Apparently many persons (unknown and therefore unattributable) upon seeing exhibited a quilt made by Jane Austen have commented that the world would be better off if Miss Austen had eschewed quilt-making and written another book instead.
As devoted as a fan as I am--as delighted as I would be to find a new book--and as correspondingly uninterested as I am in her sewing--I cannot find myself agreeing.
I'm quite certain that the world would not be a better place if Miss Austen had given up tedious morning calls, country balls, and gossiping with her sisters in order to devote herself more completely to literature; I'm not at all certain that a decrease in quilt-making would have been any more helpful. Who knows what plot elements were pieced together while she sewed?
Even if it were helpful for astrophysicists or musicians to devote themselves to their genius to the point of eccentricity (which I doubt), surely a novelist is the last person who can afford to become less than a whole person in the pursuit of Art. A novelist is in pursuit of life; they have to live in order to write. (Although they should not take it to the extreme of the one who is said to have deducted all his expenditures on his income tax forms.)
Besides, isn't six books enough? There are many authors who are both great and prolific, but there are very few who didn't say all the really important things they had to say in six books (or, if very given to padding, in the equivalent of six books). More might be fun to have on a rainy Saturday, but more are not particularly helpful to the state of the world. Genius might as well not be spread too thin.
The trouble about protesting where this or that person wasted their genius in something else, or had it stunted through some suffering, is that it's quite impossible to tell where wasting was occurring and where inspiration. Even dissipation provides its own peculiar inspiration; as have blindness, sickness, exile, and nagging wives. Surely we can allow a small place for quilting.
Sometimes I have heard it suggested, to young people trying to find God's Will for their life, that they should consider what one thing they do uniquely well and devote their life to that. The trouble is, I am fast approaching thirty, have tried many things, and still have no idea what that one thing might be. I have found many things I do quite well, many things I enjoy doing, and many, many things I need to do whether I like it or not.
Fortunately I can figure out God's will on most of these things without undue soul-searching as to whether this or that is worthy of my whole life's endeavor: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. I know there is a place for eliminating useless activities from life, but in the modern obsession over priorities and specialization, there also needs to be a place for just living.
I hope Miss Austen worked hard at the quilt while she was making it. I will now go work hard at lying down and reading Dickens (because I finished rereading all my Austen books last month).