‘Many theorists have advanced evidence for an association between Humphry Repton and Jane Austen. The subject has already come up (note 1831). Jane Austen had read the master’s red book for Stoneleigh Abbey, and had probably seen his work at Adelstrop. She may even have perused his published work. It is not inconceivable that Repton had come across Austen’s writing, though the dates do not work well, her first, Sense and Sensibility, did not come out until 1811.
More radical thinkers, such as our editor, believing that the latter is unlikely and of the former, that if Austen had read Repton’s published work, it is likely that she would have written more about him. Our editor uses this inference to support his argument that Repton himself wrote Jane Austen’s works.’ [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]
A gloss from the Type-Setter: It is as likely perhaps that, given Austen’s interest in the theatre, she would have read Repton’s play ‘Odd Whims’. As for the Professor, he carries his culture with him, though he claims to have lost all cultural reference, with his battered hat, accent, cloak, the quintessence of the dispossessed, the Wandering Jew and his response inclines to a hypothesis of sympathetic evolution: ‘Repton was not aware of what he was doing – at least he showed no sign of it – his red books list recommendations but they seldom make clear what he was trying to achieve, or how he expected his clients to live in their landscapes and certainly they do not seek to justify the design in the way in which an artist of our own day will. This absence of reasoning; the assumption that we all know what we want, which he himself assumed for most of his career – only throwing it out the window in his last great works – the absence of reasoning, of asking what life is for, this marks out also the novels of Jane Austen.
It hardly matters whether we regard landscapes as rivals to literature: they are bigger than that question would have us believe, being the stuff we live in.
Let us be content with the acknowledgement that comparisons between Humphry Repton and Jane Austen go beyond their being contemporaries and dying within a year of each other. Both had dealings with the Prince Regent, both lived in cottages, both aspired to the gentry while never having the money to sustain a position in society. Both were dedicated to their family and lived in close quarters with them. Both began as writers. Both began blithe (Pride and Prejudice) and ended as conservatives (Persuasion), mistrustful of the upstart, the new, the villa, industry.
Compare if you will the happy embrace of Nature in Repton’s recommendations for Ferney Hall, Shropshire in 1789 (‘The situation of Ferne=Hall is by Nature so beautiful, that I must request your indulgence while I point out (tho’ at some length) every possible improvement of which it appears to me to be capable’) with his condemnation of nearby Stanage in 1803 (‘disgusting spruceness which prevails round Birmingham where every little villa spreads its wings by the roads side in spite of reason or good taste’).
Both Repton and Austen paid little apparent attention to the French wars. Both paid little apparent attention to the French wars. Austen, like Repton (I quote from that true Bohemian and scholar, George Henry Lewes) avoids “those profounder and more impassioned chords which vibrate to the heart’s core”. She “never ascends to its grand or heroic movements, nor descends to its deeper throes or agonies.”’ [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]