Writing, and dealing with the procrastination of publishers, were not unfamiliar in Jane Austen's circle. Your letter was chaperoned here by one from Mrs Cooke, she writes to Cassandra on 27 October 1798, in which she says that 'Battleridge' is not to come out before January; and she is so little satisfied with Cawthorn's dilatoriness ... (Letter 10). Mrs. Cooke was the cousin of Jane's mother. The historical novel Battleridge was published – anonymously, like Jane Austen's – in 1799. Battleridge contains in effect two stories. It is a gothic novel, and happens to include lost deeds discovered in an oak coffer with a false bottom. There is also a mysterious lady prisoner in Battleridge Castle. It is just possible that Jane read the book before publication and that it influenced scenes in Northanger Abbey.
In February, Jane was still revelling in the success of Pride and Prejudice, though her comments tend as usual towards the playful: our 2d evening's reading to Miss Benn had not pleased me so well, but I beleive something must be attributed to my Mother's too rapid way of getting on – & tho' she perfectly understands the Characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought. – Upon the whole however I am quite vain enough & well satisfied enough. – The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling; – it wants shade; – it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long Chapter – of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense – about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte – or anything that would form a contrast & bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness & Epigrammatism of the general stile (Letter 80).
In suggesting that she ought to have included digressions on 'serious' topics, Jane Austen was making fun of this characteristic of novels on which she had been brought up. Henry Brooke's The Fool of Quality (1770) frequently strays into comment on the status of women, the British constitution, the imprisonment of debtors and the definition of a gentleman.
In her next letter, Jane was enjoying wider appreciation: I am exceedingly pleased that you can say what you do, after having gone thro' the whole work – & Fanny's praise is very gratifying; – my hopes were tolerably strong of her, but nothing like a certainty. Her liking Darcy & Elizth is enough. She might hate all the others, if she would (Letter 81).
Visiting art exhibitions in London, Jane amused herself seeking likenesses of the characters: Henry & I went to the Exhibition in Spring Gardens. It is not thought a good collection, but I was very well pleased – particularly (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of Mrs Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs Darcy; – perhaps, however, I may find her in the Great Exhibition which we shall go to, if we have time; – I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds's Paintings which is now shewing in Pall Mall, & which we are also to visit. – Mrs Bingley's is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her. I dare say Mrs D. will be in Yellow (Letter 85). After visiting the latter exhibitions, she added that she was still disappointed, for there was nothing like Mrs D. at either. – I can only imagine that Mr D. prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye. – I can imagine he wd have that sort of feeling – that mixture of Love, Pride & Delicacy.
In a letter of September 1813 to Frank, who was commanding HMS Elephant, Jane reported that every copy of Sense and Sensibility had been sold, bringing her £140, besides the Copyright, if that shd ever be of any value (Letter 86). She also requested Frank's permission to use in a novel the Elephant & two or three other of your old Ships. (Mansfield Park alludes to the Cleopatra, Elephant and the Endymion.)
In Mansfield Park, Mr. Price says: The Thrush went out of harbour this morning . . . Captain Walsh certainly thinks you'll have a cruize to the westward with the Elephant. . . she [the Thrush] lays close to the Endymion, between her and the Cleopatra…’. The Elephant was the ship on which Francis Austen was in command in the Baltic; the Endymion was the ship on which Charles Austen sailed in the Mediterranean; and the Cleopatra the ship which Charles sailed home from North America in 1811.
About this time, Fanny Knight (now aged twenty) played the joke of sending her aunt a letter addressed to Miss Darcy. Jane wrote to Cassandra: it made me laugh heartily; but I cannot pretend to answer it. Even had I more time, I should not feel at all sure of the sort of Letter that Miss D. would write (Letter 85).
Jane could soon rejoice that Pride and Prejudice had attracted distinguished admirers. Her brother Henry revealed the author's identity to Lady Robert Kerr; and Warren Hastings also praised the novel. Lady Robert is delighted with P. & P - and really was so I understand before she knew who wrote it – for, of course, she knows now. – He told her with as much satisfaction as if it were my wish. He did not tell me this, but he told Fanny. And Mr Hastings – I am quite delighted with what such a Man writes about it ... His admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me (Letter 87).
In October 1813, there is a reference to the second edition of Sense and Sensibility. Jane reports dining upon Goose yesterday – which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2d Edition (Letter 91). She is referring to an old proverb: the person who eats goose on Michaelmas Day 'Shan't Money lack'. With Henry's assistance, the second edition was being reprinted at Jane's expense: I shall owe dear Henry a great deal of Money for Printing &c. (Letter 95).
In the same letter, no doubt thinking of the typical Reynolds portrait, she jokes about her increasing fame: I do not despair of having my picture in the Exhibition at last – all white & red, with my Head on one Side. A Mrs. Carrick has told her that her fame has spread to Ireland: I am read & admired in Ireland too. – There is a Mrs Fletcher, the wife of a Judge, an old Lady & very good & very clever, who is all curiosity to know about me.
In March 1814, Henry escorted Jane to his London home. They began reading the proofs of Mansfield Park during the journey. Every few hours, Jane reports on Henry's reactions: Henry's approbation hitherto is even equal to my wishes; he says it is very different from the other two, but does not appear to think it at all inferior. He has only married Mrs R. I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part. – He took to Lady B. & Mrs N. most kindly, & gives great praise to the drawing of the Characters. He understands them all, likes Fanny & I think foresees how it will be (Letter 97). A little later in the same letter, she adds, Henry is going on with Mansfield Park; he admires H. Crawford – I mean properly – as a clever, pleasant Man.
In November 1814, she reports to Fanny: You will be glad to hear that the first Edit: of M.P. is all sold. – Your Uncle Henry is rather wanting me to come to Town, to settle about a 2d Edit: – but as I could not very conveniently leave home now, I have written him my Will & pleasure, & unless he still urges it, shall not go. – I am very greedy & want to make the most of it; – but as you are much above caring about money, I shall not plague you with any particulars (Letter 109).
She joked that dedicating one of her novels was attractive if it paid well. I hope you have told Martha of my first resolution of letting nobody know that I might dedicate ... & that she is thoroughly convinced of my being influenced now by nothing but the most mercenary motives (Letter 128). Jane was referring to the dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent. The Carlton House librarian, Revd. James-Stanier Clarke (1767 - 1834), had told Jane the Prince would be willing to have one of her novels dedicated to him. She took the precaution of asking for this in writing before inscribing the Work now in the Press, to H. R. H. (Letter 125D), because she would be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or Ungrateful. The assurance was given by return of post. The Revd. Clarke went on to suggest the depiction of a certain type of clergyman as subject matter for a future novel. Jane replied politely but firmly. As elsewhere, she uses the ploy of self-deprecation. I am quite honoured by your thinking me capable of drawing such a Clergyman as you gave me the sketch of in your note of Nov: 16. But I assure you I am not. The Comic part of the Character I might be equal to, but not the Good, the Enthusiastic, the Literary. Such a Man's Conversation must at times be on subjects of Science & Philosophy of which I know nothing – or at least be occasionally be abundant in quotations and allusions which a Woman, who like me, knows only her Mother-tongue & has read very little in that, would be totally without the power of giving. – A Classical Education, or at any rate, a very extensive acquaintance with English Literature, Ancient & Modern, appears to me quite Indispensable for the person who wd do any justice to your Clergyman – And I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible Vanity, the most unlearned, & uninformed Female who ever dared to be an Authoress (Letter 132D).
The subtext is that she is a successful authoress who knows perfectly well what she is about and requires no meddlesome assistance from the likes of Clarke!
Incidentally, Clarke did not give up. He sent a fulsome letter, proposing that Jane wrote about a clergyman after her fancy and suggesting how a plot might develop: Carry your Clergyman to Sea as the Friend of some distinguished Naval Character about a Court ... (December 1815). The Revd. Clarke had become Librarian to the Prince of Wales in 1805. With wide literary enthusiasms, he had started the Naval Chronicle, which ran for twenty years. The following Spring, Clarke wrote to Jane yet again, suggesting she should dedicate a book to Prince Leopold, in whose service he was now working: any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting. Again, Jane defended her territory: such a book, she says, would be much more to the purpose of Profit or Popularity, than such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as I deal in – but I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem. – I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter' (Letter 138D).
To her niece Caroline (a budding novelist), Jane wrote in one of her last letters: I have just recd nearly twenty pounds myself on the 2d Edit: of S & S - which gives me this fine flow of Literary Ardour (Letter 334). (An interesting comparison arises from the fact that Mrs. Radcliffe had been paid £500 for The Mysteries of Udolpho and £800 for The Italian.)
In the same month, she wrote to Fanny: Miss Catherine is put upon the Shelve for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out; – but I have a something ready for Publication, which may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth hence. It is short, about the length of Catherine (Letter 153). 'Miss Catherine' is Northanger Abbey and the 'something' is Persuasion. A few days later, Jane told Fanny: You will not like it, so you need not be impatient. You may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me. – Many thanks for your kind care for my health; I certainly have not been well for many weeks ...' (Letter 155). The 'heroine' is Anne Elliot.