How Jane Austen Said No

The prince’s librarian wanted Jane Austen to write a historical romance.

His name was James Stanier Clarke and his belief was that such a novel – which would be modeled on Saxe Coburg, the prince’s dynasty – would be very interesting. Ms. Austen could even dedicate it to the prince, Mr. Clarke offered.

From her quiet cottage in Chawton where she had written Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park, Ms. Austen wrote the librarian.

“I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in,” she wrote in her letter to him, archived in A Memoir of Jane Austen.

This was not the first time Mr. Clarke had made suggestions to Ms. Austen about her work. She should write about a clergyman, Mr. Clarke – a clergyman himself – had earlier proffered.

Ms. Austen had declined. (Though she did draft, “Plan of a Novel According to Hints from Various Quarters,” a satirical sketch involving a clergyman who was “the most excellent man that can be imagined, perfect in character, temper, and manner, without the smallest drawback or peculiarity…”)

Ms. Austen knew her craft and followed her own direction. And in her letter to Mr. Clarke about the proposed Saxe Coburg historical romance, she declined him yet again.

“No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way;” she wrote, “and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.”

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