In part two of our Authors At War series we bring you Mark Twain and Jane Austen; a feud that can’t be described as nothing more than a one sided hatred from Twain’s side as Austen was dead 18 years prior to his birth.
No-one could probably hate another writer more than Twain hated Austen, and he was very open about it as well and did not hold back and once he was quoted as saying “Any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book”.
Jane Austen is most famous for writing Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Her stories are set in the time she lived and typically have a romantic story line. They aren’t just all romance though. They also feature her sarcastic and witty commentary about the society she lived in.
In 1835, 18 years after Austen’s death, a future great author was born, named Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Twain is most famous for writing Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Like Austen, Twain was known for his sarcasm and his wit. But Twain didn’t appreciate Austen’s sarcasm. Or her wit. Or really anything about her. In fact, Twain hated her work.
In a letter to William Dean Howells that referenced another author, Twain wrote “To me his prose is unreadable – like Jane Austen’s. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on a salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death”. He also hated her characters, believing, in fact, that “her intention” was to make him “detest all her people.”
His dislike of Austen seems extreme at times, especially when one consider the fact they did not even live during the same era, in another quote by Twain we can almost feel the bitterness he holds for Austen “I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone. This quote indicates that Twain had read the book multiple times. His accurate evaluation of the characters of Austen’s ‘Sense & Sensibility’ proves that he had indeed read more than one work of hers and had understood her characters far better than any other critic.
It is hard to work out the reason behind Twain’s hatred of Austen, some critics have suggested that Twain he found too many similarities between Austen’s style and his own approach. Both of them had a common disdain for fools though their worlds were completely different.
According to another theory, Twain criticised Austen because his friend and fellow author William Dean Howells was a loyal admirer of Austen. He also a genuine disdain for the British gentry represented in Austen’s novels and considered his characters and themes more hard-hitting and realistic.
Twain’s feeling towards Austen were justified by some on the basis to that he had a hard life and Austen’s domestic world was like an alternate reality for him (he himself said that he felt like “a barkeeper entering the Kingdom of Heaven” when he read ‘Pride & Prejudice).
By Raya AlJadir