27 November, 2007
Jane Austen - Then and Today
Jane Austen Then
Miss Jane Austen was born December 16, 1775 in England to a clergyman, Rev. George Austen, and his wife, Cassandra Leigh. A revolutionary authoress, Jane Austen, wrote a series of comic/novels that sparked a change in her own world and impacting us even today, a hundred years later. The seventh of eight children, she was impetuous and full of life. When she was 12 she started writing short juvenilia. At 21, she commenced writing that endearing story, Sense and Sensibility, of three sisters: Elinor, Marianne and Margaret Dashwood. (Austen Leigh,pp. 10) (Pemberly, Her Childhood)
The stories continued to flow from her very being. Her novels became composites of her own life and dreams. For instance, her alleged romance with a Tom LeFroy inspired her various heroes and cads: the proud Mr. Darcy, the wily George Wickham, the charming cad Willoughby and the reserved Col Brandon. Her brief affair with Tom LeFroy was a speculated one, for no one knows to the extent she took the romance. Tom LeFroy wanted to marry her, but his family didn't approve, because she
was a poor young lady. So, he soon stepped out of her life, and went on to be Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.(Smith,paragraph 9)
Austen's mother (while she herself married for love) inspired the character of Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice as she strongly desired that Jane and her sister, Cassandra, marry wealthy men. (Pemberley)
A true romantic, the core of Jane's stories always carried the theme of her characters having trouble and tribulation, and having an unpredictable ending! (Pemberley)
She wrote stories that pictured the central female character who was independent-minded and witty, yet who still needed her man. Her writings reflected her own ideal woman. (Pemberly)
The culture of the time she lived in, is expressed in the following paragraph:
Edith Lank says, “Remember that it was a fairly small and constricted world Jane Austen lived in: England's population was less, and further limited by the fact that she's writing about only one class, the lower gentry. Transportation was also limited, and the people she writes about go to the same places for the most part,
and the men attend the same university. It's likely that people ran into acquaintances of acquaintances all the time. (Lank)
She is known to be one of the many publicly well known woman who didn't use a male pseudonym.(Kaplan) Before h er time, female authors wrote with male pen names to avoid notoriety and persecution.
For example, the Bronte Sisters went by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The
pseudonyms of the Bronte sisters were not known until after the deaths of her
two older sisters, when Charlotte made it known it was her sisters who wrote the books. Louisa May Alcott wrote some of her thrillers under a male pen name. (Andrew J.)
There is Mary Ann Evans who wrote her vastly popular books under a masculine penname of George Eliot. (Amrevus)
“Emily Bronte (1818-1848) used a male pseudonym Ellis Bell for her first publication- a work of poetry authored jointly with her sisters Charlotte and Anne. Her sisters used the pseudonyms "Currer Bell" and "Acton Bell" for that occasion. Her novel Wuthering Heights appeared in 1847 and her sisters' first novels, Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Anne's Agnes Grey, were published in the same year. Emily Bronte died, at the age of 30, in 1848.” (Brock)
Secondarily, she is noted for her lively, witty romantic themes that were on the brink of the Romantic Era on the waining heals of the Enlightenment. (Julie, Enlightenment) Her stories departed from the Gothic romantic style of writing.
M.H. Abrams says, "The Gothic novel, or "Gothic romance" . . . flourished through the early nineteenth century. Authors of such novels set their stories in the medieval period, often in a gloomy castle replete with dungeons, subterranean passages, and sliding panels, and made plentiful use of ghosts, mysterious disappearances, and other sensational and supernatural occurrences; their principal aim was to evoke chilling terror by exploiting mystery, cruelty, and a variety of horrors. The term"gothic" has also been extended to denote a
type of fiction which lacks the medieval setting but develops a brooding atmosphere of gloom or terror, represents events which are uncanny, or macabre, or melodramatically violent, and often deals with aberrant psychological states. (adapted from A Glossary of Literary Terms)(Abrams)
Authors like Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, were Gothic writers. Dark and foreboding, they spoke of the ghosts, romance, and many sinister things.
Miss Austen was considered a radical for writing things that were not publicly expressed or were considered a disgrace to talk about openly. Such things affairs, intrigues, seductions, and other scandalous topics that were not proper for a lady to discuss.
“Austen’s talents, uniquely suited to her subject, her realm and sense of comedic in human nature reveals her techneques. Judged as superb in delineation of character, control the point of view, and ironic tone. Although she chose as her subject the people she knew best, she illuminated in their characters the follies and failings of men and women of all times and classes.”(Bomarito)
Her stories, written with satire, light humor, and wit, spoke of a woman being content with who she was yet was fully aware she desired a man to provide her with comfort and companionship.
Jane Austen saw four out of her six books published before she died July 18th, 1817 at 41 years of age. Some speculate that she died of a broken heart. Others suggest that it was Addison’s Disease or breast cancer. Her nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh, attended the funeral in the place of his father who was ill. He later wrote of his Aunt Jane's life, from the recollections from his Aunt Cassandra. (Pemberly)
Because Jane Austen departed from the accepted norm for women and all writers in her day, others have had courage to follow in her footsteps. She set the cornerstone for many female writers to write using their own name and their own style. Oddly enough, some men who write nowadays use a female alias. Though women still write with using a pen name, it is more likely because they like the sound of the name better than their own. (Amrevis)
We have Jane Austen to thank for bringing us out of the dark, sinister Gothic
(De Vore) writing style to a more witty, fun even sassy style that is still relished by readers to this day. Her easy writing style seems to pull you into the pages of the story to live in Jane's world.
And last but not least, Jane became a forerunner for all women authors. Her example gave women courage to take their place in a traditionally man's world with both humility and success.(Amrevis)
People today, women mostly, adore Austen's works. Not only do they speak to the romantic heart of their lives, they also desire to have a Mr. Darcy, a Mr. Knightley, Mr. Bertram, etc. These strong men, were always the subject of the conversations that were held with all Austen fans. We search for men like that nowadays! Her influence in our lives has caused us to set a higher standard within ourselves, and in the people with whom we come in contact.
Abrams, M.H. "Gothic, Novel and Romance: Brief Definitions
Andrew J. "Tomorrow" " 22.214.171.124) on January 24, 2005
Amrevus "The Rise of Female Authors" September 21, 2007
Austen Leigh, J. E. Memoir of Jane Austen, and other Recollections
Oxford New York, Oxford University Press, 2002
"Austen, Jane (1775 - 1817): Introduction." Gothic Literature. Ed. Jessica Bomarito. Gale Group, Inc., 2006. eNotes.com. 2006. 25 Nov, 2007 http://www.enotes.com/gothic-literature/austen-jane
De Vore, David “The Gothic Novel”
Julie and Marie “Enlightenment and the Romantic Period” 1999
Lank, Edith "Coincidences"
Ray, Joan Klingel “The Truth About Jane and Tom LeFroy”
Reviewed by Deborah Kaplan