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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Murray’s 1831 Letter To Cassandra Austen Proposing Republication of Jane Austen’s Novels in Pocket Book Format

Thanks to the eagle-eyed folks at JASNA-NYC, I learned today about the following blog post, which reveals for the first time the text of an 1831 letter that John Murray--the very same publisher of Emma whose late 1815 correspondence we have just been discussing--wrote to Cassandra Austen in which he pitched to her the idea of his republishing all of JA's novels:


It doesn't appear to be a a hoax, although one must be on the alert for hoaxes about newly discovered documents (or paintings) pertaining to Jane Austen, in a Janeite world still in the throes of Austenmania.

The blog post, by someone named Ellie Bennett (an interesting name to Janeites, even with the different nickname and different surname spelling), does a pretty good job of analyzing Murray's letter (which was actually a copy he kept, it's not the original presumably sent to CEA). We all know that no publishing deal was ever made by CEA and Murray, and that CEA instead went through Bentley the next year.

It's interesting to compare Murray's shrewd and tough negotiating position in late 1815, vs. his active courtship of CEA's business in 1831. What changed for Murray in the intervening 16 years? Had JA's
literary stature increased enough among the literati to make republishing her novels seem financially attractive? Was her having died, and therefore no more Austen novels were forthcoming, a significant factor in Murray's calculations?

I need to go back and refresh my memory about the history of ownership of the copyright to JA's novels. I'm trying to recall how the copyrights to S&S, P&P and MP would have reverted to JA's ownership.....

For those who for whatever reason can't open the above link, here is the text of the letter, that "Ellie Bennett" says she copied from the John Murray Archive:

12 May 1831.
Madam
I have long entertained a great desire of being the means of trying to induce the public to become far more generally acquainted with the admirable novels of your late estimable sister.
I should be glad therefore if you would be so good as to inform me whether you approve this plan by which I would undertake at my own cost & risque to bring them forward, in a new & attractive form, & engage to give you half the profits , or if you should prefer disposing of the copyright at once, if you would do me the favour of naming the sum which you would be disposed to part with them for.
I am Madam
Your obedient servant
(signed) John Murray

Interesting stuff to ponder, as the Bicentennial of P&P comes to a close today.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


1 comment:

Ellie said...

Thank you for this post. I can assure you it is not a hoax although I understand your scepticism - it was a surprise to me too! The draft letter is in one of John Murray's Letter Books at the John Murray Archive in Edinburgh. It can be found in the Archive at Reference MS41910. Please feel free to email me (my email address is on my blog) if you would like any further information.

Best wishes,

Ellie Bennett