Yes, Jane Austen is MAD. And I can prove it 🙂
I am currently reading a biography… Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. And in the book, she includes this little story concerning Austen and her book Susan (which would later become Northanger Abbey.)
She had sold Susan in 1803. Or rather, her father (ever her literary champion) had sold it on her behalf. For £10. However, by 1809, the book had still not been published!
Now, Austen was residing in rented apartments in Southampton. Her father was dead. She and her mother and sister were struggling just to make ends meet. And to top it all, her book was in some sort of purgatory. It’s no wonder she was frustrated…
Why was her book not being published?!
Well, she decided to do something about it. So, she wrote a letter. Here’s how Worsley puts it in her book:
There is a briskness, indeed an urgency, in the letter that she [Jane Austen] now wrote to Crosby and Co., the publishers who had purchased Susan. ‘Gentlemen’, she writes… ‘this work of which I avow myself the Authoress.’ She wants to know why it has never been brought into print and whether the manuscript has been lost ‘by some carelessness’, in which case she offers to supply another copy…
She wrote care of the Post Office in Southampton, under the pseudonym of Mrs Ashton Dennis. This enabled her, devilishly, brilliantly, to sign off her letter with those initials. The last line reads ‘I am Gentlemen &c &c MAD’.
If I were those Gentlemen, I would have published the novel then and there! Just for this letter alone. In fact, I might have printed the letter with the novel.
POSTSCRIPT: Sadly, Jane Austen never did get to see “Susan” in print. She did manage to buy back the manuscript from the publisher in 1816 (who had no idea they were sitting on a book by the author of Pride and Prejudice!) She had revised the book to what would become Northanger Abbey. But her health was failing and she died in 1817. Her “first book” Northanger Abbey was only published, along with her last book Persuasion, after her death.