|Jane Austen from original family picture. Getty|
Now I'll be honest here, I'm not the world's greatest Austen fan, my tastes run a bit more melodramatic (and sometimes my prose, my agent's term 'you've gone purple again' is never meant as a compliment) which is why I love Walter far more. No one can deny, however, how well Austen can mix admiration into rivalry or the elegant dryness of her tone. This archness runs through her letters as much as her novels although the above comment (written to her niece Anna in 1814) does continue in a rather blunter vein: "I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it - but fear I must." It's hard not to hear the gritted teeth grinding just a little.
|No explanation or excuse needed|
It is unfair of me to call the relationship between Scott and Austen a feud, it's really more of a niggle although I'm sure her clever tongue could hold its own in any author-celebrity death match. The one I would have liked to see? Austen versus Mark Twain. Twain loathed Austen's work, interestingly he also loathed Walter Scott, so much in fact that he once cited Walter Scott disease as a prime cause of the American Civil War: "Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war." Reading Twain on Austen reminds me of the horrors of having to teach her to teenage boys: he expressed amazement that she had a natural death instead of being executed for literary crimes and followed that up by declaring he wanted to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone every time he attempted to read Pride and Prejudice. Exactly like teenage boys. I couldn't break them, I'm not convinced I didn't side with them at times, but I doubt the woman who could write "I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other" would have been troubled by any of us.