Everything I Need to Know About Writing I Learned from Jane Austen

You all believe that, right?

But, it’s true. This by no means is intended to suggest that I routinely apply everything I learned, or that my sage works of fiction stand like obelisks in an honored row, extolling the greatness of Austen’s prose. Certainly, they do not.

But they would if I could.

And that sounds vaguely like a book by Dr. Seuss.

pandp22013 was the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.

And it continues to be true that whenever I feel stuck or morose or absolutely, positively persuaded that I am biologically incapable of successfully stringing any list of words together to express a coherent thought, I retreat to my vault of well-worn Austen novels.

Short of that, I’ll amuse myself by exchanging prolix text messages with the Anglican Priest who lives next door. He, too, is a true Janeophile—and he does a very credible impression of Mr. Collins.

It must be the uniform….

Such is the present, unhappy state of affairs in the dank and somber world of AMFA, who now seeks any handy diversion that succeeds in preventing her from putting her butt in the chair and commencing work on her next book. Cue Kelly Smith….

To wit, I have this wonderful, new-to-me, gizmo called SoundCloud. It allows me to add audio files to my blog. For me, this is the technological equivalent of scissors, a plastic bag, and a book of matches.

“Gosh…I wonder what I can do with THESE???”


Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

If you’re still reading, you’re about to find out.

I’m certain it would’ve made more sense for me to read from one of my own books…but to quote Sir. William Lucas, “You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure when so much beauty is before you.”

So dance, I must. And what better partner to have for this, my first audio outing, than Chapter One of what, arguably, is the greatest English language novel?

And let me just add this: if you haven’t yet read Pride and Prejudice, do yourself, your mind, your heart, and your soul the very great service of picking it up at once. You can even get it for free in eBook format, thanks to the wonderful minions at Project Gutenberg. And here’s a handy link:


But if you’re like me, you’ll want to hold it in your hands, turn it’s pages, and see all that lovely prose typeset in beautiful letterforms. My own, favorite copy, is the Oxford University Press edition, which enjoys the distinction of being “scholarly, handsome, and pleasingly illustrated with early nineteenth-century plates.”

I, too, like to think that I am pleasingly illustrated. However, my plates are more of the hand-thrown Jugtown Pottery variety.

I’ll only add that the snort (at 3:31) and jingling sound (at 4:44) you’ll notice in this recording are obbligato contributions added by my dog, Gracie. She was quick to point out that, like Miss Kitty Bennet, she does not cough for her own amusement.


Permanent link to this article: http://annmcman.com/everything-i-need-to-know-about-writing-i-learned-from-jane-austen/


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    • FrBen on January 14, 2014 at 11:51 pm
    • Reply

    You need your Mr Collins foil to read along with you.

    1. It’s true. Where is that meddlesome cleric? Probably off tending to his oblong variety of cantaloupe melons.

    • StephniLee on January 14, 2014 at 11:38 pm
    • Reply

    Alas, I suffer. I am probably the only British Literature graduate who really felt Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters to be just wearisome. Too much emoting and fluttering. Sigh, I am certain it is a character flaw. Perhaps these are titles I should try to revisit as you,famous author, suggested in an earlier posting.
    You know, Miss Austen didn’t take the whole thing that seriously at first either. To her sister, “”Upon the whole… I am well satisfied enough. The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants [i.e. needs] shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story: an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparté, or anything that would form a contrast and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and general epigrammatism of the general style”. I am certain I agreed.
    I did enjoy the reading, though. Nicely done. How about a reading of Alice Walker next? Awesome thought!!
    “I get to feel
    more love
    than I ever thought
    Everything appears to be made
    of the stuff!

    I feel this
    especially for You! Though I may not remember
    exactly which You
    you are!
    How cool is this!
    Still, I get to spend time with myself
    whenever I want!
    And that is just a taste
    as the old people used to say
    down in Georgia
    when I was a child
    of what you get
    for getting old.

    Reminding us, as they witnessed our curiosity about them, that no matter the losses, there’s something fabulous going on at every stage of Life, something to let go of, maybe, but for darn sure, something to get! ” 🙂

    1. P&P is somewhat light in its loafers, as we now say. But to me, that’s only more reason to esteem it! I love the book so much for the beauty and fluidity of its prose. I recall reading it late at night, when I’d stumble home after working a ten hour shift in a factory. My head would be ringing from the pounding it had taken from all that incessant machine noise, and my lungs would burn until I could push at least an hour’s worth of clean air in and out. I’d shuck off my clothes, soak in a bath, and pick up this book. I’d open it anyplace…it didn’t matter where…and just start reading. The words flowed around me like an unchained melody. I just wanted the language. The beauty of the words that made sentences that made paragraphs that made chapters that made the small, everyday concerns of the Bennet family roar to life like a glorious, polysyllabic banquet. True. It’s not Turgenev. But then, it’s not intended to be ponderous or dark. It’s intended to be small and immediate. And lovely. That’s what it is. Just lovely.

      Oh. Alice Walker…. Yeah. We could do some business there!

        • SL on January 15, 2014 at 9:41 am
        • Reply

        Ann: What a lovely response. The pulse, the rhythym, I could feel and believe your devotion to said title. I do not belittle your commitment, trust. Unlike my beloved Dr. Virginia Leonard’s blood-red ink assault to my pathetic essays offered up in not quite so committed zeal, who questioned whether I was being perhaps a bit disingenuous to my studies of the literary fine arts and perhaps I should solely concentrate my efforts back in the Natural Sciences departments. Ouch. I realise we do not have to like the same. My Roberta is an avid golfer whereas I, like Twain, feel it is a “good walk ruined” but do it anyway. I dig James Joyce; others do not. I come to the authors’ blogs to lay question, expect to be questioned and anticipate the challenge. You would not expect anything else, I suspect. Perhaps I will take a true thespian turn and read Austen aloud to feel the words become sentences become paragraphs; to breathe deeply, in and out in the fog of my youthful arrogance and impatience. It might actually impress Dr. Leonard by giving it another go. *S* I remain your faithful reader and await your turn at Alice Walker, SL

        1. Oh, my dear! To quote Mrs. Bennet, “I was not at ALL offended.” We each own a different piece of the literary puzzle, do we not? Together, we create something wonderful…or at least, colorful. And if you’re like me, and your puzzle pieces don’t always fit — you just get out the scissors and shave them off a bit. Imagine if James Joyce had written A Brief History of Time? It would be published in 86 volumes — and it would be anything but brief. I like it. It could work…

    • Bev Prescott on January 14, 2014 at 4:07 pm
    • Reply

    I’d listen to you read the phone book, AMFA.

    1. Pshaw, Short Stack. Let’s see if I still have that copy of the Chicago White Pages lying about….

  1. I shall hasten forth without delay, for to allow delay, with such stalwart direction, would render me no better than a common louse. I, therefore, bid milady, good day!

  2. well, isn’t this a perfectly WONDERFUL way to start the day! I hope it lights you up, as well. Big hugs, my authorial and quite talented friend!

    1. Thanks, Barista! Maybe now you’ll consent to read it? Or, at the very least, watch one of the film adaptations that are “in the canon.” To find out which ones make the cut, visit http://www.pemberley.com. A word of caution: it’s easy to get lost up there…pack a lunch.

        • Minion on January 16, 2014 at 11:21 am
        • Reply

        You have NO idea how glad I am to discover that I’m not the only person who, prior to meeting AMFA, hadn’t read P&P. See? I’m not the only cretin around. Ms Barrett, should you decide to embark on such a classic journey but can’t quite find your footing, may I also recommend “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”? All the original prose but with twice the action-packed gore. Or watch the Colin Firth version of the movie; there’s no other version worth mentioning.

        1. Minion? I see I need to reinforce those shackles that are SUPPOSED to keep you hard at work in the dungeon. CRACK! Back to work, or we’ll unleash the zombies.

          P.S. Lucy suggests you read “Pride and Prejudice and Huskies.” None of the prose, twice the fur, and a LOT more salmon jerky.

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