What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
A letter written by Jane Austen is due to be auctioned for the first time on July the 11th.
Sotheby’s auction house have the letter for sale as part of the English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations sale, in which there will also be for sale two other fragments of correspondence between the two women (the lots are expected to sell altogether for as much as £162,000!).
The letter, dated 29-30 October 1812, was sent to one of Jane’s favourite nieces, Anna Lefroy, and shows how much enjoyment Austen had in making fun of the Gothic thriller genre (as she does to great effect in Northanger Abbey). The letter is addressed as a note, not to Anna herself, but to the author Rachel Hunter, whose 1806 novel Lady Maclairn, the Victim of Villany the two had recently read.
Although the content was known, the letter itself has not been seen by scholars and it is very exciting to have it become available.
Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s specialist in books and manuscripts, declaring the letter a significant document.
The Jane Austen News came across this rather interesting video this week, and we thought it might also be of interest to other Jane fans (especially those thinking of investing in rare books!)
Franco Moretti, founder of the Stanford Literary Lab, which applies data analysis to the study of fiction, argues that certain books survive through the choices of ordinary readers, and with this in mind he’s asked what traits make Austen’s work so special and still beloved by so many readers even to this day? Can the magic of Austen be measured with data? Can literary genius be graphed?
To find out the lab started with a set of English novels published between 1710 and 1920, and using a technique called principal components analysis, they plotted each work on a two-dimensional chart based on the vocabulary in each book (books closer together on the chart used more similar words.)
The result was that Austen’s novels were far more filled with words that are linked to emotion, time and to abstract words concerned with states of mind and social relationships, e.g. acquaintance, affection, attended, conduct, depend, desire, endeavoured, favour, gratitude, indulgence, merit, obliged. Strangely enough the study also found that Austen had “a higher-than-average propensity for words like quite, really and very — the sort that writers are urged to avoid if they want muscular prose.”
So maybe you can map what makes a book endure, then again maybe you can’t. Either way, at the Jane Austen News we think it makes for a very pleasing graph!
Sam Jordison of the Guardian’s Reading Group has this week asked readers to name the best Austen novel to read first, and we have to say, it’s a tough question.
Although not new to the novels, Sam decided that if any year is the year to revisit Austen and to look at her novels again (and to uncover nuances and jokes he may have missed the first time around) this, her bicentenary year, is the year to do it. However, unsure which novel to begin with, he has called a vote to see which he should dive into first. Readers have been asked to nominate their favourite in the comments below the article, and Sam will tot up the results in a few days time.
I’m curious to see how it feels to read Austen again. It’s more than 20 years since I read anything she wrote. Some time in the mid-90s I ground out my last A-level paragraph about dramatic irony in Emma, put away my pen with relief, started reading On the Road – and didn’t look back. I suspect there are plenty of other people in a similar situation, so it will be fascinating to engage with her again.
We have to say, we’re still in several minds about what we’d pick to read first! Whichever does come first, we look forward to hearing what he has to say as he progresses through his re-readings!
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