Friday, September 21, 2012

Jane Austen's Supportive Family

In my stacks of "must-read" periodicals and books, I unearthed Persuasions, Issue #31, 2009 and I came across a wonderful and thought-provoking article written by Maggie Lane called "Brothers of the More Famous Jane...".  Besides being a remarkably easy read for a scholarly article, the information provided in the essay was for me a revelation.  Here are some of the sentences that most intrigued me:

  • "In the case of Sense and Sensibility, it seems probable that the sum of about £180 had to be paid upfront for printing and advertising - in which case Henry surely advanced the money, for such a sum massively exceeded Jane Austen's slender means.  Sales of about 420 copies were needed to break even.  In the "Biographical Notice" of 1818, Henry tells us "she actually made a reserve from her very moderate income to meet the expected loss."  She had no such reserve; Henry was both concealing her poverty and lauding her modesty, but we can read between the lines her fear of debt and of increasing the huge obligations she already felt to her brothers.  The appearance of Jane Austen's first novel owed everything, in my opinion, to the force of Henry's confidence and calculations as well as to his cash and his contacts.  From this point Henry was totally involved in Jane Austen's publishing life."
The ramifications of this particular article are incredible.  Henry used his contacts to secure a publisher.  Henry paid for the publicity and publication of her first novel.  So the looming question here is, would we even know Jane Austen if it were not for her wealthy, politically connected brother?  People will hate me for saying this but for all artists this problem exists and exists to the present day.  Personally I know of brilliant work that does not see the light of day because there is not a mass of money available to put that work forward.  There is also the matter of riding the tide of what is currently popular.

More to come...


Alexandre Fabbri said...

I passed by Steventon yesterday. The old well is still there. :-)

lovearmd said...

Yes, I remember seeing the well when touring the area! Now they have had a dig!