To celebrate the bi-centenary of arguably the best romantic book in the world, it seems an appropriate time to quote from a small tome I own entitled “The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen”. Flicking through it, I came across extracts from her letters to her niece Anna Austen, written in 1814, offering tips in the novelist’s art.
Listen to this advice about writing what you know:
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.
On practical plotting:
Your aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather fearful yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequent a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be sometimes 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…
On the need for consistency in characterisation:
I like your Susan very much indeed, she is a sweet creature, her playfulness of fancy is very delightful. I like her as she is now exceedingly, but I am not so well satisfied with her behaviour to George R. At first she seemed all over attachment and feeling, and afterwards to have none at all; she is so extremely composed at the Ball, and so well-satisfied apparently with Mr Morgan. She seems to have changed her character.
On finding a situation that works, and the right sort of character-chemistry:
You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a sport as is the delight of my life; - 3 0r 4 families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on – and I hope you will write a great deal more, and make full use of them whilst they are so very favourably arranged. You are now coming to the heart and beauty of your book…
Not much different to the advice writers get two hundred years on. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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