Death Comes to Pemberley

Joanna Biggs writes:

When Jane Austen became famous at the age of 38, she didn’t go to literary lunches, meet her readers or take tea with Madame de Staël. But she did accept one invitation, from the Prince Regent’s librarian: the Prince Regent was a fan – would she like to come and look round his library? After the visit, the librarian, who had been a clergyman, wrote to her: had she thought of writing about a clergyman in her next book? Neither Goldsmith nor La Fontaine had ‘quite delineated an English Clergyman, at least of the present day – Fond of, & entirely engaged in Literature’. Someone like him perhaps, a librarian. That way, she could show ‘what good would be done if Tythes were taken away entirely, and describe him burying his own mother – as I did – because the High Priest of the Parish … did not pay her remains the respect he ought to do. I have never recovered the Shock.’ Austen’s response was to write ‘Plan of a Novel, according to hints from various quarters’, a rebuke to anyone who thinks their ideas better than a writer’s own, and a dig at the well-meaning relations, novel-reading friends and pompous clergymen who kept telling her what to write next.

(LRB 5 January 2012)

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