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.

7 thoughts on “Jane Austen on her ‘Sense & Sensibility’

  1. I love reading excerpts from Austen’s letters, especially when they are thematically grouped! The oh so familiar lines make me smile all over again. Particular favorites included in this post are: “I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her suckling child”; “besides the Copyright, if that should ever be of any value” (if she could have only known what an understatement it was!); and “I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it”.


    • Yes, Alexa, I agree! – when you look at the letters by theme as you say, you see so much more than just reading them through, so much more there than originally seen, every sentence literally packed – plus great fun to be sort of “looking over her shoulder”, isn’t it? – enjoying how she always had some witty, often cutting, thing to say – imagine those letters we shall never see! –
      Thanks for visiting Alexa,


  2. Pingback: GeekMom » Blog Archive » Happy 200th Anniversary, Sense and Sensibility!

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