Long before I came to work at the Theodore Roosevelt Center, I spent a semester living and studying in Bath, England where I took a course on Jane Austen. It was also somewhere along this semester that I officially became a “Janeite,” an unrepentant, life-long Austen fan. Austen is often a dividing factor in the literary world. Some authors have revered her while others have reviled her. As you can imagine, Theodore Roosevelt had a very decided opinion about her.
In an unnamed manuscript, Roosevelt gave his opinions about what people should read. He had a dislike of book lists and what he called “Five-Foot Libraries.” Roosevelt was a firm believer that only a reader could decide what books were essential to his or her life. To find these books, Roosevelt gives some very sound advice for book selection in this particular essay. It is in this context that Roosevelt happens to put forth his opinion on Miss Austen as he calls her:
I still read a number of Scott’s novels over and over again, whereas if I finish anything by Miss Austen I have a feeling that duty performed is a rainbow to the soul. But other booklovers who are very close kin to me, and whose taste I know to be better than mine, read Miss Austen all the time – and, moreover, they are very kind, and never pity me in too offensive a manner for not reading her myself.
What perhaps is even funnier about Roosevelt’s statement is that Sir Walter Scott, the Scott to which Roosevelt most likely refers, was one of Austen’s earliest and biggest fans himself! I have often wondered since first reading this essay if Roosevelt knew that or not.To read more about Roosevelt’s book selection suggestions, read this entire essay here. Happy reading!