Saturday, 12 March 2016

Jane Austen's 'Plan of a Novel, According to Hints from Various Quarters'

In 1816, Jane wrote a little piece reminiscent of the skits of her youth. Entitled Plan of a Novel, according to hints from various quarters, it was inspired by the meddlesome advice she had received from the Revd. James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent's librarian. After inducing Jane to dedicate Emma to the Prince, Clarke suggested themes and characters for use in future novels. They were alien to her style and she politely declined. The Plan, however, implies that Clarke's might not have been the only such unwelcome suggestions she received.

It is a wonderfully absurd mish-mash of 'popular' ingredients. The characters are all either perfectly good or perfectly depraved, 'hardly a resemblance of Humanity left in them'. The hero is the one proposed by the Revd. Clarke – a virtuous and literary clergyman whose story should illustrate the evils of the tithe system! The heroine, his boring daughter, has dull, sentimental conversations with him. Most of the first volume should be taken up with the clergyman telling his daughter his adventurous life story. They would then be pursued across Europe by a ruthless villain, 'always making new acquaintance and always obliged to leave them'. The heroine would receive numerous offers of marriage and undergo immense misfortune, sometimes 'worn down to a Skeleton, and now and then starved to death'.

The father would die in remotest Asia after a prolonged deathbed scene, with much speech-making, including 'invectives against Holders of Tithes'. His daughter would 'crawl' home to be happily married. In margin notes, Jane names people of her acquaintance (including Fanny Knight, Mary Cooke and the Revd. Clarke himself), from whom the features of her heroine and the father could be drawn!