Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2012
A later generation of readers and writers, at a greater chronological distance from Austen herself, were influenced in their turn by the biographical portrait presented to them in James Edward Austen-Leigh's 1870 Memoir. It sparked off a new wave of critical interest in Jane Austen, but it also perpetuated a view of Austen that stressed her domesticity and played down her literary commitment. One anecdote in particular – that of Austen's practice of hiding her work under a sheet of blotting paper if surprised in the process of composition – caught the attention of a number of readers. Austen-Leigh writes:
Most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions. She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants, or visitors, or any persons beyond her own family party. She wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper. There was, between the front door and the offices, a swing door which creaked when it was opened; but she objected to having this little inconvenience remedied, because it gave her notice when anyone was coming.
The anecdote presents Austen as a writer for whom privacy was all-important, but also as one for whom writing had to give way to ‘casual interruptions’, and hence who could not give it her whole attention.