“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!