Creative Commons licensed photograph, "Underwood," by Flickr user Canned Muffins

Austen, Chesnutt, and Price


Consider the following excerpt from Jane Austen’s letters to her sister, Cassandra:

I am reading a Society octavo, an “Essay on the Military Police and Institutions of the British Empire” by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers, a book which I protested against at first, but which upon trial I find delightfully written and highly entertaining. I am as much in love with the author as I ever was with Clarkson or Buchanan, or even the two Mr. Smiths of the city. The first soldier I ever sighed for; but he does write with extraordinary force and spirit […] Ladies who read those enormous great stupid thick quarto volumes which one always sees in the breakfast parlour there must be acquainted with everything in the world. I detest a quarto. Capt. Pasley’s book is too good for their society. They will not understand a man who condenses his thoughts into an octavo.

How does Austen experience the form of the books she (and others) read? Is there a moment in Chesnutt’s short story or Price’s article that can help illuminate Austen’s reactions to quartos and octavos, or vice versa?