Jane Austen started writing by the time she was 13; biting irony, along with her realism, humor, and social commentary; which earned her acclaim among critics, scholars, and popular audiences. She was born in 1775 in England, and died at the young age of 41 years old. Her major works were composed during the first decade of the 1800s. Austen’s works were published anonymously since women were not recognized authors at that time. Same situation happened to Mary Shelley writing, “Frankenstein.” This brought her little personal renown at that time, but her works of art and legacy carry on.
Jane Austen had six brothers and one sister. She was particularly close to her sister Cassandra, mirroring the relationship between Jane and Elizabeth in her novel “Pride and Prejudice.” Her letters to Cassandra are available for review on the Internet and at the Jane Austen Museum located in Bath, England. There are very few letters that survived and the biographical notes her family members wrote. Jane was noted to write as many 3,000 letters, but 161 survived.
Why do people love her novels? How could she become so poignant with feelings in her writings? Her writing was timeless. Times have changed but human nature has not. Austen creates believable, flawed characters who are easy to relate to and she puts them in difficult situations. Her characters show us how to learn and grow from the experiences written in the novels. The underlying theme in all of her six novels shows how humans want to love and be loved; but each novel shares a particular euphemism and wisdom to life:
“Emma”: In Austen’s time, social status was determined by a combination of family background, reputation, and wealth — marriage was one of the main ways in which one could raise one’s social status. This method of social advancement was especially crucial to women, who were denied the possibility of improving their status through hard work or personal achievement. Shows us how to learn to listen and pay attention to everyday matters. The most important things in our lives are the little moments — the conversations, the shared laughter, friendships, and confidences.
“Northanger Abbey”: Teaches us how to keep a sense of wonder alive. Life is an adventure. Be curious. The young heroine, Catherine, is learning about herself, her world, and the people she wants in it. She realizes that she needs to learn to be open to change and growth. If she doesn’t, she will assume things based on what she has been taught rather than what really is in front of her eyes.
“Pride and Prejudice”: Depicts a society in which a woman’s reputation is of the utmost importance. A woman is expected to behave in certain ways. Stepping outside the social norms makes her vulnerable to ostracism. First impressions can be misleading as Elizabeth and Darcy have to find out in the novel. The characters go through moments of heartbreak and humiliation before they learn their lesson. Elizabeth has to learn that Wickham is insincere. She is prepared to admit when she is wrong and to apologize when necessary. Elizabeth shows how not to be afraid to show how one feels. Jane almost loses Bingley by being so reserved. Elizabeth almost loses Darcy because her feelings have been hurt and Darcy is fearful of showing emotion to not get hurt based on prior life experiences.
“Mansfield Park”: Like other Jane Austen novels, Mansfield Parks observes — and scathingly satirizes — the fickle hearts and courtship rituals of members of England’s genteel class as they fall in and out of love. Like so many other novels of its day, Mansfield Park organizes itself around a marriage plot, meaning that the action of the story drives toward a wedding as the plot’s culmination and fulfillment. The book’s characters talk about marriage obsessively, and as they do, they repeatedly articulate a view of marriage as, ideally, a love match. Persuasion: Be honest. Think for yourself. Unconditional friendship serves no one. Anne Elliot breaks off her engagement with Frederic Wentworth on the advice of her friend, Lady Russel, which results in years of heartache. Anne learns about the values of community and friendship, which are harder to find and hold on to as we age. But despite the characters’ professed commitment to marital love-matches, marriage in practice throughout the book serves primarily as a means for economic or social advancement, not emotional fulfillment.
“Sense and Sensibility”: The main theme in this novel is the danger of excessive sensibility. Austen is concerned with the prevalence of the “sensitive” attitude in the romantic novel which, after the 1760s, turned to emphasizing the emotional and sentimental nature of people rather than, as before, their rational endowments. If sense (reason, logic) and sensibility (emotion, passion) are considered opposite ends of a spectrum, then the spectrum must have a middle. Neither extreme, Austen suggests, is advisable. Elinor and Edward are sensible young people who, by obeying the dictates of reason, honor, and social expectation, nearly abandon their genuine affection for each other. Marianne and Willoughby, infatuated with romance and pleasure, damage their happiness (and in Willoughby’s case, other peoples’ lives) by rejecting restraint. Still other characters seem to err on the side of cold logic (Brandon) or effusive emotion (Mrs. Jennings) but gradually prove themselves to be more moderate — and therefore more successful — in dealing with life’s challenges.
Austen had none of the advancements that would go on to make a writer’s life easier, like typewriters or computers. In at least one case, her manuscript edits were accomplished using the time-consuming and prickly method of straight pins. For an unfinished novel titled “The Watsons,” Austen took the pins and used them to fasten revisions to the pages of areas that were in need of correction or rewrites. The practice dates back to the 17th century.
Many may recognize the novels to incorporate pretty young women, big houses, “pride and prejudice”, and of course the dramas in the drawing rooms. How does this character develop transfer into understanding the author herself?
Jane was born five years after the poet William Wordsworth, the year before the American Revolution began. When the French Revolution started, she was thirteen. For almost all of her life, Britain was at war. Two of her brothers were in the Navy; one joined the militia. For several years she lived in Southampton, a major naval base. It was a time of clashing armies and warring ideas, a time of censorship and state surveillance. Enclosures were remaking the landscape; European empire building was changing the world; science and technology were opening up a whole universe of new possibilities.
Two hundred years on, her work is astonishingly popular. It’s difficult to think of any other novelist who could be compared with her. Jane remains a shadowy, curiously colorless figure, one who seems to have spent the majority of her 41 years being dragged along in the wake of other people’s lives. It seems that it is in her beautifully written words in her novels that we find Jane, after all these years, after all her family’s efforts at concealment. Critics of Jane’s own generation praised her for her unparalleled ability to accurately reproduce what she saw around her.
When it comes to Jane, so many images have been danced before us, so rich, so vivid, so prettily presented. They’ve been seared onto our retinas in the sweaty darkness of a cinema, and the aftereffect remains, a shadow on top of everything we look at subsequently. Jane had to write carefully, because she was a woman and because she was living through a time when ideas both scared and excited people.
Jane wasn’t a genius — inspired, unthinking; she was an artist. She compared herself to a miniature painter; in her work every stroke of the brush, every word, every character name and every line of poetry quoted, every location, matters.