The paperback proof of my new book arrived yesterday! It doesn’t matter that it’s my fourth time around, it’s still a huge thrill to hold that first physical copy after months of preparation. A novel is the product of countless hours of work and an enormous investment of creative energy. Seeing all that effort finally coming to fruition is not unlike the delight of holding your infant son or daughter for the first time.
Jane Austen herself made this analogy, as expressed in a letter she wrote to her sister Cassandra (dated January 29 of 1813) on the occasion of receiving her first copy of Pride and Prejudice from the publisher:
I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London. On Wednesday I received one copy sent down by Falkener…
Knowing she felt this way, I worked the idea into The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. Jane writes in her journal:
Whether my life would have been happier with Captain Devereaux than it has been without him, this is impossible to say. All that can be known for certain is that it has been a different life – not empty, not devoid of joy and purpose, simply different. I have not been given the gift of marriage and the gratification of bringing up my own physical children. Instead, I have been gifted with time to nurture a communion of a different sort – one of the mind – and with the raising up of my small clutch of literary offspring, who, I dare to hope, will long outlive me. I could not have done both.
Carrying the analogy one step further, launch day (mine will be here soon – August 11th!) becomes the first day of kindergarten. Putting your little darling onto the big yellow school bus, watching her venture out on her own, major emotions kick in for any parent. You’re tremendously proud and excited, of course, but also a little nervous for how she will do out there in the rough-and-tumble world. Will she be successful, achieving everything you’ve dreamed of for her? Will others treat her kindly and see her for the excellent creature she truly is?
…Miss B dined with us on the very day of the book’s coming, and in the evening we fairly set at it and read half the first volume to her, prefacing that, having intelligence from Henry that such a work would soon appear, we had desired him to send it whenever it came out, and I believe it passed with her unsuspected.
Jane Austen published anonymously, and this “Miss B” was apparently not in on the secret. So, when the Austens couldn’t resist “setting at it” right away, their guest became the first non-professional reviewer. Can’t you imagine Jane, with a Mona Lisa smile and a spark in her eye, reading her own work out as if it were the product of someone else’s mind, perhaps even praising it herself and waiting to see what reaction she would get from this unsuspecting acquaintance?
She was amused, poor soul! That she could not help, you know, with two such people to lead the way, but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.
Fortunately for Miss B, she proved her good taste by admiring Pride and Prejudice. I hate to think what would have happened otherwise. It sounds as if Jane might have scratched the woman’s eyes out had she dared to speak one word against her darling literary child, and the character of Elizabeth Bennet in particular!
My overprotective maternal instincts are as well developed as the next woman’s, whether you’re talking about my two sons or my literary offspring, but I promise I will try to resist resorting to physical violence if you should verbally abuse one of my books in my hearing. I will try very hard… honestly I will.
PS – My blog tour for the release of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is already underway! Visit Austenprose to read the scene where Jane meets her Captain Devereaux. And for another preview excerpt and a chance to win a free copy, go to More Agreeably Engaged