The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen

The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen

by Dominique Enright
     
 

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Jane Austen had little contact with society outside her extended family, and none whatsoever with London literary life. Yet her novels earned the acclaim of such literary figures as Sir Walter Scott, who praised her 'talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life'. Admired for their sharp -- indeed, often wicked -- social

Overview

Jane Austen had little contact with society outside her extended family, and none whatsoever with London literary life. Yet her novels earned the acclaim of such literary figures as Sir Walter Scott, who praised her 'talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life'. Admired for their sharp -- indeed, often wicked -- social observation, their satirical wit, the brilliance of their author's comic realism and her sure grasp of human nature, Jane Austen's novels remain as fresh today as when they were first published, concentrating as they do on universal human social traits -- romantic innocence, self-delusion, gullibility, greed, snobbery, rudeness, arrogance, and obsequiousness. Above all, they centre on the antics of those seeking well-connected and well-appointed husbands and their efforts to elbow out their less 'suitable' rivals.

The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen is an absorbing collection of her sharpest, most profound and amusing observations -- on human nature, money, marriage, life and society -- taken from her novels and also from her extremely entertaining letters. Easy to dip in to and highly quotable, this beautifully decorated volume will delight all Austen devotees, as well as readers less familiar with her life and work. The seventh child of a country parson, Jane Austen was born in Hampshire in December 1775, and although she was brought up in an academic household her formal education was limited. Her first publication was Sense and Sensibility which came out in 1811; this was followed by Pride and Prejudice in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, and Emma in 1816. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously in 1818. She was not widely known as their author in her lifetime -- indeed she was fiercely private and against self-promotion -- but her novels were well received and the Prince Regent kept a set in each of his residences. She died on 18 July 1817, and is buried in Winchester Cathedral. Although obituaries ran in several newspapers, her novels were soon out of print, but found their way back into circulation around 1870, since when they have remained an undisputed part of our literary heritage.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"While I’m not a die-hard Jane Austen fan, I’m quickly becoming one with this book and it's making me more interested in her novels just by reading it." —The Write Stuff

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781843175674
Publisher:
Michael O'Mara Books
Publication date:
09/01/2011
Series:
Wicked Wit of Series
Edition description:
Revised
Pages:
160
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen


By Dominique Enright

Michael O'Mara Books Limited

Copyright © 2011 Michael O'Mara Books Limited
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84317-685-5



CHAPTER 1

In a Manner Truly Heroick: Early Exuberances


They said he was sensible, well-informed, and agreeable; we did not pretend to judge of such trifles, but as we were convinced he had no soul, that he had never read The Sorrows of Werther, and that his Hair bore not the least resemblance to auburn, we were certain that Janetta could feel no affection for him, or at least that she ought to feel none. The very circumstance of his being her father's choice too, was so much in his disfavour, that ... that of itself ought to have been a sufficient reason in the eyes of Janetta for rejecting him. Love and Freindship, 1790

* * *

[Cassandra's] father was of noble birth, being the near relation of the Duchess of —'s Butler. The Beautifull Cassandra, ?1789

* * *

[Chapter 4] She then proceeded to a Pastry-cook's, where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the pastry cook and walked away ... The Beautifull Cassandra, ?1789

* * *

[Chapter 6] Being returned to the same spot of the same street she had set out from, the coachman demanded his pay ... The Beautifull Cassandra, ?1789

* * *

[Chapter 7] She searched her pockets over again and again; but every search was unsuccessful. No money could she find. The man grew peremptory. She placed her bonnet on his head and ran away. The Beautifull Cassandra, ?1789

* * *

Gently brawling down the turnpike road, Sweetly noisy falls the Silent Stream. 'Ode to Pity', 1787/90

* * *

But lovely as I was, the graces of my person were the least of my perfections. Of every accomplishment accustomary to my sex, I was mistress. Love and Freindship, 1790

* * *

In Lady Williams every virtue met. She was a widow with a handsome jointure and the remains of a very handsome face. Though benevolent and candid, she was generous and sincere; though pious and good, she was religious and amiable, and though elegant and agreeable, she was polished and entertaining. Jack and Alice, 1787/90

* * *

Never did I see such an affecting scene as was the meeting of Edward and Augustus.

'My life! my soul!' (exclaimed the former) 'My adorable angel!' (replied the latter), as they flew into each other's arms. It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself – We fainted alternately on a sofa. Love and Freindship, 1790

* * *

One fatal swoon has cost me my Life ... Beware of swoons, Dear Laura ... A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the body and if not too violent, is, I dare say, conducive to health in its consequences – run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint ... Love and Freindship, 1790

* * *

[A coach arrives] A gentleman considerably advanced in years, descended from it. At his first appearance my sensibility was wonderfully affected, and e'er I had gazed at him a second time, an instinctive sympathy whispered to my heart that he was my grandfather. Love and Freindship, 1790

* * *

In half a year he returned and set off in the stage coach for Hogsworth Green, the seat of Emma. His fellow travellers were, A man without a hat, Another with two, An old maid, and a young wife. This last appeared about 17, with fine dark eyes and an elegant shape; in short, Mr Harley soon found out that she was his Emma and recollected he had married her a few weeks before he left England. 'The Adventures Of Mr Harley', ?1789/90

* * *

Miss Fitzgerald: Bless me! there ought to be 8 chairs and there are but 6. However, if your Ladyship will but take Sir Arthur in your lap, and Sophy my brother in hers, I believe we shall do pretty well. The Visit, A Comedy In 2 Acts, 1787/90

* * *

Lord Fitzgerald: I am afraid you found your bed too short. It was bought in my grandmother's time, who was herself a very short woman and made a point of suiting all her beds to her own length, as she never wished to have any company in the house ... The Visit, A Comedy In 2 Acts, 1787/90

* * *

Miss Fitzgerald: I am really shocked at crowding you in such a manner, but my grandmother (who bought all the furniture of this room) as she had never a very large party, did not think it necessary to buy more chairs than were sufficient for her own family and two of her particular friends ... The Visit, A Comedy In 2 Acts, 1787/90

* * *

Lord Fitzgerald: I wish we had any dessert to offer you. But my grandmother in her lifetime, destroyed the hothouse in order to build a receptacle for the turkeys with its materials; and we have never been able to raise another tolerable one. The Visit, A Comedy In 2 Acts, 1787/90

* * *

'Miss Dickins was an excellent governess. She instructed me in the paths of virtue; under her tuition I daily became more amiable, and might perhaps by this time have nearly obtained perfection, had not my worthy preceptoress been torn from my arms, e'er I had attained my seventeenth year. I never shall forget her last words."My dear Kitty" she said "Good night t'ye." I never saw her afterwards,' continued Lady Williams wiping her eyes. 'She eloped with the butler the same night.' Jack and Alice, 1787/90

* * *

... My Mother rode upon our little pony, and Fanny and I walked by her side or rather ran, for my Mother is so fond of riding fast that she galloped all the way. You may be sure that we were in a fine perspiration when we came to our place of resting. Fanny has taken a great many drawings of the country, which are very beautiful, tho' perhaps not such exact resemblances as might be wished, from their being taken as she ran along ... 'A Tour Through Wales – in a letter from a young Lady'

CHAPTER 2

A Great Deal of It Must Be Invention: History


* * *

'It tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs – the chief of all this must be invention ...' Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, 1818

* * *

'Queen Elizabeth,' said Mrs Stanley, who never hazarded a remark on history that was not well founded, 'lived to a good old age, and was a very clever woman.' Catharine, 1792

* * *

A selection, dated 1791, from a distinctly individual view, dedicated to and illustrated by Cassandra Austen:

THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND FROM THE REIGN OF HENRY THE 4TH TO THE DEATH OF CHARLES THE 1ST By a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant Historian NB There will be very few dates in this history


Henry the 4th

Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin and predecessor Richard the 2nd to resign it to him, and to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered.


Henry the 6th

I cannot say much for this Monarch's sense – nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the Wars between him and the Duke of York, who was of the right side; if you do not, you had better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my spleen against, and show my hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, and not to give information ... It was in this reign that Joan of Arc lived and made such a row among the English. They should not have burnt her – but they did ...


Edward the 4th

This Monarch was famous only for his beauty and his courage, of which the picture we have here given of him, and his undaunted behaviour in marrying one woman while he was engaged to another, are sufficient proofs ... One of Edward's mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy and therefore not worth reading ...


Henry the 8th

The crimes and cruelties of this prince were too numerous to be mentioned (as this history I trust has fully shown); and nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing religious houses and leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a man who was of no religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom?


Elizabeth

It was the peculiar misfortune of this woman to have had bad ministers – since wicked as she herself was, she could not have committed such extensive mischeif, had not these vile and abandoned men connived at, and encouraged her in her crimes ... It was about this time that Sir Francis Drake the first English navigator who sailed round the world, lived, to be the ornament of his country and his profession. Yet great as he was, and justly celebrated as a sailor, I cannot help foreseeing that he will be equalled in this or the next century by one who tho' now but young, already promises to answer all the ardent and sanguine expectations of his relations and freinds, amongst whom I may class the amiable lady to whom this work is dedicated, and my no less amiable self.


Edward the 6th

As this prince was only nine years old at the time of his Father's death, he was considered by many people as too young to govern, and the late King happening to be of the same opinion, his mother's brother, the Duke of Somerset, was chosen Protector of the realm during his minority ... He was beheaded, of which he might with reason have been proud, had he known that such was [to be] the death of Mary Queen of Scotland; but as it was impossible that he should be conscious of what had never happened, it does not appear that he felt particularly delighted with the manner of it ...


Charles the 1st

... The events of this Monarch's reign are too numerous for my pen, and indeed the recital of any events (except what I make myself) is uninteresting to me ...

CHAPTER 3

Another Stupid Party: Balls, Gowns and Other Fashions


'I remember I met Miss Dudley last spring with Lady Amyatt at Ranelagh, and she had such a frightful cap on, that I have never been able to bear any of them since.' Catharine, 1792

* * *

Mrs Badcock and two young women were of the same party, except when Mrs Badcock thought herself obliged to leave them to run round the room after her drunken husband. His avoidance, and her pursuit, with the probable intoxication of both, was an amusing scene. Letter to Cassandra, 12–13 May 1801

* * *

Our ball was chiefly made up of Jervoises and Terrys, the former of whom were apt to be vulgar, the latter to be noisy. I had an odd set of partners: Mr Jenkins, Mr Street, Col. Jervoise, James Digweed, J. Lyford, and Mr Biggs, a friend of the latter. I had a very pleasant evening, however, though you will probably find out that there was no particular reason for it. Letter to Cassandra, 21–3 January 1799

* * *

On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course every body differed, and every body was astonished at the opinion of the others. Sense and Sensibility, 1811

* * *

There were very few beauties, and such as there were not very handsome ... Mrs Blount was the only one much admired. She appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband, and fat neck. Letter to Cassandra, 20–1 November 1800

* * *

'The sooner every party breaks up, the better.'

Mr Woodhouse, Emma, 1816

* * *

'One cannot have too large a party. A large party secures its own amusement.' Emma, Emma, 1816

* * *

There were only twelve dances, of which I danced nine, and was merely prevented from dancing the rest by want of a partner ... Letter to Cassandra, 20–1 November 1800

* * *

Another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card- table, with six people to look on and talk nonsense to each other. Lady Fust, Mrs Busby, and a Mrs Owen sat down with my uncle to whist, within five minutes after the three old Toughs came in, and there they sat, with only the exchange of Adm. Stanhope for my uncle, till their chairs were announced.

Letter to Cassandra, 12–13 MAY 1801

* * *

The elegant stupidity of private parties. Persuasion, 1818

* * *

Mrs Lefroy has just sent me word that Lady Dorchester means to invite me to her ball on January 8, which, though an humble blessing compared with what the last page records, I do not consider as any calamity. Letter to Cassandra, 28 December 1798

* * *

On Wednesday morning it was settled that Mrs Harwood, Mary, and I should go together, and shortly afterwards a very civil note of invitation for me came from Mrs Bramston, who wrote I believe as soon as she knew of the ball. I might likewise have gone with Mrs Lefroy, and therefore, with three methods of going, I must have been more at the ball than anyone else. Letter to Cassandra, 1 November 1800

* * *

Our ball on Thursday was a very poor one, only eight couple and but twenty-three people in the room; but it was not the ball's fault. Letter to Cassandra, 21–3 January 1799

* * *

I had the comfort of finding out the other evening who all the fat girls with short noses were that disturbed me at the 1st H. ball. They all prove to be Miss Atkinsons of Enham. Letter to Cassandra, 30 November – 1 December 1800

* * *

Your silence on the subject of our ball makes me suppose your curiosity too great for words. We were very well entertained, and could have stayed longer but for the arrival of my list [cloth] shoes to convey me home, and I did not like to keep them waiting in the cold. Letter to Cassandra, 24 January 1809

* * *

Yes, I mean to go to as many balls as possible, that I may have a good bargain. Letter to Cassandra, 9 December 1808

* * *

I was very glad to be spared the trouble of dressing and going, and being weary before it was half over. Letter to Cassandra, 14–15 October 1813

* * *

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; – but when a beginning is made – when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt – it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more. Emma, 1816

* * *

I suppose the Ashford ball will furnish something. Letter to Cassandra, 11–12 October 1813

* * *

It was a delightful visit; – perfect, in being much too short. Emma, 1816

* * *

[Fashionable schools] where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity. Emma, 1816

* * *

I continue quite well; in proof of which I have bathed again this morning. It was absolutely necessary that I should have the little fever and indisposition which I had: it has been all the fashion this week in Lyme. Letter to Cassandra, 14 September 1804

* * *

It is the fashion to think [Mrs and Miss Holder] both very detestable, but they are so civil, and their gowns look so white and so nice (which, by the bye, my aunt thinks an absurd pretension in this place), that I cannot utterly abhor them. Letter to Cassandra, 21–2 May 1801

* * *

She was nothing more than a mere good-tempered, civil and obliging young woman; as such we could scarcely dislike her – she was only an Object of Contempt. Love and Freindship, 1790


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen by Dominique Enright. Copyright © 2011 Michael O'Mara Books Limited. Excerpted by permission of Michael O'Mara Books Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author


Dominique Enright is the author of The Wicked Wit of John F. Kennedy, The Wicked Wit of William Shakespeare, and The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill.

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