Monday, March 25, 2013

Jane Austen's Secret

Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr Collins - Jane Odiwe

Jane Austen's secret was the fact that she had two books published but no one knew she had written them. That is until her brother Henry, who acted as her agent and helped her books to become published, spilled the beans.

When writing to her brother, Captain Frank Austen, then stationed in the Baltic, September 1813, Jane Austen refers to the fact that their brother Henry has revealed that she has written Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. 

'I know it is all done from affection and partiality, but at the same time let me here again express to you and Mary my sense of the superior kindness which you have shown 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.'

She must have felt equally grateful to her eldest brother James and his wife Mary for the silence they kept about Jane's authorship despite what must have been a great temptation to act otherwise. Their son Edward, had read both books and enjoyed them enormously, but had never been told that his Aunt Jane had written them. When the news got out, he was at school at Winchester and not quite fifteen when he wrote the following poem.

The Austen Family - Jane Odiwe

To Miss J. Austen

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed through the whole of the nation.
I assure you, however, I'm terribly glad;
Oh dear! just to think (and the thought drives me mad)
That dear Mrs. Jennings's good-natured strain
Was really the produce of your witty brain,
That you made the Middletons, Dashwoods, and all,
And that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball
May be given in cottages, never so small.
And though Mr. Collins, so grateful for all,
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear Patroness call,
'Tis to your ingenuity really he owed
His living, his wife and his humble abode.
Now if you will take you poor nephew's advice
Your works to Sir William pray send in a trice,
If he'll undertake to some grandees to show it,
By whose means at last the Prince Regent might know it,
For I'm sure if he did, in reward for your tale,
He'd make you a countess at least, without fail,
And indeed if the Princess should lose her dear life
You might have a good chance of becoming his wife.'

Picnic at Box Hill from Emma - Jane Odiwe

 I love this poem and affectionate tribute to Jane Austen who did not become the Prince Regent's wife but was certainly recognised by him. Jane was not a fan of his however, and though she was asked to dedicate her novel Emma to him, I am sure it was not easy for her to do so. The dedication is effusive, a little over the top, and I wonder if she was being a little satirical.

To his Royal Highness
The Prince Regent,
This work is,
By His Royal Highness's Permission,
Most respectfully Dedicated,
By his Royal Highness's
Most dutiful and obedient
Humble Servant
The Author

Several scholars have noted the fact that there are hidden meanings and riddles within the text of Emma. One particularly brilliant suggestion is that Jane made her own hidden attack on the Prince of Wales in a secret solution to the charade in chapter nine, and is written about here.

As for Henry, the brother who could not keep Jane's secret that she was a writer, I think it wonderful that he was just so proud of her that he wanted the world to know!

Jane Odiwe


Helena said...

Thank you so much for the link to the alternative solution to the charade. I find it wholly convincing, especially given that the acrostic gives Lamb's name! How beautifully ironic that the book was dedicated to the Prince of Wales. I want to track down the other references to the Prince, now.

Jane Odiwe said...

I think some of the investigation done is absolutely fascinating, Helena, and I know you will enjoy it. I'm sure once you start, you'll be looking for all sorts of clues yourself!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Terrific post, Jane. and I do love your little paintings.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Elizabeth - and for the kind words about my paintings.