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A TALENT FOR DESCRIBING ORDINARY LIFE
[I have] read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements, and feelings, and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!
Sir Walter Scott, Diary, 1826
"NEAREST TO THE MANNER" OF SHAKESPEARE
Shakespeare has had neither equal nor second. But among the writers who... have approached nearest to the manner of the great master, we have no hesitation in placing Jane Austen, a woman of whom England is justly proud. She has given us a multitude of characters, all in a certain sense, commonplace, all such as we meet every day. Yet they are all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were the most eccentric of human beings.
Lord Macaulay, Edinburgh Review, 1843
"WHY DO YOU LIKE MISS AUSTEN SO VERY MUCH?"
Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would have rather written Pride and Prejudice... than any of the Waverley Novels?
I had not seen Pride and Prejudice till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped 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. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.
Charlotte Bronte, in a letter to George Henry Lewes, 1843
"TRUTH IS NEVER SACRIFICED..."
Miss Austen is, of all his successors, the one who most nearly resembles Richardson in the power of impressing reality upon her characters. There is a perfection in the exhibition of Miss Austen's characters which no one else has approached; and truth is never for an instant sacrificed in that delicate atmosphere of satire which pervades her works...
...She has been accused of writing dull stories about ordinary people. But her supposed ordinary people are really not such very ordinary people. Let any one who is inclined to criticise on this score endeavour to construct from among the ordinary people of his own acquaintance one character that shall be capable of interesting any reader for ten minutes. It will then be found how great has been the discrimination of Miss Austen in the selection of her characters and how skilful is her treatment of them.
W. F. Pollock, Fraser's Magazine, 1860
"LARGEST CLAIMS... IN OUR OWN TIME..."
It should not be surprising that the largest claims for Jane Austen's art have been made in our own time. The success of modern criticism in analyzing works of fiction by methods formerly associated with the study of lyric poetry has made the traditional objections to Jane Austen's limited subject-matter seem almost irrelevant. By emphasizing her control of language and mastery of ironic exposure, recent critics have greatly expanded our appreciation of what Jane Austen accomplished on her "little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory."
A. Walton Litz, Jane Austen: A Study of Her Artistic Development, 1965
"A PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE..."
In these novels, which do not confine their psychological study to principles and formulae, but present it in their elements of variety, individuality and personality, we are given a philosophy of life. A philosophy which though amiable in appearance is none the less dogmatic, and leaves no place for uneasiness or doubt in the author, who puts it into practice and exhibits it in her novels.
The peace, ease and well-being of outer circumstances corresponds with the inner atmosphere of moral serenity, tranquility, and contentment.
An artist less sure of herself, a less skilful psychologist, would try to create this double atmosphere by affirming that peace and joy are laws of life.
Jane Austen affirms nothing of the kind; she contents herself with proving it...
...Because she herself has experienced the kindness of life which has never imposed unbearable sufferings upon her, because she dares to look the contradictions, absurdities and follies which appear on the surface of things, in the face and always with a smile, she has an unshakable confidence in life, an absolute certainty that the unknown power which governs the world desires order and well-being in all things.
Her confidence in life is not due solely to the absence of any bitter trials, it is also the result of a natural leaning to that equilibrium of the spirit, unstable perhaps, but always regained after temporary loss, which we call optimism.
Here, again, Jane Austen is in advance of her time and beyond the region of romantic disquietude, and realizes in the clear atmosphere of her narrow sphere something of the modern "will to live."...
Leonie Villard, Jane Austen, A French Appreciation, 1924