The Story of Jane Austen and Mark Twain

“I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” What kind of sadistic, twisted monster would want to do such a thing to the dead body of a woman? Only the incredibly witty and sarcastic author, Mark Twain. (Who knew he had such violent tendencies? 😉 )And who could possibly engender such a passionate response from Mr. Twain? Only another author named Jane Austen.

Our story began in the regency era with the famous author, Jane Austen. Austen was born in England in 1775. She is most famous for writing Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Her stories are set in the time she lived and typically have a romantic story line. They aren’t just all romance though. They also feature her sarcastic and witty commentary about the society she lived in. So far, so good. Nothing to hate, right?

Well, in 1835, 18 years after Austen’s death, a future great author was born, named Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Twain is most famous for writing Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Like Austen, Twain was known for his sarcasm and his wit. But Twain didn’t appreciate Austen’s sarcasm. Or her wit. Or really anything about her. In fact, Twain hated her work. He said this about her books:

“Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

And he said this about her writing:

“To me his prose is unreadable — like Jane Austin’s [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

He also hated her characters, believing, in fact, that “her intention” was to make him “detest all her people.”

Perhaps his most famous quote about Austen is this one:

“I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

So, that is the story of Jane Austen and Mark Twain. I only wish that Austen could have been alive to read Twain’s take on her books. I would have loved to hear how she would have responded to his criticisms!

I’ve enjoyed both authors’ works, but I must agree with Twain. While I have no desire to beat her over her head with her own shin-bone, Austen can tend to be a bit confusing and unreadable to me. 🙂 Who do you agree with? Do you agree with Twain that Jane’s work “is entirely impossible?” Or are you a fan of Austen’s prose? Comment below and let me know!

~ Kayla

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6 thoughts on “The Story of Jane Austen and Mark Twain

  1. Gosh, his words were harsh indeed! I mean, I too hate Jane Austen, but I wouldn’t go that far. To this day I still don’t know why I hate Jane Austen. I just can’t bear her – and I don’t say that about any other author! (Even Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James, whose stories I despise more than Jane Austen’s!)

    I had to study Pride and Prejudice for a WHOLE YEAR while I was at school, and it was the most miserable experience I can possibly fathom. I hated her writing, I hated her characters (especially Elizabeth!), and I hated the story. Jane Austen basically wrote chick-lits of her day. I hate chick-lits, so that might be a factor. I am never, ever touching that book again. I just cannot understand how her work became such a literary classic.

    Also, here in the UK, we have famous historical figures on our pound notes (like most countries). Our £10 note is currently Charles Darwin. Let’s just stop to think about how much he did for science and the world as we know it today. I also think he’s very misunderstood, because he was actually a devout Christian, and I have read much about how he had such emotional turmoil about declaring evolution. I hold so, so much respect for Darwin. I really admire him. Our £5 note is currently a woman called Elizabeth Fry. Now, when the Bank of England announced that they were changing the £5 note back to Winston Churchill, there was outrage by feminists, because that meant there were going to be no female figures on our currency, for the £20 and £50 notes are also male figures. There was this massive campaign with women basically whining, “Uuhhhh we need a women on our notes”. So, the stupid bank caved in, and they are replacing Charles Darwin, which breaks my heart </3. And who are they replacing him with? JANE BLOODY AUSTEN!!! Oh good heavens it enrages me I cannot even describe it.

    I apologise about the essay I seem to have written. It's amazing how Jane Austen can spark such rage within people 😉 It seriously is though… It seems Mark Twain experienced a similar thing. I wonder what it is about her…

    You've totally inspired a blog post for me! I'll have to get onto it at some point. I'll link back to you and this post 🙂

    • I wonder what Mark Twain would have said about the ten pound note being changed to honor Jane Austen! My guess is he probably wouldn’t have liked it. Personally, I am all for the Tolkien pound note. 😉

      Good luck with your blog post, and I look forward to reading it.

      • OH MY GOODNESS! I didn’t even think of that! Shame on me. I should totally start a campaign for that 😉 Much better than stupid Jane Austen. Wouldn’t a Tolkien pound note be simply brilliant?

  2. Pingback: Darwin vs. Austen – Science vs. English – Man vs. Woman | Jennifer K. Marsh

  3. Beware of assumptions….I suggest that you dig a bit deeper into Mark Twain’s “forked tongue-in-cheek” quotes about Jane Austen. He was a satirist. He was attempting to highlight their similar talents for whittling remarks into pointed barbs. And he was trying to ruffle the feathers of a good friend of his who loved Jane Austen. Mark Twain, in fact, reread her books many times and actually “borrowed” several conceits from her……

    • Thanks for commenting. I think we can never really know the extent of his feelings towards Jane Austen. Even if he were alive, I doubt we would know the truth. After all, the comments about Jane Austen came from the man who said, “Get your facts first, then you may distort them as much as you please.” Most articles I read concerning Mark Twain and Jane Austen couldn’t decide whether he hated her or secretly admired her writing. Perhaps it was both.

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