NYT: Pride and Popularity

Published: April 16, 2010
Jane Austen’s best-known phrase describing her own writing appears in a letter to her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, an aspiring novelist and student at Winchester College. When she heard he’d lost some draft chapters, she jokingly announced that she couldn’t be accused of purloining his pages: “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety & Glow? — How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour?” The “little bit of Ivory,” frequently quoted to describe Austen’s virtuosic miniaturism, started out as a self-deprecating remark to a much younger, less talented relative who would later become her biographer.

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