This quotation is from the preface to Copeland and McMaster’s Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, which appeared in 1997. Since then, the film of Mansfield Park directed by Patricia Rozema, which completed the set of recent screen adaptations of Austen’s work, has come and gone and the ‘feverish’ media attention has died down somewhat. (For a sample of it, see Chapter Seven.) Austen is still a ‘figure’, however, and her stock is still high. That the metaphor of ‘stock’ in a ‘literary marketplace’ should be used to describe her popularity is something she would have understood. The preface to the Cambridge Companion describes her as a ‘retiring country spinster’ but she was also a practical woman who understood the value of money, and in publishing a novel she was not (merely) fulfilling an artistic ideal or a craving for publicity; she was entering into the economic system. She paid to have her work published and she expected a return on her investment. She was neither a hack nor a populist writer, and to suggest that she had a professional attitude to her publications, or even an eye to the market, is not to devalue her work or denigrate her personality. She was short of money and would have seen nothing degrading or demeaning in earning it by writing. The image of her as a genteel, self-effacing lady above mercenary plans and ambitions, planted by her brother and nephew in their memoirs and fostered by later biographers, is manifestly false.
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