It's pretty well known that Mark Twain was rather vitriolic against Jane Austen, saying things like:

I go so far as 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.

Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

But I'd like to know if, in his criticisms of her, he ever provided actual substantive criticisms of her books. Preferably more specific than "she's a terrible writer" or "I hate all her characters." Did he give real reasons for his dislike?

1 Answer 1


She [Jane Austen] makes me detest all her people, without reserve. Is that her intention? It is not believable. Then is it her purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art. It would be worth while, too. Some day I will examine the other end of her books and see.

Quote from: here

He hates all her characters because of a specific reason: they don't feel believable.

Twain also criticized other classic authors, such as James Fenimore Cooper, saying he committed

“114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115”

(from here). Maybe Mark Twain was just a weirdo, or maybe he had some legitimate complaint with Jane Austen's characters and their believability. On the same site we see this quote:

“To start with, they say she draws her characters with sharp discrimination and a sure touch. I believe that this is true, as long as the characters she is drawing are odious.”

I think he truly, actually, thought that Jane Austen's characters were one-sided and not believable enough to be good.

  • 4
    Your answer inspired this Q: literature.stackexchange.com/questions/279/…
    – DVK
    Jan 19, 2017 at 15:47
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    Not a complete answer unless you list all 115 possible offenses against literary art :) Mar 22, 2017 at 18:52
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    I don't think he's saying that the characters aren't believable--I think he's saying it's unbelievable that she would intentionally make all her characters unlikeable on purpose. (Unless, he speculates, she then makes them likable in the latter half of the books, but he's never read one to find out.)
    – Kitkat
    Jun 28, 2021 at 14:30
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    As Kitkat said, he's clearly saying that the characters are unlikeable, not that they're unrealistic. Your quotes from Twain make this a useful answer, but your interpretation of them makes no sense.
    – benrg
    May 8, 2023 at 5:56

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