Jane Austen is to me the greatest wonder among novel writers. I do not mean that she is the greatest novel writer, but she seems to me the greatest wonder. Imagine, if you were to instruct an author or an authoress to write a novel under the limitations within which Jane Austen writes! Suppose you were to say, "Now you must write a novel, but you must have no heroes or heroines in the accepted sense of the word. You may have naval officers, but they must always be on leave or on land, never on active service. You must have no striking villains; you may have a mild rake, but keep him well in the background, and if you are really going to produce something detestable, it must be so because of its small meannesses, as, for instance, the detestable Aunt Norris in Mansfield Park; you must have no very exciting plot; you must have no thrilling adventures; a sprained ankle on a country walk is allowable, but you must not go much beyond this. You must have no moving descriptions of scenery; you must work without the help of all these; and as to passion, there must be none of it. You may, of course, have love, but it must be so carefully handled that it very often seems to get little above the temperature of liking. With all these limitations you are to write, not only one novel, but several, which, not merely by popular appreciation, but by the common consent of the greatest critics shall be classed amongst the first rank of the novels written in your language in your country."
- from The Fallodon Papers, by Viscount Grey.
[start of notes]
I first came across this excerpt in a Christmas Crackers book by John Julius Norwich.
Source of the text:
I found an original source after some searching:
The excerpt appears in the essay "The Pleasure of Reading".
Some details from the description of the book:
A slim volume of essays by Viscount Grey of Fallodon, first published in 1926, this book is a collection of seven addresses he gave on subjects such as reading, nature, and public life. The essays range from 1919-1924.
In these stimulating and delightful papers, written at his ancestral home at Fallodon in Northumberland, England's foreign minister tells of those aspects of life from which he drew refreshment and lasting pleasure. Included is his famous essay on "The Fly-Fisherman", which appeared in this book for the first time in 1926.
The Viscount's essays were presented as lectures and as he was unable to read from a manuscript, owing to poor eyesight, he delivered his thoughts with no notes at all, relying on a shorthand writer to record the words for print.
Full essay list:
- The Pleasure of Reading
- Pleasure in Outdoor Nature
- Some Thoughts on Public Life
- Waterfowl at Fallodon
- The Fly-Fisherman
- Wordsworth's 'Prelude'
Some details about the author, from
- Sir Edward Grey, 3rd Baronet
- (from 1916) 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon
- Lived 1862 to 1933
- British foreign secretary 1905-16
- Made a famous comment at the start of World War I: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
[end of notes]