That Old Literary Experiment With an Austen Twist

By Carmen Comment

I wish people would stop trying to rooker publishers into looking stupid by sending in classic or bestselling novels from an earlier age for consideration to the current market. It’s been done before (as Jerzy Kozinski found out) and it doesn’t really add much in the way of real value. But alas, someone’s done it again, the Guardian reports, and this time it’s David Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, who wanted to see if publishers and agents would be keen on Austen’s writing with only a few changes.

So he sent opening chapters and plot synopses to 18 of the UK’s biggest publishers and agents and was amazed when they all sent the manuscripts back with polite but firm “no-thank-you’s” and almost all failed to spot that he was ripping off one of the world’s most famous literary figures. “I was staggered,” said Lassman. “Here is one of the greatest writers that has lived, with her oeuvre securely fixed in the English canon and yet only one recipient recognized them as Austen’s work.”

That recipient? Alex Bowler, of Jonathan Cape. His reply read: “Thank-you for sending us the first two chapters of First Impressions; my first impression on reading these were ones of disbelief and mild annoyance, along, of course, with a moment’s laughter. I suggest you reach for your copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I’d guess lives in close proximity to your typewriter, and make sure that your opening pages don’t too closely mimic that book’s opening.”