18 MAY 1912, Page 14

[To THE EDITOR OF THR osricenion."1

SIR, In your article last week "The Prevailing Pessimism" there is a passage referring to Miss Austen as follows:-

" She depicts a society steeped in selfish luxury—luxury calculated and organized without a thought of others. . . . So far as we can remember there is not a single poor person, not a single member of the working classes, drawn by Miss Austen for good or ill. . . . Of suggestions of any sympathy or understanding .between the rich and poor there is absolutely no trace. . . . It apparently never occurred to her that her characters would look intolerably inhuman if there were no indication that they ever thought of anything but their own pleasures. Even when the author of 'Emma' is in her most serious mood she never suggests that the rich and the intelligent have any duties towards the poor."

It seemed to mo strange that any one could read her books and so misunderstand her. Does the writer really find her characters " intolerably inhuman," and does he see no "suggestions of any sympathy between rich and poor" P Where does she depict " a society steeped in selfish luxury without a thought of others "P Most of Miss Austen's characters lead very simple lives. Her novels are not didactic, and she never preaches, any more than Shake- speare preaches; but the selfish, the mean, and the hard- hearted are more keenly and subtly satirized than, perhaps,

by any other novelist. his true that she has not drawn many " members of the working classes "; they did not come into her picture; but there are a few slight sketches, admirably touched and wonderfully true to life, which show plenty of sympathy and understanding between rich and poor. May I cite the following passages, taken quite at random, which, I think, will

prove this P— "Pride and Prejudice." [Mr. Darcy's housekeeper.] "His father was an excellent man," said Mrs. Gardiner.

" Yes, ma'am, that he was indeed ; and his son will be just like him. . . . He is the best landlord and the beet master that ever lived. Not like the wild young men nowadays who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name."

"Mansfield Park." [Edmund to Mary Crawford when she com- plains of being unable to hire a cart to convey her harp.] "You could not bo expected to have thought on the subject before ; but when you do think of it, you must see the importance of getting in the grass." [Sir Thomas,] "He [Edmund] knows that if ho does not live among his parishioners, and prove himself by constant attention their well-wisher and friend, ho does very little either for their good or his own." "Emma." [Mr. Woodhouse.] " The carriage But James will not like to put the horses to for such a little way." . . . [Emma.] " And as for James, you may be very sure he will always like going to Randall's because of his daughter's being housemaid there . . that was your doing, papa. You got Hannah that good place." " I am very glad I did think of her. It was very lucky, for I would not have had poor James think himself slighted on any account,"

Miss Austen's view of "selfish luxury" appears it„; " Sense and Sensibility":

[Marianne.] "I cannot express my own abhorrence of myself. Whenever I looked towards the past I saw some duty neglected or some failing indulged." [Elinor.] " His own enjoyment or his own ease was in every, particular his ruling i3rinciple." And in " Pride and Prejudice' [Mr. Bingley's sisters]]" were rather handsome, . . . had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought and of associating with people of Rank, and wore therefore in every respect entitled to think well of them- selves and meanly of others.'

There are many more indications, but I will only add Anne Elliot's speech in "Persuasion":

"Ono thing I have had to do of a more trying nature—going to almost every house in the parish, a sort of take-leave. I was told that they wished it."

I hope you may be able to find room for this letter, as I feel sure an unjust view of Miss Austen would not be deliberately put forth by the Spectator,—I am, Sir, &a.,


[It is delightful to see Miss Austen defended so gallantly but the fact remains that the society which she ironically depicted with such consummate skill, reticence, and good taste was more pleasure-loving, more selfish, and more luxurious—allowance being made for our advance in the mechanical arts and sciences—than our own.—En. Spectator.]