Jane Austen on her ‘Sense & Sensibility’

Sense and Sensibility was first published in October 1811, hence all manner of this 200 year anniversary celebration will be literally taking over the world, or at least the blog-sphere world, for this entire year! [See the JASNA site  for information on the next AGM in October in Fort Worth]

There are already a number of blog events in place [I will be posting on these shortly], but I hope this year at Jane Austen in Vermont to do a number of posts on S&S, starting with its very interesting publishing history. So today, Part I – a compilation of what Jane Austen wrote in her letters about her first published work – there is not as much as on Pride & Prejudice or Mansfield Park and Emma, but she did make a number of comments that are worth noting. The upcoming Part II will outline the details of its publication and how it was received by her contemporaries. [You can also re-visit my previous posts on “Travel in S&S” – Part I, Part II, and Part III, and more to come regarding the types of carriages in use during Austen’s time.]

Note that all references in the letters are to: Deirdre Le Faye, ed. Jane Austen’s Letters. 3rd Edition. NY: Oxford, 1997, c1995.

Jane Austen on Sense & Sensibility

Ltr. 71. 25 April 1811, to Cassandra, from Sloane St, London

No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her suckling child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to W.s [Willoughby] first appearance. Mrs. K [Mrs. Knight, Edward’s adoptive aunt] regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June. – Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the Printer, & says he will see him again today. – It will not stand still during his absence, it will be sent to Eliza. – The Incomes remain as they were, but I will get them altered if I can. – I am very much gratified by Mrs. K.s interest in it; & whatever may be the event of it as to my credit with her, sincerely wish her curiosity could be satisfied sooner than is now probable. I think she will like my Elinor, but cannot build on anything else.

[Note: S&S was actually not published until 23 October 1811]

Ltr. 79. 29 Jan 1813
, to Cassandra, from Chawton

[Talking about P&P after its publication] – I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S&S altogether. – Now I will try to write of something else…

Ltr. 86. 3-6 July 1813
, to Francis Austen, from Chawton

You will be glad to hear that every Copy of S&S is sold & that is has brought me £140 – besides the Copyright, if that should ever be of any value.* – I have now therefore written myself into £250. – which only makes me long for more. – I have something in hand – which I hope on the credit of P&P will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining. [i.e. Mansfield Park]

*My note: this is the world’s most perfect example of understatement!

Ltr. 87. 15-16 Sept 1813
, to Cassandra, from Henrietta St, London

Nothing has been done as to S&S. The Books came to hand too late for him to have time for it, before he went. [i.e send the books to Warren Hastings]

Ltr. 90. 25 Sept 1813, to Francis Austen, from Godmersham Park

[On the secret of her authorship]

  I was previously aware of what I should be laying myself open to – but the truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now – & that I believe whenever the 3rd appears, I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it. – I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it. – People shall pay for their Knowledge if I can make them. – Henry heard P&P warmly praised in Scotland, by Lady Robt Kerr & another Lady; – and what does he do in the warmth of his Brotherly vanity & Love, but immediately tell them who wrote it! – A Thing once set going in that way – one knows how it spreads! – and he, dear Creature, has set it going so much more than once. I know if is all done from affection & partiality – but at the same time, let me here again express to you & Mary my sense of the superior kindness which you have shewn on the occasion, in doing what I wished. – I am trying to harden myself. – After all, what a trifle it is in all its Bearings, to the really important points of one’s existence even in this World!

[postscript] There is to be a 2d Edition of S&S. Egerton advises it.

[Note: the 2nd edition was published 29 October1813]

Henry Austen

Ltr. 91. 11-12 Oct 1813, to Cassandra, from Godmerhsam Park

I dined upon Goose yesterday – which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2d Edition.

[Note: Le Faye cites a poem from 1708: Old Michaelmas Day was October 11]

“That who eats Goose on Michael’s Day
 Shan’t money lack, his Debts to pay.”

Ltr. 95. 3 Nov 1813
, to Cassandra in London from Godmersham Park.

Your tidings of S&S give me pleasure. I have never seen it advertised. …

…I suppose in the meantime I shall owe dear Henry a great deal of Money for Printing, etc. – I hope Mrs. Fletcher will indulge herself with S&S.

[Note: Mrs. Fletcher was the wife of William Fletcher, of Trinity College Dublin – Austen notes that” Mrs. Fletcher, the wife of a Judge, an old Lady & very good & very clever, who is all curiosity to know about me…”. The 2nd edition of S&S, advertized on 29 October 1813,  was published at the author’s expense, thus Henry likely paid for it]

Ltr. 96. 6-7 Nov 1813
, to Cassandra in London, from Godmersham Park

Since I wrote last, my 2d Edit. has stared me in the face. – Mary tells me that Eliza [Mrs. Fowle] means to buy it. I wish she may. It can hardly depend upon any more Fyfield Estates [sale of Fowle property] – I cannot help hoping that many will feel themselves obliged to buy it. I shall not mind imagining it a disagreeable Duty to them, so as they do it. Mary heard before she left home, that it was very much admired at Cheltenham, & that it was given to Miss Hamilton [the writer Elizabeth Hamilton]. It is pleasant to have such a respectable Writer named. I cannot tire you I am sure on this subject, or I would apologise.

Elizabeth Hamilton - Wikipedia

Ltr. 100 21 Mar 1814, to Francis Austen, from London

Perhaps before the end of April, Mansfield Park by the author of S&S – P&P may be in the world. Keep the name to yourself. I should not like to have it known beforehand. [i.e. about MP]

Ltr. 121. 17-18 Oct 1815, to Cassandra, from Hans Place in London

Mr. Murray’s Letter is come; he is a Rogue of course, but a civil one. He offers £450 – but wants to have the Copyright of MP & S&S included. It will end in my publishing for myself I dare say. – He sends more praise however than I expected. It is an amusing Letter. You shall see it.

John Murray II

Ltr. 122(A)(D). 20-21 Oct 1815, draft of letter from Henry Austen to John Murray, in London

On the subject of the expence & profit of publishing, you must be better informed than I am; – but Documents in my possession appear to prove that the Sum offered by you for the Copyright of Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park & Emma, is not equal to the Money which my Sister has actually cleared by one very moderate Edition of Mansfield Park – (You Yourself expressed astonishment that so small an Edit. of such a work should have been sent into the World) & a still smaller one of Sense & Sensibility.- …

[Note: the 1st edition of S&S was 750 or 1000 copies; MP was probably 1,250, and Emma was 2,000 copies.]

Ltr. 154. 13 Mar 1817, to Caroline Austen, from Chawton

I have just recd nearly twenty pounds myself on the 2d Edit: of S&S* – which gives me this fine flow of Literary Ardour.

* Sense and Sensibility [footnoted by Austen in pencil]


Isn’t it such a delight to hear Austen’s very own words on her writing! Stay tuned for Part II on how it all came to be…

Illustration: John Murray II from Polylooks.com

Copyright@Deb Barnum, Jane Austen in Vermont, 2011.