Carol Ann Krug Graves (Northern California Region)
Letter from Jane Austen to William Shakespeare

Chawton near Alton Hants

Mr W: Shakespeare
New Place, Chapel Street
Stratford-upon-Avon Warwicks

My Dear Mr Shakespeare,

You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love your Work.  If you read my Letters, you can have no doubt of my esteem and passion for the Theatre in general, and for your works in particular.  I am a great playgoer, not ashamed of being so, and never feel it necessary to my self-consequence to profess otherwise.  If you read my Novels, you will discover that I have quoted, misquoted, and otherwise referred to your works on numerous occasions.  But perhaps you are no novel-reader.  In my History of England, I twice referred my Readers to your Plays, since I would not trouble myself to write in great detail what I did not perfectly recollect.

I desire that the report that I disapprove of the Theatre may be firmly contradicted.  There is absolutely no truth to such a report, which seems to have arisen from some Readers’ unfortunate misconstruction of Mansfield Park.  On the contrary, it is in Mansfield Park that I pay homage to the seductive power of your Language, as well as the ubiquity of your Influence.  I expect that Crawford’s “part of an Englishman’s constitution” speech must give you satisfaction, though he is not the Hero of the Novel.  I have often observed that, in your plays, some of the finest lines—and some of the truest—are given to some of your finest Villains.

I have made it my habit to gather and transcribe such comments and Opinions on my works as are passed on to me by family and friends, or otherwise come my way.  Almost as soon as I quitted this world, my Admirers began to compare my work to yours in the most alarming fashion.  Is it possible that you are ignorant of such reports?  Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of “a deep Communion between two great Minds,” and you will have some idea of what they have all been saying.  In spite of the very material differences in the style, form, and content of our works, the association of our names and intimation of a very close connection between us persists.

Pray do not suspect me of starting and industriously circulating such intimations myself, to gratify the ambitions and upstart pretensions of the most unlearned and uninformed Female who ever dared to be an Authoress.  I assure you I have not.  However, in being compared to you, I should not consider myself to be quitting the sphere in which my work has placed me.  You are a Playwright; I am an Authoress; so far we are equal.

You write Plays in which you “o’erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

I write Novels “which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them, . . . in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

Although I did not initiate these reports of our close association, I am too vain to be surprised at their appearance, and too gratified to attempt to suppress them.  Should they seriously offend you, I can only say that since I have often attacked and devoured your words with pleasure, it cannot occasion much surprise if some of the scraps should turn up in my compositions.  If I am a wild Beast, I cannot help it.  It is not my own fault.  So you must excuse me.

Yrs affec:tely,
Jane Austen