By singular good fortune we are here able to present, in clearly differentiated examples, the four—or possibly five—stages of preparation for a finished Jane Austen novel.
The publication of Love and Freindship revealed the first, scarcely conscious, inspiration of her work. It showed us how perfectly she understood the follies and insincerities of fashionable romance, with its absurd heroics and artificial emotions; how well she loved the impossible 'dear creatures' she could so shrewdly burlesque. There was wrath, we suspect, even behind the laughter; and because they were false she determined that she at all costs would be true.
Burlesque lingers in Northanger Abbey beside the accomplished vulgarity of Isabella Thorpe; accompanied now, and largely eclipsed, by the finer approach to truth through adaptation and development of work at once admirable and admired though immature: the inspiration of Fanny Burney, maintained in all the novels written at Steventon.
That Miss Austen returned to the burlesque of romance in the Plan of a Novel, written in 1816 after four tales had received their last touches of revision and been presented to the public, is evidence of how deeply laid were the foundations of her art. It was born, indeed, out of fun and nonsense, for which she never lost her zest. It was destined to laugh out of existence the idle vapourings of romance.
So far we see no more than preparation for serious work; of significance by virtue of its exposure of ‘what to avoid.’The first, preliminary, steps of actual creative work may be plainly seen in the fragment of Sanditon, written in 1817, a much-