Jane Austen

Summary

Jane Austen , born December 16, 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, England, and died July 18, 1817 in Winchester, Hampshire, was an English novelist and writer. Her realism, biting social criticism and mastery of free indirect discourse, her aloof humor and irony have made her one of the most widely read and loved English writers.

All her life, Jane Austen remained in a close-knit family unit, belonging to the small English gentry. She owes her upbringing to the encouragement to read provided not only by her brothers James and Henry, but especially by her father, who allowed her to draw on his extensive library without restriction. The unwavering support of her family was essential to her development as a professional writer. Austen’s artistic apprenticeship spanned from her early teens until about the age of twenty-five. During this period, she tried her hand at various literary forms, including the epistolary novel, which she experimented with before abandoning, and wrote and reworked three major novels in depth, while beginning a fourth.

From 1811 to 1816, with the publication of Sense and Sensibility (published anonymously in 1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she was successful. Two other novels, Northanger Abbey (in January 1817, she began her last novel, finally entitled Sanditon, which she could not complete before her death.

Jane Austen’s work is, among other things, a critique of the sentimental novels of the second half of the eighteenth century and belongs to the transition that leads to the literary realism of the nineteenth. Jane Austen’s plots, although essentially comic in nature, that is, with a happy ending, highlight women’s dependence on marriage for social status and economic security. Like Samuel Johnson, one of her major influences, she is particularly interested in moral issues.

Because of the anonymity she sought to preserve, her reputation was modest during her lifetime, with a few favorable reviews. In the 19th century, her novels were admired only by the literary elite. However, the publication in 1869 of A Memoir of Jane Austen, written by her nephew, made her known to a wider public. She was discovered to be an attractive personality, and popular interest in her works took off. Since the 1940s, Jane Austen has been widely recognized academically as a “great English writer. In the second half of the 20th century, her novels were increasingly researched and analyzed from various perspectives, such as artistic, ideological and historical. Little by little, popular culture took hold of Jane Austen and the film or television adaptations of her life or her novels were very successful. It is generally accepted that Jane Austen’s work belongs not only to the literary heritage of Great Britain and English-speaking countries, but also to world literature. Today, like the Brontës, she is the object of a cult, but of a different nature: Jane Austen enjoys an almost universal and exponentially growing popularity.

Jane Austen often wrote for her family, especially for her brothers, who had graduated from Oxford University. Despite her family’s high literary standards, Jane was the only one to become a published writer.

According to one of her biographers, information about Jane Austen’s life is “famously scarce. Only a few letters of a personal or family nature remain (by one estimate, 160 letters out of a total of 3,000). His sister Cassandra, to whom most of them were addressed, burned many of them and censored those she kept. Others were destroyed by the heirs of her brother, Admiral Francis Austen.

The biographical elements, made available in the fifty years following his death, almost all come from his relatives. First, the Biographical Notice of the Author, written by her brother Henry as a preface to the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1818, was the only available biography of her for over fifty years; then A Memoir of Jane Austen, the essential work of her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, first published in 1870, which remained the standard work on Jane Austen’s life for more than half a century. It is in this biography that the artist’s view (taken from the portrait done by Jane’s sister Cassandra) from which the various engravings used as portraits of the novelist are derived appears.

Both of these sources reflect the family’s tendency to emphasize the “good quiet Aunt Jane” aspect. Since then, very little new material has been uncovered by researchers.

Family

Jane Austen’s father, George Austen (1731-1805), and his wife, Cassandra (1739-1827), both belonged to the gentry. George descended from a family of woolen weavers, who gradually rose to the status of a small landed gentry. His wife Cassandra Austen, née Leigh, counts among her ancestors Sir Thomas Leigh (en), Lord Mayor in the time of Queen Elizabeth. From 1765 to 1801, for much of Jane’s life, George Austen was rector of the Anglican parish of Steventon, as well as that of the neighboring village of Deane, a mile to the north. The two villages are only about ten kilometers from Basingstoke, the largest town in Hampshire. From 1773 to 1796, George Austen supplemented his income by working as a farmer and also as a tutor for three or four boys who boarded with him. The family lived in a two-story house and attic, the Rectory, surrounded by a barn, trees and meadows.

Jane Austen’s immediate family is large, six brothers, James (1765-1819), George (1766-1838), Edward (1767-1852), Henry Thomas (1771-1850), Francis William (“Frank”, 1774-1865), Charles John (1779-1852), and a sister, Cassandra Elizabeth (1773-1845), who, like Jane Austen, dies unmarried. Cassandra Elizabeth was Jane’s closest friend and confidant throughout her life. Of her brothers, she feels closest to Henry. Originally a banker, he became a clergyman in the Anglican Church after his bankruptcy. It was he who served as her sister’s literary agent. Among his vast London circle were bankers, merchants, publishers, painters and actors. Thus, thanks to her connections, Jane has the opportunity to frequent a social category normally inaccessible to a person isolated in a small rural parish in the depths of Hampshire.

George, on the other hand, was placed in the care of a local family at an early age because, as Jane Austen’s biographer Deirdre Le Faye reports, he was “mentally abnormal and prone to fits. He may also have been deaf and dumb.

Charles and Frank served in the navy and rose to the rank of admiral. Edward was adopted in 1783 by a distant cousin, Thomas Knight, whose name he took over in 1812, when he inherited his estates.

Early years and education

Jane Austen, born on December 16, 1775 at the rectory of Steventon, was baptized on April 5, 1776. After a few months, her mother placed her with a neighbor, Elizabeth Littlewood, who was her nurse for a year or a year and a half. In 1783, according to family tradition, Jane and Cassandra were sent to Oxford to be educated by Mrs. Ann Cawley, whom they followed to Southampton later that year. Both sisters contracted typhus, which nearly killed Jane. They were then raised with their parents until they left for boarding school in early 1785. The education at the boarding school probably included French, spelling, sewing and embroidery, dancing, music, and perhaps drama. But by December 1786, Jane and Cassandra were back home, as their parents could no longer afford to pay for their boarding school. Jane’s education was supplemented at home by reading, guided by her father and brothers James and Henry. Jane’s favorite authors were the poets William Cowper (1731-1800) and especially George Crabbe (1754-1832).

It seems that George Austen gave his daughters unrestricted access to his extensive (nearly 500 books) and varied (mostly literature and history) library, tolerated some of Jane’s sometimes daring literary endeavors (risqué, as the English term is), and provided his daughters with the expensive paper and materials they needed for their writing and drawing. According to Jane Austen’s biographer Park Honan, life in the Austen household was bathed in an “open, amused, and easy intellectual atmosphere,” where social and political ideas other than their own were considered and discussed. Thus, after her return from boarding school in 1786, Jane Austen “never again lived outside her immediate family environment.

Private theater performances were also part of Jane’s education, and from the age of seven until she was thirteen, she participated in a series of plays put on by her family and close friends. These included Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals, first performed in 1775, and David Garrick’s Bon Ton. While the details are unknown, it is almost certain that Jane was involved, first as a spectator and then, as she grew older, more actively. Most of these plays were comedies, which contributed to the development of her comic and satirical sense. Jane Austen’s “French” cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, participated brilliantly in some of these plays, in which she played the lead role. Later, in Mansfield Park, Jane Austen gave the “theatricals” an importance that went far beyond mere entertainment.

Juvenilia

In all likelihood, Jane Austen began writing poems, stories, and plays for her own and her family’s amusement as early as 1787. She later made fair copies (“transcripts”) of twenty-seven of these early works in three bound notebooks, now known as Juvenilia, containing writings from 1787 to 1793. Some manuscripts reveal that Jane Austen continued to work on them until about 1809-1810, and that her nephew and niece, James Edward and Anna Austen, added to them until 1814.

Among these writings, there is a satirical epistolary novel, Love and Freindship, in which she mocks the sentimental novels in fashion (Novels of sensibility). Also included is The History of England, a thirty-four page manuscript accompanied by thirteen watercolor miniatures by Cassandra. It is a parody of historical writings in vogue, and in particular, of Oliver Goldsmith’s History of England, published in 1771. For example, Jane Austen writes:

According to scholar Richard Jenkyns, Jane Austen’s Juvenilia is anarchic and full of boisterous gaiety; he compares it to the work of 18th-century novelist Laurence Sterne and 20th-century Monty Python.

Entry into adulthood

As an adult, Jane Austen continued to live with her parents, engaging in the usual activities of a woman of her age and social status: she played the pianoforte, helped her sister and mother manage the servants, assisted the women of the family in childbirth, and assisted elderly parents on their deathbeds. She sends a few short writings to her newborn nieces Fanny Catherine and Jane Anna. She is particularly proud of her sewing skills.

Jane Austen attended church regularly, visited her friends and neighbors, and read novels, often written by herself, aloud in the evenings with her family. Relationships among neighbors often led to dancing, either impromptu during a visit, after dinner, or at balls held in the meeting rooms of Basingstoke Town Hall. According to her brother Henry, “Jane loved to dance, and indeed was very good at it.

In 1793, Jane Austen began, then abandoned, a short play, later entitled Sir Charles Grandison, or, The happy man: a comedy in five acts, which she completed around 1800. It was a parody of a few school summaries of her favorite novel, Samuel Richardson’s The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753). Shortly after Love and Freindship in 1789, Jane Austen made, according to Honan, the decision “to write for money, and to devote herself to telling stories,” in other words, to become a professional writer. There is evidence that from 1793 onwards she did indeed undertake longer and more complex works.

Between 1793 and 1795, Jane Austen wrote Lady Susan, a short epistolary novel, generally considered her most ambitious early work. Lady Susan is unlike any of her other works. Tomalin sees her heroine as a sexual predator who uses her intelligence and charm to manipulate, betray and deceive her victims, whether lovers, friends or relatives. She writes:

“Told in epistolary form, this is a story as well hemmed in as a play, and of a cynicism of tone that equals the most scandalous comedies of the Restoration, which may have been one of the sources of its inspiration … occupies a unique place in Jane Austen’s work as a study of a grown woman whose intelligence and strength of character are superior to that of anyone whose path she crosses.”

First novels

After completing Lady Susan, Jane Austen attempted her first novel, Elinor and Marianne. Her sister Cassandra later recalled that it was read to the family “before 1796,” and was in the form of a series of letters. In the absence of the original manuscripts, it is impossible to say to what extent the original draft survived in the novel published in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility.

When Jane Austen reached the age of twenty, Thomas Langlois Lefroy, the nephew of a neighboring family, came to Steventon where he stayed from December 1795 to January 1796. Freshly graduated from college, he was about to move to London to train as a barrister. Tom Lefroy and Jane Austen were probably introduced to each other at a meeting between neighbors or at a ball. Jane’s letters to Cassandra show that they spend a lot of time together.

The Lefroy family intervened and dismissed Tom at the end of January. Marriage is not an option, as Tom and Jane are well aware: neither of them is wealthy, and he is dependent on an Irish great-uncle to finance his education and establish himself in his profession. Tom Lefroy later returns to Hampshire, but he is carefully kept away from the Austens and Jane never sees him again.

In 1796, Jane Austen begins a second novel, First Impressions, the future Pride and Prejudice, and finishes the first draft in August 1797, when she is only 21 years old. As always, she read the manuscript in preparation aloud, and it soon became an established favorite. Her father began to take steps to have it published for the first time. In November 1797, George Austen wrote to Thomas Cadell, a well-known London publisher, to ask if he would be willing to publish “a Manuscript Novel, consisting of three volumes, about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina”, the financial risk being borne by the author. Cadell promptly returned the letter with the note: “Declined by Return of Post”. It is possible that Jane Austen was not aware of this paternal initiative. In any case, after finishing First Impressions, she returned to Elinor and Marianne, and from November 1797 to mid-1798 she reworked it extensively, abandoning the epistolary format in favor of a third-person narrative close to the final version (Sense and Sensibility).

In mid-1798, after completing the rewrite of Elinor and Marianne, Jane Austen began a third novel tentatively titled Susan. It is the future Northanger Abbey, a satire of the Gothic novels that have been raging since 1764 and still have a good career ahead of them. The work was completed about a year later. In early 1803, Henry Austen offered Susan to a London publisher, Benjamin Crosby, who bought it for ten pounds sterling (£10), promised a quick publication, announced that the work was “in press”, and left it at that. The manuscript lay dormant with Crosby until 1816, when Jane Austen herself took over the rights to it.

Bath and Southampton

In December 1800, the Reverend George Austen decided without notice to leave his ministry, move from Steventon and relocate with his family to Bath, Somerset. While this cessation of activity and travel was a good thing for the elders, Jane Austen was distressed at the thought of leaving the only home she had ever known. While in Bath, she practically stopped writing, which says enough about her state of mind. She worked a little in Susan, started and then abandoned a new novel, The Watsons, but the activity of 1795-1799 seems far away. Claire Tomalin suggests that this sterility is an indication of a deep depression. Park Honan, who takes the opposite view, notes that Jane Austen did not stop writing or reworking her manuscripts during her entire working life, with the sole exception of the few months following her father’s death. The issue remains controversial, and Margaret Doody, for example, agrees with Tomalin.

In December 1802, Jane Austen receives her only proposal of marriage. She and her sister are visiting Alethea and Catherine Bigg, longtime friends who live near Basingstoke. Their youngest brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, having graduated from Oxford University, is at home and asks for Jane’s hand in marriage, and she accepts. Both Caroline Austen, the novelist’s niece, and Reginald Bigg-Wither, a descendant of this suitor, describe him as a tall, unattractive fellow. He is of ordinary appearance, speaks little, stammers as soon as he opens his mouth and is even aggressive in conversation. Moreover, he is practically tactless. Jane, however, has known him since childhood and the marriage offers many advantages for both herself and her family. Harris is the heir to vast family estates in the area where the sisters grew up. With this wealth, Jane Austen could provide her parents with a comfortable old age, give Cassandra a home of her own, and perhaps help her brothers pursue careers. The next morning, Jane Austen realizes that she has made a mistake and resumes her consent. There is no correspondence or diary to show what she really thought of the marriage proposal. Although Jane Austen never married, 200 years after her death, two forged marriage certificates were discovered that she had written herself in the Steventon marriage register, probably as a teenager.

In 1814, Jane Austen writes to Fanny Knight, one of her nieces (whom she considers almost a sister, as she writes to Cassandra), who has asked her advice about the proposal of marriage made to her by Mr. John Plumtre:

“And now, my dear Fanny, having written in favor of this young man, I will now beseech you not to commit yourself further, and not to think of accepting him unless he really pleases you. Everything must be preferred or endured rather than marry without affection.”

The novel begun in Bath in 1804, The Watsons, concerns an invalid clergyman with few financial resources and his four unmarried daughters. Sutherland describes the novel as “a study in the harsh economic realities of the lives of financially dependent women.” Park Honan believes, and Claire Tomalin agrees, that Jane Austen deliberately stopped working on this book after her father’s death on January 21, 1805: her own situation was too similar to that of her characters for her not to feel a certain unease.

The illness, which would soon take Reverend Austen’s life, is sudden, leaving him, as Jane reports to her brother Francis, “completely unaware of his own condition.” Jane, Cassandra and their mother are left in a difficult situation. Edward, James, Henry and Francis Austen pledge to support them with annual payments. The next four years reflected this precariousness: the three women were mostly renting in Bath, then, from 1806, in Southampton, where they shared a house with Frank Austen and his young wife, and visits to other branches of the family increased.

On April 5, 1809, about three months before the move to Chawton, Jane Austen wrote to Richard Crosby expressing her anger – he still had not published Susan – and offering a new version, if necessary, for immediate publication. Crosby replied that he had not committed himself to any deadline, or even to publication, but that Jane Austen could buy back the rights to the ten pounds he had paid for, and find another publisher. Jane Austen, however, not having the means to make this transaction, cannot recover her manuscript.

Chawton

In early 1809, Edward, one of Jane Austen’s brothers, offered his mother and sisters a more stable life by providing them with a large cottage in the village of Chawton. This house is part of his estate, Chawton House. Jane, Cassandra and their mother moved in on July 7, 1809. Life at Chawton was becoming quieter than it had been since the arrival in Bath in 1800. The Austens did not socialize with the neighboring gentry and entertained only on family visits. Anna, Jane’s niece, recounts their daily life: “It was a very quiet life, from our point of view, but they read a great deal, and apart from domestic duties, our aunts were busy helping the poor and teaching this boy or that girl to read or write. Jane Austen wrote almost every day, but in private, and seems to have been relieved of certain constraints so that she could devote more time to her manuscripts. Thus, in this new environment, she finds the fullness of her creative abilities.

Published woman of letters

During her stay in Chawton, Jane Austen managed to publish four novels, which were quite well received. Through her brother Henry, the publisher Thomas Egerton accepted Sense and Sensibility, which appeared in October 1811. It received rave reviews and became fashionable in influential circles; by the middle of 1813, it was sold out. Austen’s income from the book gave her a certain independence, both financially and psychologically. In January of that year, Egerton published Pride and Prejudice, a reworked version of First Impressions. He gave the book wide publicity, and it was an immediate success, with three favorable reviews and good sales. In October, Egerton can start selling a second edition. Then Mansfield Park was published, still by Egerton, in May 1814. If the critics do not pay much attention to this novel, Mansfield Park is very well received by the public. All the copies are sold in only six months, and the earnings of Jane Austen exceed those of all her other works.

In November 1815, James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s librarian, invited Austen to Carlton House and told her that the Prince Regent, the future George IV, admired her novels and kept a copy in each of his residences; he then advised her to dedicate her next work, Emma, to the Regent. Jane Austen did not like the character, but it was difficult for her to refuse the request. She later wrote A Plan of a Novel, based on suggestions from various quarters, outlining the “perfect novel” in satirical form, as recommended by the librarian in question.

In the middle of 1815, Jane Austen left Egerton for John Murray, a more renowned London publisher, who published Emma in December 1815 and, in February of the following year, a second edition of Mansfield Park. Emma sold well, but Mansfield Park was less successful and the financial results of this double operation were very mixed. These were the last novels to be published during the author’s lifetime.

Jane Austen had already begun writing a new book, The Elliots, later published as Persuasion, the first draft of which she completed in July 1816. Shortly after Emma was published, Henry Austen bought the rights to Susan from Crosby. Jane, however, was forced to postpone the publication of both books because of financial difficulties in her family. Henry’s bank failed in March 1816, which resulted in the loss of all his property, leaving him heavily in debt and also hurting his brothers Edward, James and Frank. Henry and Frank were no longer able to provide their mother and sisters with the annual sum they had been paying them.

Illness and death

Early in 1816, Jane Austen’s health began to fail. At first she ignored the illness and continued to work and participate in family activities. By the middle of the year, neither she nor those around her could doubt the seriousness of her condition, which gradually deteriorated with bouts and remissions. She died in July of the following year. Most biographers rely on the retrospective diagnosis that Dr. Vincent Cope tried to make in 1964, which attributed Jane Austen’s death to Addison’s disease, an adrenal insufficiency caused at that time by tuberculosis. Other authors have also suggested that Jane Austen suffered from Hodgkin’s disease in her later years.

Jane Austen continued to work almost to its end. Dissatisfied with the outcome of The Elliots, she rewrote the two concluding chapters, which she finished on August 6, 1816. In January 1817, she began a new novel, which she entitled The Brothers, a title that became Sanditon when it was first published in 1925. She completed twelve chapters before stopping writing in mid-March 1817, presumably because illness prevented her from continuing. Jane spoke of her condition casually to those around her, referring to “bile” and “rheumatism,” but she found it increasingly difficult to walk and struggled to engage in other activities. By mid-April, she was unable to leave her bed. In May, Henry accompanies Jane and Cassandra to Winchester for medical treatment. Jane Austen dies on July 18, 1817, at the age of 41. Through his ecclesiastical connections, Henry arranged for his sister to be buried in the north wing of the nave of Winchester Cathedral. James’ epitaph praises her personal qualities, expresses hope for her salvation, and mentions “the extraordinary endowments of her mind,” without explicitly mentioning her accomplishments as a writer.

Posthumous publication

After their sister’s death, Cassandra and Henry Austen agreed with Murray to publish Persuasion and Northanger Abbey together in December 1817. Henry wrote a Biographical Note for the occasion which, for the first time, identified his sister as the author of the novels. Claire Tomalin describes this note as a loving and carefully written eulogy. Sales were good for a year – only 321 copies remained unsold at the end of 1818 – and then declined. Murray disposed of the remainder in 1820, and Jane Austen’s novels were not reprinted for twelve years. In 1832, the publisher Richard Bentley bought back the remaining rights and, starting in December 1832 or January 1833, published them in five illustrated volumes as part of his Standard Novels series. In October 1833, he published the first complete edition. Since then, Jane Austen’s novels have been constantly republished.

However, the complete text of Sanditon, his last unfinished novel, was not published until 1925, according to the version established from the manuscript by R. W. Chapman.

Influences received

The first influence on Jane Austen was her family. Like all her siblings, she was encouraged by her father, George Austen, to familiarize herself with the great authors. In her father’s library she discovered the poems of Pope and Shakespeare, the essays of Addison and Johnson, the novels of Fanny Burney, Fielding, Sterne, and Richardson, and the works of William Cowper. This literary education was supplemented by her father’s nightly readings, including novels such as Francis Lathom’s The Midnight Bell, which Isabella Thorpe recalls in Chapter VI of Northanger Abbey. In addition to her father’s influence, Jane Austen had before her the example of her mother, Cassandra Leigh, who wrote humorous poems and was noted for her conversation, which showed “a very lively imagination” and a marked sense of epigram.

It was also during these evening sessions that Austen’s art of dialogue was honed. When she read her first novels aloud, she was able to measure her style against that of authors such as Richardson and Fielding. Finally, these family gatherings gave her the opportunity to exercise her humor with her brothers, who, like her, were not lacking in wit. Edward, a jovial character, Henry, always optimistic, even in the face of professional failures, and James, the eldest, though of a more serious character, all engage in joyful verbal exchanges that brighten up the household, to which Francis and especially Charles the mischievous, “our beloved little brother”, boldly reply.

Fanny Burney (1752-1840) shares with Jane Austen a sense of the female picaresque and the bizarre, reveals to her the possibilities of free indirect discourse, and touches on certain “feminist” themes that Jane Austen would take up again. In Northanger Abbey, Jane pays a strong tribute to her elder sister: indeed, the novels of Fanny Burney, Camilla, Evelina, Cecilia, or The Wanderer criticize the hypocrisy of the patriarchal society because we see their male characters oppressing the women they are supposed to protect.

Finally, Jane Austen is indebted to Fanny Burney for the title of Pride and Prejudice, taken from a sentence of Dr. Lyster at the end of Cecilia; the two novels resemble each other, as much by their characters as by their plot.

Samuel Richardson had a considerable influence on Jane Austen, who had read and re-read The History of Sir Charles Grandison. Some scenes in Mansfield Park (Fanny in Portsmouth) evoke the heroine of his novel Clarissa, whose anguish prefigures that of Fanny.

Paradoxically, Jane Austen satirizes Richardson’s sentimentality and at the same time refers to him constantly. Every time she starts a new novel, she returns to Sir Charles Grandison. Indeed, she fully appreciates Richardson’s virtues, but at the same time she is very critical of his faults.

The direct influence of Sir Charles Grandison can be seen in seductive characters such as Willoughby (Sense and Sensibility) or Wickham (Pride and Prejudice), who recall Captain Anderson, the upstart who courts Charlotte Grandison. Mansfield Park, for its part, may owe its title to Mansfield-house, which appears in Sir Charles Grandison. Beyond the title, the plot of Mansfield Park evokes that of Sir Charles Grandison by the conflict that appears between love and religious conviction, and by its heroine, forsaken at the beginning of the novel by the one who will choose her later.

Dr. Johnson, dear to Jane Austen, inspires her the stoicism and fortitude that we find in some of her characters, such as the Royal Navy heroes depicted in Persuasion. Moreover, this author, admired by all the English intellectual elite, cannot but fascinate, even unconsciously, a beginning writer. As Peter L. de Rose has shown, his constantly published advice and ethics influenced Jane Austen’s serene yet biting style.

In Jane Austen’s writing, the curious mixture of sardonic remarks interspersed with an obvious moral concern has intrigued critics such as A. C. Bradley (a leading Shakespeare commentator), who sees Jane Austen as “a moralist cum humorist deeply influenced by Samuel Johnson.

Jane Austen shares with Henry Fielding a taste for parody, as in Shamela (1741), where Fielding, under a pseudonym, mocks the Pamela or Rewarded Virtue of his contemporary Richardson. Among the authors that Jane Austen targets in this way is Oliver Goldsmith (Austen’s parodic spirit is developed in more detail below). The novelist also borrows from Henry Fielding certain types of characters in English society. She read Tom Jones, without encountering any objections from her clergyman father, although the plot features prostitutes. It is true that Tom Jones also portrays a morally advantageous squire, godfather (who we learn at the end of the story is also an uncle) of young Tom, the hero of this picaresque novel. The squire is a recurring character in Jane Austen’s novels.

The influence of Henry Fielding is also felt in some of the characters imagined by Jane Austen: Mrs. Jennings (Sense and Sensibility), John Thorpe (Northanger Abbey) or Admiral Croft of Persuasion, whose vulgarity, unkempt behavior and whole character are well representative of his satirical vein. Similarly, in Pride and Prejudice, the plot developed around the character of George Wickham and his undignified behavior towards Darcy were inspired to Jane Austen by the malicious acts of Master Blifil towards the hero told in Tom Jones.

Jane Austen’s sense of burlesque, of offbeat humor, is characteristic of her Juvenilia. One can see the influence of Charlotte Lennox and her book The Female Quixote, published in 1752 and mentioned in 1808 by Jane Austen in a letter to Cassandra. In his Covent Garden Journal, Henry Fielding praised this novel, which was very successful at the end of the 18th century as it was successively translated into German (1754), French (1773) and Spanish (1808).

The influence of this female transposition of Cervantes’ Don Quixote on Jane Austen is palpable, especially in her Northanger Abbey, where the sense of horror and terror contrasts with the ridiculousness of her emotionally inflamed heroines. Jane Austen’s Isabella Thorpe is reminiscent of the heroine of Charlotte Lennox’s Arabella and her exaggerated romanticism, exaltation, and propensity for fantasy; Arabella dreams of being able to kill with a look, and of causing those who court her to suffer a thousand deaths for her.

There are many, for Jane Austen read widely, and throughout her life (moreover, her talents as an imitator enabled her to appropriate the stylistic elements of this or that author effortlessly. In The Short Oxford Dictionary of English Literature, Andrew Sanders wrote in 1996 that, according to her first biographer, Jane Austen was “an admirer of Dr Johnson in prose, Crabbe in verse and Cowper in both”. The same author reports that in her youth, she adored George Crabbe to the point of joking that, if she ever married, “she could fancy being Mrs. Crabbe.

Other sources of inspiration include Ann Radcliffe and her Udolpho, if only for the parody of Northanger Abbey as the imaginative Catherine Morland; Oliver Goldsmith, author of the famous Vicar of Wakefield, a character with whom she is also familiar

More recent authors include Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell, Robert Burns (quoted in Sanditon), Maria Edgeworth (with, in particular, Belinda), or even the young William Wordsworth, who places so much importance on the things of nature and professes, in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads (2nd edition, 1800), that he is only interested in simple speech and expresses himself in the language of the people, especially those of the countryside. For all that, Austen’s important characters are cultured, whether they are men or women, and demand that the reader be so too.

That said, Wordsworth, who much maligned Crabbe’s poetry as a rival, ventured to compare it to the work of Jane Austen. Her novels, he conceded, were “an admirable copy of life,” but he said he could not be interested in “productions of that kind,” because “unless the truth of nature were presented to him, unless the truth of nature were presented to him clarified, as it were, by the pervading light of imagination”, “it had scarce any attraction in his eyes”.

Style and narrative structure

Perhaps the first thing that strikes the reader of Jane Austen’s novels is her humor – which she uses to debunk the pretentious vanity of her characters. The gaiety, however, the lightness, the often unexpected wit, is sometimes intertwined with a more biting irony.

Each novel is thus sprinkled with quick notes, some of them with a quirky, as if unconscious, humor that only delights the reader. Thus, from the very first pages of Persuasion, Elizabeth Elliot, the eldest daughter of Sir Walter Elliott, a baronet with a shaky fortune, is thinking about how to cope with the family’s very serious financial difficulties:

In his 1952 essay, Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery, Marvin Mudrick sees Jane Austen’s irony as “a defense against her feelings, and a telltale sign of the narrowness and bitterness of her spinster’s life,” a thesis somewhat undermined by the ubiquity of irony since the Juvenilia, and by B. C. Southam’s analysis that there is no trace of bitterness in Austen’s novels. C. Southam, for whom there is no trace of bitterness in Jane Austen’s novels. However, in a second step, the essay shows that the ironic approach is also an instrument of discovery, by which the author invites the reader to question the meaning of what she writes and, as a result, to interpret reality and the interactions between the characters more finely.

A classic example is the sentence that opens Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife: “This truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters”.

Sometimes the humor, taking the form of wit, becomes more wicked wit, even shocking, as one of the letters she writes to Cassandra attests:

This humor, dark and somewhat unseemly, has been seen as a defense against the harshness of the female condition (three of her sisters-in-law die in childbirth). However, if Jane Austen appears to her twenty-four nephews and nieces as good quiet Aunt Jane, she turns out to be a formidable observer of the society around her, not hesitating to stigmatize the defects of her contemporaries and not disdaining to shock.

Jane Austen – like Henry Fielding and his Shamela, or Charlotte Lennox and The Female Quixote – likes to capture the flaws of other writers, or the exaggerations of their style, which she then happily parodies.

As early as her Juvenilia, she mocks Oliver Goldsmith’s style, with The History of England, where she mercilessly parodies The History of England from the earliest ages to the death of George II. Love and Freindship is another example of Jane Austen’s early taste for parody, in which she mocks the epistolary novels of the time, lyrical, romantic, true fairy tales where everything ends well; in Jane Austen’s case, on the contrary, everything goes wrong, as the subtitle of this little novel, “Deceived in Freindship and Betrayed in Love”, suggests.

The mature novels abandon pure parody to create their own universe. However, Northanger Abbey is indeed, at least at times, a parody of the Gothic novel, even though it contains aspects of Jane Austen’s mature works. Austen’s sense of parody is expressed by forcing the line, by exaggerating everything in the Gothic novels she targets that seems ridiculous to her, including implausibly twisted plots or particularly rigid novelistic conventions.

In a spirit quite different from that of seeking comic effect, Austen uses parody, according to some feminist literary critics, to reveal how romance novels as well as gothic novels distort the way women live their lives, pushing them to espouse the fantasy world they have found there. As feminist literary critics Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert explain in their seminal 1979 book, The Madwoman in the Attic, Jane Austen mocks “romance clichés such as love at first sight, the primacy of passion over all other emotions and duties, the hero’s chivalrous exploits, the heroine’s delicate vulnerability, the lovers’ disdain for financial considerations, and the cruel tactlessness of parents.

Another characteristic of Jane Austen’s style is her frequent use of free indirect speech. This is a narrative form whose particularity is that it does not use an introductory narrative verb (“to speak”, “to say”, or “to think”). Since the subordinate clause containing the quoted statement is deprived of a main clause, the voice of the character and that of the narrator become entangled, so that it is not clear who is speaking, the narrator or the character. Moreover, this narrative mode, without any introductory parts and punctuation, gives fluidity and vivacity to the story. Thus, in Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen makes her heroine Catherine Morland think aloud, while her wild imagination transforms the abbey into a place that has harbored dark tragedies, just like the Gothic extravaganzas she so much enjoys:

This narrative form, as Margaret Anne Doody reminds us, was introduced into English literature by Fanny Burney and a few other women writers of the late eighteenth century, whose legacy Jane Austen has thus collected.

This free indirect speech, with its uninterrupted thread of narrator, could be perceived as a form of irony, insofar as the author pretends to adhere to the character’s words; conversely, it can also be seen as a mark of sympathy, and an invitation to the reader’s empathy. The ironic tone is evident in Northanger Abbey, where Jane Austen gives free rein to Catherine Morland’s youthful imagination, but its use is more complex in the other novels. In Emma, for example, when the heroine’s thoughts are reported in this way, Austen’s intention is to highlight Emma’s dreaded delight in manipulating her loved ones to ensure their happiness.

Armed with the premises she inherited, Jane Austen thus appears to be the first writer to have given free indirect discourse the function of representing the “me” in the immediacy of experience (to represent the lived self in the moment).

If realism is the verbal transcription of perceptions, then Jane Austen is problematic. As Norman Page observes, her novels “conspicuous absence of words referring to physical perception, the world of shape and color and sensuous response” implies that Austen’s novels are “not about the physical. (“conspicuous absence of words referring to physical perception, the world of shape and color and sensuous response”), implying that they have no physical thickness. Janet Todd, however, writes that Jane Austen creates an illusion of realism through identification with the characters and also because they are rounded, that is, “provided with thickness,” with a history and a memory. This depth of the characters, again, is not the object of a consensus. Marilyn Butler, for example, denies Jane Austen the qualification of “realist”, for the reason that she does not concern herself with the psychology of her heroines, preferring to use them for polemical purposes to criticize “sensibility”. Moreover, as she is careful not to portray the sensual, the irrational, the deviations of the mind, the existence of which she cannot deny, she chooses not to depict them. William Galperin’s analysis, which is echoed by Pierre Goubert, tends to refocus Jane Austen’s realism around two notions: verisimilitude and immediacy, which make her the historian of the everyday. In his conclusion, Pierre Goubert quotes George Henry Lewes who, although being one of the first to understand Jane Austen’s dimension, limits her realism to the vision, rather narrow, of a woman of her time, her condition, her social experience.

A more subtle aspect of her work is the symbolism that Austen uses: everything is symbolic, events, the configuration of families, social relationships, and above all, places. As Virginia Woolf first observed in 1913, this facet of her art is particularly present in Mansfield Park. The adventure of the theatrical performance in the absence of Sir Thomas Bertram is in itself a boldness felt as guilty, where the order of the places taken by the various characters during the evenings announces or confirms their still unconscious relationships. For its part, the Sotherton estate comprises several enclosures, each of which determines a place of possible transgression: the house itself and the arrangement of its rooms, the steps, the garden, the little wood and, finally, the dangerous limit, the famous ha-ha beyond which young people in search of love and freedom venture, crossing a locked gate by defying the ban on the key, as far as the so-called oak timber knoll, the extreme boundary half a mile further on. This first crossing of the gates prefigures the abduction (elopement) to which Maria Bertram will later consent, and by which the scandal will arrive.

Themes

In the late eighteenth century, the amusements of a well-to-do household with leisure time are few and far between and dependent on relationships with the neighborhood. For Austen’s heroes, as for her own family members, these leisure activities took place within the limits of the distance a carriage could travel in a day. Thus, it is the distance separating the living quarters that reduces the diversity of socializing, especially in the countryside. Thus, the Austens were related to a dozen close families, such as the Digweeds of Steventon, the Biggs of Manydown or the Lefroys of Ashe. Together, they organized dinners, balls, card games, or hunting parties. They also got together for simple parties, with one lady showing off her piano skills or throwing an impromptu ball.

Leisure time is also adapted to the distance from the cities. In Sense and Sensibility, it takes three days to get from Barton in Devonshire to London. So it’s not just a matter of spending a few days there: you stay for weeks, even months. Trips to Bath, a popular, rather social and somewhat “snobbish” watering hole, or to London, the big city where anything is possible, become long-term expeditions whose return will depend on circumstances.

When one visits a relative living in another region, one stays for two weeks, a month, or several months, depending on the reciprocity. It is on these occasions of family visits that Jane and her sister Cassandra are most often separated, and therefore write to each other. Such are the ways of life and the distractions that form the backdrop of Jane Austen’s novels.

Marriage – with the condition of women in England at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century as a permanent background – is the dominant and omnipresent theme of Jane Austen’s novels, the outcome, the goal towards which all encounters between young people tend.

Since English law does not recognize women as independent subjects, they are attached by law to their husbands when they are married; they are then “covered” by his economic and political rights. On the other hand, when she is not married, the father or the family manages her interests, as is customary under customary law.

In the early 19th century, a woman was valued according to her “marriageability” (Marriageability is the primary criterion of female value). Great attention was paid to her beauty, but also to her accomplishments, talents of pleasure intended to honor the future husband, the piano, singing, drawing and watercolor, mastery of French and, sometimes, a little geography. The list of indispensable talents of pleasure is the subject of a discussion at Netherfield in Pride and Prejudice.

Women were so subject to marriage that it was not until 1918 that they were allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, and even then it was proposed that old maids be excluded because of “their failure to please or attract” mates.

As middle age comes early in a woman’s life, she is quickly labeled an “old maid. Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion, is a “faded” beauty at twenty-seven (her bloom had vanished early), and seems doomed to celibacy.

At thirty-eight, Jane Austen knows that she has reached the age of a respectable lady and accommodates this in a humorous way: “(…) as I leave off being young, I find many Douceurs in being a sort of Chaperon for I am put on the Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like.” While Jane Austen received help from her brothers and, to a lesser extent, enjoyed the income from her novels, many of the “old maids” were less privileged and struggled to support themselves as few professions were available to them.

In addition, women may be disadvantaged by the transmission of parental wealth. In many cases, there are clauses in the will that provide for the family fortune to go to a male heir, perhaps a distant cousin. The daughters of the family are then disinherited or even driven out of their home when their father dies. Such provisions are implicit in several of Jane Austen’s novels such as Pride and Prejudice, where the practice of entailment is explained in Chapter XIII, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility.

It is hardly surprising in such conditions that Mrs. Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice, has as her first, almost obsessive, concern to “marry well” her five daughters.

The condition of women and their social difficulties explain the focus of critical attention on the “feminist” side of Jane Austen’s work.

Thus, Northanger Abbey, in addition to its parodic aspects, offers the reader another dimension, that of an explicit claim. Signs of this can be seen in the violent attack on The Spectator at the end of Chapter V, which stigmatizes the magazine’s disdain for novels written by women, or in the description of the self-serving and unseemly way in which the heroine, Catherine Morland, is treated by General Tilney. However, Austen’s readers are primarily interested in the pleasure of her lively and alert style; the way her heroines aspire to marriage is more conservative than feminist in their eyes.

Some critics, like Misty G. Anderson, go so far as to think that Mansfield Park is a precursor of the lesbian novel, in view of “the remarkable way in which Mary and Fanny are attracted to each other”. But if women are indeed the central characters of Jane Austen’s novels, it is probably useless to look for a concept that only entered the vocabulary in 1851, with the introduction of the word feminism in the Oxford English Dictionary, and even later in the common language, where the word feminist only appears in the years 1880-1890.

On the other hand, it is these heroines who give life to the novels by exposing their concerns, their ideas, their revolts or their feelings of injustice. They are often brilliant, finely analyze the world around them and know how to be strong. Characters like Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) or Emma Woodhouse (Emma) militate for feminism by their very presence, so much so that a true “women’s culture” has emerged from these books, through the identification of readers with these outstanding personalities.

In all of Jane Austen’s novels, there is a moral code which prescribes not to spend more than one’s income, to be kind to one’s inferiors, not to be haughty and contemptuous, and to behave honourably. These eminently recommendable qualities are well highlighted in Pride and Prejudice, or in Mansfield Park.

George Austen recommended it to his son Francis, when he embarked on the frigate HMS Perseverance on December 23, 1788 as a volunteer at the age of fourteen:

“(…) You are going so far away that you will not be able to consult me (…). Therefore, I think it is necessary, before your departure, to give you my feelings on general subjects, which I consider of the greatest importance to you.”

“You may either, by a contemptuous, obnoxious and selfish attitude, arouse disgust and aversion, or, by your affability, good humor and accommodating attitude, become an object of esteem and affection to others. (…) it shall be your duty (…) to win the goodwill of others by every honorable means at your disposal.”

“(…) Keep an accurate account of everything you receive or spend, (…) and never be persuaded to risk your money on gambling.”

This shows that George Austen was carefully concerned with the moral education of his children: the lesson was well learned by Jane.

At the beginning of the 19th century, gothic novels were very popular with the public. Ann Radcliffe, with her Mysteries of Udolpha (1794), made fashionable these dark plots involving young women confronted with mysterious characters. The story often takes place in Gothic-style castles (as in Francis Lathom’s The Midnight Bell) or “tortuous” (labyrinthine) abbeys, such as Ann Radcliffe’s The Forest or St. Clair Abbey (1791).

This dramatized approach, as unrealistic as possible, is far from the natural style of Jane Austen, who only makes a parodic incursion into Northanger Abbey: the old abbey inhabited by the Tilney family takes on the appearance of a gloomy mansion in the eyes of the young Catherine Morland. Her friend Henry Tilney mocks her fears with a certain excitement: “Will not your mind misgive you when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber – too lofty and extensive for you, with only the feeble rays of a single lamp to take in its size (…)? (“Your mind will not misgive you when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber – too lofty and extensive for you, with only the feeble rays of a single lamp to take in its size (…)?”).

Jane Austen makes a masterful demonstration that she could have written a Gothic novel every bit as terrifying as those of Ann Radcliffe, Matthew “Monk” Lewis, or Francis Lathom, but her point is to emphasize how much the young Catherine Morland loves to scare herself: when a mysterious manuscript turns out to be nothing more than a forgotten laundry note, she goes on, against all odds, to track down the dramas that the abbey could not fail to harbor.

On several occasions, Jane Austen’s heroes stand up for the novels. Such is the case in Northanger Abbey, through the voices of Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. In the long and often commented upon development at the end of Chapter V, Jane Austen engages in an apology for the novel in terms comparable to those later employed by Margaret Oliphant.

The novels know then a great vogue, in particular with the women whose education progressed considerably during the XVIIIth century and who contribute themselves to this success. It is estimated that between 1692 and the end of the eighteenth century, the majority of novels are written by female authors. By advocating for the novel, Jane Austen also defends female novelists, all the more necessary as some of them do not hesitate to depreciate this literary genre: thus Maria Edgeworth, when she presents her novel Belinda, refuses to call it a “novel”, and instead calls it a “moral tale”, declaring:

For the novel, in its time, did not have the aura of poetry, a noble genre par excellence. Thus, the essayist and historian Margaret Oliphant remarks in 1882 that if the British culture celebrates the men to be at the origin of the “flood of noble poetry at the turn of the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, it neglects the sudden development of purely feminine genius at the same great era”.

The male culture, represented at the end of the 17th century by writers such as Swift or Pope, however, did not look kindly on the intrusion of female wits into literature. An easy play on words allowed, in certain conservative circles, to sully these authors by equating “published women” with “public women”, i.e. prostitutes (female publication = public woman).

Jane Austen is often a champion of the English countryside and its beauty. In addition to her own sensibility, we can probably see in this the memory of William Cowper, whose works are in the family library.

Chapter 9 of Sense and Sensibility, for example, richly describes the beauty of Devon, around Barton Cottage, which encourages walking: “The whole country about them abounded in beautiful walks.

The charm of the English countryside is also evoked during the long autumn walk to Winthrop that Anne Elliot and her family take in Persuasion: ‘(…) Her pleasure in the walk must arise (…) from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges’.

Pride and Prejudice, finally, highlights at length the sumptuous castle and the immense park of Pemberley, a park which holds all the interest of Mrs Gardiner at the end of her long letter to Elizabeth Bennet.

Even if this aspect does not appear much in her novels, Jane Austen lives in an era torn by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The consequences are felt even within her family, since the first husband of her cousin Eliza Hancock, Jean-François de Feuillide, is guillotined in February 1794.

His two brothers Francis and Charles served in the Royal Navy during the wars against France. They both became admirals. War allowed officers, at the risk of their lives, to rise quickly in rank and also to amass a fortune thanks to their shares of the prize money. One finds the echo of these concerns in the patriotic accents, launched to the glory of the Royal Navy, which conclude Persuasion :

As evidenced by her History of England, Jane Austen was of a conservative mindset. Since her adolescence her sympathies have been with the Tory party, so she is far from adhering to the revolutionary ideal. But she is also convinced that profound changes are necessary and proclaims it in some passages of Mansfield Park where we see Fanny Price taking the measure of the reforms of the organization of the large estates. Some critics, such as Alistair Duckworth or Marilyn Butler, have noted in her work accents reminiscent of Burke, with both an opposition to the French Revolution and a concern to reform landed property and social institutions in a radical way. For Jane Austen, these reforms are more about the collective good than the individual interest.

Reviewer’s home

Published anonymously, Jane Austen’s works did not earn her much fame. They were soon in fashion among the elite, for example with Princess Charlotte Augusta, daughter of the Prince Regent, the future George IV, but they received only a few favourable reviews, most of which were short and superficial. Cautious, these critics are content to emphasize the moral aspect of Jane Austen’s novels. Some reactions are more perceptive: for example, the anonymous novelist Sir Walter Scott’s leaf defends the cause of the novel as a genre and praises Jane Austen’s realism. Similarly, Richard Whately, in 1821, compared Jane Austen to Homer and Shakespeare, emphasizing the dramatic qualities of her narrative style. Walter Scott and Whately thus set the tone for Austenian criticism until the end of the 19th century.

However, Jane Austen’s novels do not fit the British criteria of Romantic literature (represented rather by Charlotte and Emily Brontë), and the Victorian era, according to which “a powerful emotion must be authenticated by an insignificant manifestation of color and sound in the writing,” British critics of the nineteenth century generally prefer the works of Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray and George Eliot. Although Jane Austen was republished in Britain from the 1830s onwards and continued to sell, she was not among the public’s favorite authors.

But she remained appreciated by the literary elite, who saw this interest as proof of their own good taste. George Henry Lewes, himself an influential writer and critic, expressed his admiration in a series of enthusiastic articles published in the 1840s and 1850s. He considered her “the greatest artist who ever wrote,” a “Shakespeare in prose. This idea continued in the second half of the 19th century with the novelist Henry James, who referred to Jane Austen several times, once even comparing her to Cervantes and Henry Fielding for what he called their “fine painters of life.

Dissenting voices are also heard, such as that of Charlotte Brontë, who finds it too limited, or that of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning too, who, while undertaking her Aurora Leigh, writes of Jane:

These two passionate women could not be satisfied with “a small piece of chiseled ivory”.

In 1869, the publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen by the novelist’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, brought the portrait of a “dear Aunt Jane,” a spinster of great respectability, to a wider audience. This led to a revival of interest in the work, and the first popular editions were available in 1883, soon followed by illustrated versions and collections. Leslie Stephen, Virginia Woolf’s father, a writer and critic, described the public craze of the 1880s as “Austenolatry. In the early 1900s, some members of the literary elite, who defined themselves as Janeites, reacted against this fervor: according to them, the people could not understand the deep meaning of the work to which only they had access. Thus, Henry James speaks of “a beguiled infatuation” that exceeds the intrinsic scope and interest of its object.

In any case, during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, British critics gave Jane Austen a lot of attention. After the publication of the Nephew’s “Memoirs”, her work attracted more attention in two years than in the previous fifty years.

The fame of the novelist in the French-speaking world is later. The first French critic to pay attention to her was Philarète Chasles (1837-1873), who completely disparaged her as a writer, devoting only two sentences to her in an 1842 essay on the influence of Sir Walter Scott, calling her a dull writer and an imitator who wrote nothing of substance. Apart from Chasles, Jane Austen was almost totally ignored in France until 1878, when the French critic Léon Boucher published his essay Le Roman classique en Angleterre, in which he called Jane Austen a genius: the first time this epithet was used in France to describe Jane Austen.

Two sets of works paved the road to academic recognition for Jane Austen’s work. The first milestone was a 1911 essay by a Shakespeare scholar, Andrew Cecil Bradley of Oxford University, and “generally regarded as the starting point for serious academic research.” Bradley categorized Jane Austen’s novels into “early” and “late”, a methodology still used today. Meanwhile, in France, the first academic work devoted to the novelist was Jane Austen by Paul and Kate Rague, published in 1914, with the support of Emile Legouis and André Koszul, professors at the Faculty of Letters in Paris, in which the authors tried to demonstrate that Jane Austen deserved to be taken seriously by critics and the French readership. In the same year, Léonie Villard defended her doctoral thesis at the University of Lyon, which was later published under the title: Jane Austen, Sa Vie et Ses Œuvres. These two simultaneous works mark the beginning of French academic studies devoted to the novelist.

The second milestone was the complete edition by R. W. Chapman in 1923, the first scholarly edition, and also the first of its kind devoted to an English novelist, so that Chapman serves as a reference for all subsequent editions. Following this came Mary Lascelles’ Jane Austen and Her Art in 1939, which gave Austenian scholarship its due. This groundbreaking study includes an analysis of the novelist’s readings and the impact they may have had on her work, as well as an in-depth examination of her style and “narrative art.

The 1940s saw a re-evaluation of her work, which was approached by scholars from new angles, for example that of subversion. D. W. Harding, in an essay that opened up a new line of thought, presents her as a satirist “more astringent than delicate”, a social critic seeking “unobtrusive spiritual survival” through her works. Finally, the value judgments of F. R. Leavis and Ian Watt, who place Jane Austen among the greatest writers of English-language fiction, definitively ensure the novelist’s pre-eminence among scholars. All agree that “she combines the qualities of interiority and irony, realism and satire of Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson, and proves superior to both. After the Second World War, other studies were conducted, drawing on various critical approaches, for example feminism, or, perhaps more questionably, post-colonialism.

This post-colonial reading has focused on Mansfield Park, following Edward Said’s analysis in his 1994 essay, Jane Austen and Empire, which focuses on the role played by Sir Thomas’s estates in the West Indies. On this account, he is seen as a planter living off slavery (although other critics argue that Mansfield Park and its lands are sufficient to provide him with the bulk of his income). Therefore, Jane Austen’s silence on this subject would indicate an awareness of the shameful nature of this exploitation. This is a hypothesis that can be corroborated by a very short exchange between Fanny and Edmund:

“Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night? – I did – and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of further. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of further.”

In any case, the gap continues to widen between the popular infatuation, especially among Janeites (the unconditional admirers of Jane Austen), based on the immediate charm of the work, and the austere academic analyses that continue to explore new avenues with varying success.

Posterity of the work

Soon novelists who were contemporaries of Jane Austen but lived longer were inspired by her work. Susan Ferrier (1782-1854), a Scottish novelist, explored comic themes, but lacked Jane’s “thrifty and intelligent urbanity. The same is true of John Craft (1779-1839), also from Scotland, whose writing style is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s because it is “theoretical histories limited necessarily to the events of a circumscribed locality”.

But it is from the 20th century onwards that we see works inspired by Jane Austen flourish, first the novels of Georgette Heyer and then, with the advent of cinema and especially television, a whole paraliterary industry of rewritings, sequels, and even transpositions of very variable quality, some of which are gradually being translated into French.

Jane Austen is the narrator of the video game Saints Row IV. She also makes a brief appearance at the end of the video game. Both the protagonist and the antagonist of the story seem to have a certain admiration for her.

Since the release of a new bill on September 14, 2017, a portrait of Jane Austen has appeared on the 10-pound notes in place of Charles Darwin. The novelist is, apart from the queen, the only woman to appear on a British note. A quote from Pride and Prejudice accompanies her portrait: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! The chosen quotation raises some criticism, as the sentence is placed in the mouth of Caroline Bingley, a hypocritical character who obviously does not mean what she says.

Key events in Jane Austen’s life and work (including some major events in English history at the time):

External links

Sources

  1. Jane Austen
  2. Jane Austen
  3. Irene Collins estime que, lorsque George Austen prend ses fonctions de recteur en 1764, Steventon ne compte pas plus de trente familles[25]
  4. Deirdre Le Faye et Irene Collins ajoutent que les Austen suivent cette coutume pour tous leurs enfants.
  5. Irene Collins pense que « Jane Austen utilise quelques-uns des manuels dont s’étaient servi les garçons sous le préceptorat de son père[42] ».
  6. Pour les conventions sociales de la gentry en général, voir Irene Collins 1994, p. 105.
  7. « Mon cher Dr Johnson », dit de lui Jane Austen (cité par Lord David Cecil[150]).
  8. Tenenbaum, Tamara (8 de marzo de 2018). «20 escritoras que tenemos que seguir leyendo». Infobae.com.
  9. http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/austen/religion2.html
  10. Opiniões de Jane Austen sobre as infidelidades do príncipe e sua esposa [1]
  11. Biography of Jane Austen (1818), escrita por seu irmão Henry Austen. John Murray. Londres. Reimpressa em 1833.
  12. The Rise of the Novel, Ian Watt
  13. Jane Austen, Meenakshi Mukherjee, na coleção Women Writers, Macmillan education LTD, 1991
  14. Elsemarie Maletzke: Jane Austen, S. 161.
  15. Elsemarie Maletzke: Jane Austen, S. 281, 294 f.
  16. ddp (Deutscher Depeschendienst): Hoher Erlös für ein Frühwerk von Jane Austen. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Nr. 165. Zürich 18. Juli 2011, S. 34.
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