So for anyone to be described as the “forgotten Jane Austen” is high praise indeed. Step forward, Susan Ferrier, a near-contemporary of Austen, whose books were well received during her lifetime but who has largely been lost in the mists of time.
Now a celebration of her work is being held at an Edinburgh hotel, The George, once the townhouse where Ferrier and her family lived, as part of Women’s History Month.
At the time, society somehow thought it was inappropriate for women to have a public role, so Ferrier wrote anonymously, although it became widely know that she was the author.
Similarly, Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility was published with the words “By a lady” replacing her name, while her 1813 book Pride and Prejudice was attributed to the “author of Sense and Sensibility”.
The latter book’s opening line – “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” – is so famous that it has become a literary meme.
And it appears Ferrier was an early adopter, beginning her 1824 book, The Inheritance: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that there is no passion so deeply rooted in human nature as that of pride.”
We tend to think of memes as a modern creation, born of the internet, so perhaps Ferrier, like Austen, was also ahead of her time and worth rediscovering.