Pride Or Prejudice: Why Did Mark Twain Detest Jane Austen So Much?

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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.”
— Mark Twain

Who knew that the witty author of 'Adventures of Tom Sawyer' would have such capacity for violence in him? Mark Twain really surprised everyone when he expressed his disgust for Austen's works with such vehemence. He went on 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."

What was the reason behind such scathing criticism?

One argument states that he found too many similarities between Austen's style and his own approach. Both of them had a common disdain for fools though their worlds were completely different.

According to another theory, Twain criticized Austen because his friend and fellow author William Dean Howells was a loyal admirer of Austen. Was Twain just posing or there was some substance behind his hatred?

This question comes up because he himself stated that he had to put down 'Pride & Prejudice' every time he started reading it. It shows that Twain had indeed read the book multiple times. His accurate evaluation of the characters of Austen's 'Sense & Sensibility' proves that he had indeed read more than one work of hers and had understood her characters far better than any other critic.

Here are a few more interesting theories:

  • He had a genuine disdain for the British gentry represented in Austen's novels and considered his characters and themes more hard-hitting and realistic.
  • He was insecure of Austen's popularity especially because he could not connect with her work.
  • He wanted to catch his reader's attention. After all, any publicity was good publicity!

His dislike is justifiable to a certain extent because he had a hard life and Austen's domestic world was like an alternate reality for him (he himself said that he felt like "a barkeeper entering the Kingdom of Heaven" when he read 'Pride & Prejudice). However, his vitriol seems more like a pose, especially since his analysis of Austen's characters matches her intention.

Perhaps, Mark Twain was just not ready to accept that wit could also exist in domestic surroundings.

Whatever was the reason behind his hatred, his unpublished but well-known fragment on Jane Austen remains one of the most interesting reads in literary criticism.