Jane Austen's inward world

There's plenty to read about the 200th birthday of Pride and Prejudice, but I especially enjoyed this piece from the archives of The Atlantic. It was published in 1863, on the novel's 50th anniversary. It's fascinating to read something so old that feels itself to be modern, so removed from its subject and yet so much closer to it than we are. In general the Victorians were not wild about Austen, preferring Dickens' more florid and surreal portraiture, or George Eliot's wider intellectual and social compass. But this reviewer, one Mrs R.C. Waterson, is warm and eloquent in her praise. She puts her finger on Austen's quiet genius: Infinite sameness, infinite variety, are not more apparent in the outward than in the inward world, and the work of that writer will alone be lasting who recognizes and embodies this eternal law of the great Author. Jane Austen possessed in a remarkable degree this rare intuition.” 

She quotes the diary of Walter Scott, who wrote in 1826 of Austen's exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from truth of the description and the sentiment.” And she concludes that though Austen will not be everyone's cup of tea (a nod to Charlotte Bronte, perhaps, who found Austen insipid), yet “while the English language is read, the world will always be provided with souls who can enjoy the rare excellence of that rich legacy left to them by her genius.” I couldn't agree more.

Ill conceived, poorly written

This was the judgment of a reader at Knopf of a manuscript called “The Bell Jar,” submitted by one Sylvia Plath.

She's not the only writer of note to have received damning rejections from publishers early on. Sometimes early work might be bad, but more often it seems a case of painful subjectivity of judgment, or of publishers failing to recognise genius when it comes across their desk. It also draws attention to the difference between what's sellable and what's (eventually) great. The spirit and the machinery of literature are often at odds.

Here's a bunch more rejection letters at The Atlantic, including Vladimir Nabokov, Gertrude Stein, and Jack Kerouac.