginess; it does not mean pinching; but it means an abstaining from all unnecessary expenditure, and all unnecessary use of goods of any and of every sort. It is a quality of great importance, whether the rank of life be high of low.

Some people are, indeed, so rich, they have such an over-abundance of money and goods, that how to get rid of them would, to a spectator, seem to be their only difficulty. How many individuals of fine estates, have been ruined and degraded by the extravagance of their wives! More frequently by their own extravagance, perhaps; but, in numerous instances, by that of those whose duty it is to assist in upholding their stations by husbanding their fortunes. If this be the case amongst the opulent, who have estates to draw upon, what must be the consequences of a want of frugality in the middle and lower ranks of life? Here it must be fatal, and especially among that description of persons whose wives have, in many cases, the receiving as well as the spending of money. In such a a case, there wants nothing but extravagance in the wife to make ruin as inevitable as the arrival of old age.

To marry a girl of this disposition is really self-destruction. You never can have either property or peace. Earn her a horse to ride, she will want a gig: earn the gig, she will want a chariot: get her that, she will long for a coach and four: and from stage to stage, she will torment you to the end of her or your days; for, still there will be somebody with a finer equipage that you can give her; and, as long as this is the case, you will never have rest. Reason would tell her, that she must stop at some point short of that; and taht, therefore, all expenses in the rivalship are so much thrown away. But, reason and broaches and bracelets seldom go in company. The girl who has not the sense to perceive that her person is disfigured and not beautified by parcels of brass and tin, or even gold and silver, as well to regret, if she dare not oppose the tyranny of absurd fashions, is not entitled to a full measure of confidence of any individual.

Jane Fairfax was very elegant, remarkably elegant; and she had herself the highest value for elegance.10. Personal Neatness

There never yet was, and there never will be sincere and ardent love, of long duration, where personal neatness is wholly neglected. I do not say that there are not those who would live peaceably and even contentedly in these circumstances. But what I contend for is this: that there never can exist, for any length of time, ardent affection, in any man towards a woman who neglects neatness, either in her person, or in her house affairs. Men may be careless as to their own persons; they may, from the nature of their business, or from their want of time to adhere to neatness in dress, be slovenly in their own dress and habits; but, they do not relish this in their wives, who must still have charms; and charms and neglect of the person seldom go together. I do not, of course, approve of it even in men. We may, indeed, lay it down as a rule of almost universal application, that supposing all other things to be equal, he who is most guilty of personal neglect; will be the most ignorant and the most vicious. Why there should be, universally, a connection between slovenliness, ignorance, and vice, is a question I have no room in this work to discuss.

The indications of female neatness are, first, a clean skin. The hands and face will usually be clean, to be sure, if there be soap and water within reach; but if on observing other parts of the head besides the face, you make discoveries indicating a different character, the sooner you cease your visits the better. I hope, now, that no young woman who may chance to see this book, will be offended at this, and think me too severe on her sex. I am only telling that which all men think; and, it is a decided advantage to them to be fully informed of our thoughts on the subject. If any one, who reads this, shall find, upon self- examination, that she is defective in this respect, let her take the hint, and correct this defect.

How much do women lose by inattention to these matters! Men, in general, say nothing about it to their wives, but they think about it; they envy their more lucky neighbors, and in numerous cases, consequences the most serious arise from this apparently trifling cause. Beauty is valuable; it is one of the ties, and strong one too; but it cannot last to old age; whereas the charm of cleanliness never ends but with life itself. It has been said that the sweetest flowers, when they really become putrid, are the most offensive. So the most beautiful woman, if found with an uncleansed skin, is, in my estimation, the most disagreeable.

11. A Good Temper

She had no resources for solitude; and inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance, was very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used.This is a very difficult thing to ascertain beforehand. Smiles are cheap; they are easily put on for the occasion; and, besides, the frowns are, according to the lover’s whim, interpreted into the contrary. By ‘good temper,’ I do not mean an easy temper, a serenity which nothing disturbs; for that is a mark of laziness. Sullenness, if you be not too blind to perceive it, is a temper to be avoided by all means. A sullen man is bad enough; what, then, must a sullen woman, and that woman a wife; a constant inmate, a companion day and night! Only think of the delight of setting at the same table, and occupying the same chamber, for a week, without exchanging a word for all the while! Very bad to be scolding for such a length of time; but this is far better than ‘the sulks.’

Querulousness is a great fault. No man, and, especially, no woman, likes to hear a continual plaintiveness. That she complain, and roundly complain, of your want of punctuality, of your coolness, of your neglect, of your liking the company of others: these are all well, more especially as they are frequently but too just. But an everlasting complaining, without rhyme or reason, is a bad sign. It shows want of patience, and, indeed, want of sense.

Still, of all the faults as to temper, your melancholy ladies have the worst, unless you have the same mental disease yourself. Many wives are, at times, misery makers; but these carry it on as a regular trade. They are always unhappy about something, either past, present, or to come. Both arms full of children is a pretty efficient remedy in most cases; but, if these ingredients be wanting, a little want, a little real trouble, a little genuine affliction, often will effect a cure.

12. Accomplishments

By accomplishments, I mean those things, which are usually comprehended in what is termed a useful and polite education. Now it is not unlikely that the fact of my advertising to this subject so late, may lead to the opinion that I do not set a proper estimate on this female qualification.

But it is not so. Probably few set too high an estimate upon it. Its absolute importance has, I am confident, been seldom overrated. It is true I do not like a bookish woman better than a bookish man; especially a great devourer of that most contemptible species of books with whose burden the press daily groans: I mean novels. But mental cultivation, and even what is called polite learning, along with the foregoing qualifications, are a most valuable acquisition, and make every female, as well as her associates, doubly happy. It is only when books, and music, and a taste for the fine arts are substituted for other and more important things, that they should be allowed to change love or respect to disgust.

Drawing, music, embroidery, (and I might mention half a dozen other things of the same class) where they do not exclude the more useful and solid matters, may justly be regarded as appropriate branches of female education; and in some circumstances and conditions of life, indispensable. Music, — vocal and instrumental — and drawing, to a certain extent, seem to me desirable in all. As for dancing, I do not feel quite competent to decide. As the world is, however, I am almost disposed to reject it altogether. At any rate, if a young lady is accomplished in every other respect, you need not seriously regret that she has not attended to dancing, especially as it is conducted in most of our schools.

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The Hands

“Don’t you find it colder than it was in the morning, Elinor?…I can hardly keep my hands warm even in my muff.”
Sense and Sensibility

The following advice is offered from A Manual of Politeness: Comprising the Principles of Ettiquette and Rules of Behaviour in Genteel Society, for Persons of Both Sexes. This charming title was anonymously printed in Philadelphia in 1837, however the advice it offers is timeless.

The Hands

Cleanliness is no less essential to comfort than health, while no one thing is so truly degrading as dirty hands or face in a lady.—It displays, at first sight, a familiarity with very low habits, that is even shocking to the delicacy of the female character, where we naturally look for every outward perfection of appearance that is pleasing and engaging, as the nature of their habits and pursuits is supposed to be of a much more refined order than that of men.

In high life, few things more bespeak the true lady and gentleman than the appearance of the hand. Lord Byron has gone so far as to affirm, that a white and delicate hand is a sign of patrician birth. Although I cannot exactly agree in this declaration, yet the attention that is commonly bestowed upon the hands in the upper circles of fashion at once shows the importance that is attached to them.

One assertion may be relied upon in reference to the hands,—the finest and most delicate from nature may be made coarse by neglect; and, vice versa, the roughest fine, by attention. In corroboration, I shall now clearly explain. — The formation of the hand, in the first instance, of course comes from nature, and if not distorted in early life by rough usage and hard work, it of course will retain its form, such as it may be. Hence arises the grand distinction between the hands of gentlemen and artizans. The former, from care and attention, preserve to their hands all the advantages of formation with which nature may have endowed them; while those of the mechanic or artizan are soon distorted in shape and make, rough and coarse, as by their constant use, it may be, in work. Thus, therefore, the distinction between the hands of the higher and lower orders, arises from treatment, and not nature, as Byron affected to fancy.

The most prejudicial habits in early youth, to the hands frequently arise from the learning the piano-forte and harp. The former, particularly, if not well looked to, from the early endeavours of children in stretching the octave, is apt to render the fingers crooked; while the latter, if played without the proper covering to the fingers, thickens and hardens the ends to a most unpleasant extent. A few hints respecting the culture of the hands, may not perhaps be deemed unacceptable.

I shall first proceed to show the method of obtaining a soft and white skin, and afterwards of good nails,—the two chief attributes of a lady-like or gentlemanly hand. With regard to the skin, it may be freely remarked, that nothing is so conducive to the preservation of its beauty, as frequently washing in warm water and with fine soaps. Gloves too, by ladies, should always be worn in the house; it is a very elegant fashion, and tends much to preserve the delicacy of the hands. After washing the hands, they should always be rubbed dry; if they be not, the damp left on the skin is apt to turn them red, than which nothing can be more inimical to the pleasing appearance of the hands.


When, however, the hands have been neglected for any length of time, or have been naturally coarse and of a bad colour, an excellent thing to wash with is oatmeal.—Use it thus: after having well washed the hands in hot water and soap— fine soap, for there is less alkali in its composition than the common,—take some of the meal in the hands, and after wetting it, keep rubbing them together some time, then dry them well with a coarse towel. By this means the uneven surface of the skin gradually becomes softened, and the colour will be found improved. An excellent recipe for giving a temporary whiteness to the hands, is the juice of lemons.

A very common notion prevails that the use of oil and wax, and sleeping in kid gloves, refines the hands—a practice that is not only very unhealthy by preventing the proper circulation of the blood, but inefficacious in every respect.

Next to colour, the nails most attract the attention to the hand. Those that are considered the handsomest, are the filbert-shaped, so termed, from their resemblance to the fruit so called. In the care of the hand, the nails require much attention. The too frequent blemish to the nails are white spots, and the undue growth of the skin immediately round the nail. The Circassians have a pink dye, in which senna forms a principal ingredient, to remedy the first of these blemishes; but the exact recipe used, is unknown in this country. With regard to the thickness of the skin that skirts the nail, it is frequently occasioned by the injudicious use of the scissors or penknife, in trimming the nails: for to cut it off is to increase the defect by causing accelerated growth. The only method that presents itself of keeping it under, is by the free and frequent use of a hard nail-brush, the use of hot water, and the employment of a corner of the towel in turning it back every time you wash.

If this treatment be continued for any length of time together, it will rid the fingers of the hardest skin, by means of keeping up a brisk circulation in the hand, in which alone consists the art of obtaining and keeping the skin of the hand fine, as it calls into action all the minute pores and their secretions, thus rendering it smooth and soft.

With regard to soaps, I have heard many very high encomiums bestowed upon Rigge’s scented soap, for the pleasing effect it has in softening and whitening the skin.

Chapped Hands

There is not a more common or more troublesome complaint in the winter season, especially with females, than chapped hands. It is rather remarkable that few individuals seem to know the true cause of this affection. Most people attribute it to the use of hard water, and insist upon washing, on all occasions, with rain or brook water. Now the truth is, that chapped hands are invariably occasioned by the injudicious use of soap; and the soap affects them more in winter than in the summer, because in the former season the hands are not moistened with perspiration, which contracts the alkaline effects of the soap. There is a small portion of alkali in hard water, but not so much as there is in soft water, with the addition of soap. The constant use of soap in washing, even though the softest water be used, will cause tender hands to be chapped, unless some material be afterwards used to neutralize its alkaline properties. In summer the oily property of the perspirable moisture answers this purpose; but in winter, a very little vinegar or cream will, by being rubbed on the dried hands, after the use of soap, completely neutralize its alkaline properties, and thereby effectually prevent the chapping of the hands. Any other acid or oily substance will answer the same purpose. There are some very delicate hands which are never chapped. This exemption from the complaint arises from the greater abundance of perspirable matter which anoints and softens the skin. Dry and cold hands are most afflicted with this complaint.

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