Jane West

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Jane West (born Iliffe) (1758–1852), who published as Prudentia Homespun and Mrs. West, was an English novelist, poet, playwright, and writer of conduct literature and educational tracts.


Jane West's parents were Jane and John Iliffe. She was born in London, though the family moved to Desborough in Northamptonshire when she was eleven. In 1800 she wrote to the man of letters Thomas Percy, bishop of Dromore, seeking his patronage and describing herself as self-instructed and interested in poetry from an early age. By 1783 she was married to Thomas West (d. 1823), a yeoman farmer of Little Bowden, Leicestershire. They had three sons: Thomas (1783–1843), John (1787–1841), and Edward (1794–1821). Jane West benefited from the acquaintance with Bishop Percy, whom she visited in 1810, although her literary connections were never extensive. She corresponded with Sarah Trimmer and wrote a series of poems in praise of women writers: Trimmer, Elizabeth Carter, Charlotte Turner Smith, whom she visited in Ireland and Anna Seward.[1]


West's writing is consistently conservative and didactic, but she did advocate expanding the education for women. Her works serve as a counterpoint to the revolutionary politics of the day: A Tale of the Times (1799) is anti-Jacobin; The Infidel Father (1802) attacks atheism; and one of her conduct texts, Letters to a Young Lady, "forms an ideological counterpart to Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).[2] Though she was called "strident,"[3] her writing was popular in its day for its "improving" qualities. Letters to a Young Man (1801), for example, went through six editions by 1818. Her poems appeared in journals and anthologies and she was a longstanding contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine. Her dramas would seem to have been less in tune with popular taste, as they were not successful. Although she claimed to consider her womanly domestic duties more important than her literary activities — "My needle always claims the pre-eminence of my pen. I hate the name of 'rhyming slattern.'" — there are indications that she actively sought success as a writer.[4] She died at Little Bowden at the age of 94, feeling out of step with contemporary trends.[5]


Today she is best known as the author of a novel that served as a source text for Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1811). West's A Gossip’s Story (1796), like Austen’s novel, features two sisters, one full of rational sense and the other of romantic, emotive sensibility. West’s romantic sister shares the same name as Austen’s: Marianne. There are further textual similarities, described in Looser et al. ed's Valancourt Classics edition of the novel (2015). Austen, like Shakespeare before her, significantly reworked West’s plot and characters to suit her own vision.



  • The Advantages of Education, or The History of Maria Williams (as "Prudentia Homespun", 2 vols, 1793)
  • A Gossip's Story, and a Legendary Tale (as "Prudentia Homespun", 2 vols, 1796)
  • A Tale of the Times (3 vols, 1799)
  • The Infidel Father (3 vols, 1802)
  • The Refusal (1810)
  • The Loyalists: an Historical Novel (1812)
  • Alicia de Lacy: an Historical Romance (4 vols., 1814)
  • Ringrove, or, Old Fashioned Notions (1827)
  • The Sorrows of Selfishness (children's story, as "Prudentia Homespun")

Conduct literature[edit]

  • Letters to a Young Man (3 vols, 1801)
  • Letters to a Young Lady (1806)


  • Miscellaneous Poetry, Written at an Early Period of Life (1786)
  • The Humours of Brighthelmstone: a Poem (1788)
  • Miscellaneous Poems, and a Tragedy(as Edmund, York, 1791)
  • An Elegy on the Death of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke (1797)
  • Poems and Plays (Vols 1 and 2, 1799, 3 and 4, 1805)
  • The Mother: a Poem in Five Books (1799)

Other works[edit]

  • Select Translations of the Beauties of Massillon (1812)
  • Scriptural Essays Adapted to the Holy Days of the Church of England (2 vols, 1816)


  1. ^ Roger Lonsdale, ed. Eighteenth-Century Women Poets (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 379; ODNB entry by Gail Baylis Retrieved 4 November 2013. Pay-walled.
  2. ^ ODNB entry.
  3. ^ ODNB entry.
  4. ^ Roger Lonsdale, ed. Eighteenth-Century Women Poets, pp. 379-80.
  5. ^ ODNB entry.


  • Baylis, Gail. "West, Jane (1758–1852)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2006. 11 April 2007.
  • Lonsdale, Roger ed. "Jane West (née Iliffe)". Eighteenth-Century Women Poets. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. 379-385.
  • West, Jane (2015) [1796], Looser, Devoney; O'Connor, Melinda; Kelly, Caitlin, eds., A Gossip's Story, Richmond, Virginia: Valancourt Books, ISBN 978-1943910151 

External links[edit]