Henrietta Keddie was an extremely prolific professional writer from Scotland who published under the name of Sarah Tytler. Her book on Austen, Jane Austen and Her Works, came out in 1880. The problem that she encountered when writing it is one which, in less exaggerated form, has beset many later writers. The only full version of Austen’s life that was in circulation when she wrote the more purely biographical parts of her book was one that was, in accordance with Victorian conventions, carefully policed by Austen’s family. Her difficulty was that she heard some voices in Austen’s novels and letters which she was politely, but firmly, told did not exist.
Austen’s brother, Henry, had published his ‘Biographical Notice’ in 1818 in the posthumous first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. It was a short, elegantly written account that emphasised his sister’s domesticity and piety. Any anxieties that might have been felt about the satirical nature of her writings were meant to be calmed by reassurances that, almost faultless herself, ‘she always sought in the fault of others, something to excuse, to forgive or forget’ (P, p. 31). Henry also gave his own impression of some of the Regency qualities of his sister’s writing when he drew attention to their charm, polish and finish. Austen’s nephew, the Reverend James Edward Austen-Leigh, continued to emphasise her domestic virtues in his much more substantial biographical notice, Memoir of Jane Austen, which was first published in 1870. Its popularity led to a second edition the following year and can be seen as launching the Austen industry.
Tytler certainly follows some of the guidelines that had been set out for her by Austen’s brother and nephew. She too represents Austen as a person who was content to be everything to her family and nothing to the world. She echoes Austen-Leigh’s praise for his aunt’s sewing: