The Loiterer was a humorous weekly periodical founded and largely written by two of Jane Austen’s brothers, James and Henry, while they were undergraduates at the University of Oxford. The periodical focused on university matters.
Some scholars think that Jane Austen is the author of the letter shown here, signed ‘Sophia Sentiment’ (clearly a pseudonym). If so, Austen would have been 13 at the time she wrote it. ‘Sophia’ berates the editors of The Loiterer for not including matters of interest to women, but the real target of the letter is Sophia herself: her frivolity, self-importance and the poor reading choices of her and women like her. Critics such as Paula Byrne have noted that there are various correspondences between the letter and Jane Austen’s juvenilia. Her early, epistolary novel Love and Freindship [sic], for example, has two heroines quite as shallow as Sophia. But other critics, such as Kathryn Sutherland and Claire Tomalin, find it unlikely that Austen would have written a letter so critical of women’s reading choices. They suggest that Sophia Sentiment’s letter was probably written by one of Austen’s brothers.
The Loiterer ran for 60 issues, from January 1789 to March 1790. The letter from Sophia Sentiment, and the editors’ reply, appeared in the ninth issue of the periodical. This book, published in Dublin in 1792, consists of all the issues bound together.