Literary daybook, Oct. 30

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published October 30, 2002 6:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On October 30, the delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang arrive at Hogwarts.
-- "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2000)
by J.K. Rowling

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1811, Jane Austen's first novel, "Sense and Sensibility," was published. Promotional advertisements called it a "New" or "Extraordinary" or "Interesting" novel, which in the jargon of the day indicated a love story. Its anonymous author was given as "a Lady" or "Lady ____" for reasons of privacy, but also to add romantic allure. Approaching the novel more or less as told, early reviewers found it to be "a genteel, well-written novel" as far as b

Marketing and critics aside, neither book nor author fit the conventional bill. "Sense and Sensibility" was more a send-up of the romantic-melodrama genre than yet another installment of it, and a comic slap at things genteel, such as the "sensibility" craze. Although indeed a lady, Austen was hardly representative of her class, or comfortable with it, or to blame for roasting it, she says in a letter to her sister, Cassandra: "If I am a wild beast, I cannot help it; it is not my fault." Many feel that Austen was at her most unladylike in "Sense and Sensibility," and perhaps not at her consistent best. Virginia Woolf praised Austenb

The 750-copy first edition of the book sold out in a year and a half; some of the changes Austen made for the second edition perhaps show her drawing in her blade a little. The passage below is that moment when Mrs. Jennings agreeably provides the dirt on Colonel Brandon, as a possible explanation for his sudden departure; the bracketed sentence at the end of the excerpt was cut by Lady Jane from the first edition:

"'I can guess what his business is, however,' said Mrs. Jennings exultingly.
'Can you, ma'am?' said almost every body.
'Yes: it is about Miss Williams, I am sure."
'And who is Miss Williams?' asked Marianne.
'What! do not you know who Miss Williams is? I am sure you must have heard of her before. She is a relation of the Colonel's, my dear; a very near relation. We will not say how near, for fear of shocking the young ladies.' Then, lowering her voice a little, she said to Elinor, 'She is his natural daughter.'
'Oh, yes; and as like him as she can stare. I dare say the Colonel will leave her all his fortune.' [Lady Middleton's delicacy was shocked; and in order to banish so improper a subject as the mention of a natural daughter, she actually took the trouble of saying something herself about the weather.]

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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