“But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short”
– Jane Austen
Short Biography: Born in 1775, Jane Austen was a romantic fiction novelist who remains one of the most well-loved authors in English culture. Information on Austen is fairly limited, and the biographical facts that are known stem from letters she shared with her sister, whom she was close to all her life and lived with until her death in 1817. Educated by the men in her family, Austen’s love of reading led her to write 4 novels published in her lifetime – ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1811), ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1813), ‘Mansfield Park’ (1814), and ‘Emma’ (1816), and 2 more novels published posthumously – ‘Northanger Abbey’ (1818), and ‘Persuasion’ (1818). Although Austen wasn’t particularly famous whilst alive, she was generally known for her witty and often sarcastic social commentary (ex. In ‘Mansfield Park’ she subtly criticises slavery – a very contentious issue at the time). It wasn’t until the 1940’s, over a century later, that the academic community began to recognise her as a great English writer, using her work to assess the mood amongst society at the time and the swing towards female independence and the value of women and their opinions her books illustrated.
What We Say:
Love. Marriage. Sisterhood. Society. Scandal. Vanity. Pride. Happy Endings. No matter what your feelings on her writing, Jane Austen covered all of these things and more in her six completed novels.
Escaping an adaptation on film, radio or TV of her work is nigh on impossible when they’re so respected, admired, and avidly sought after. Whether this is the 1995 film version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ starring Hugh Grant as the affable Edward in love with a much younger Emma Thompson (playing Elinor Dashwood) and Alan Rickman as the dubious Colonel Brandon with Kate Winslet as his passionate and foolish Marianne, the 2005 film adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with Keira Knightley’s brooding and fiery Elizabeth Bennet, or the 2007 TV remaking of ‘Mansfield Park’ with Billie Piper as the innocent Fanny Price. Put simply – the Brits are proud of this part of their heritage, and eager to celebrate it.
So why can’t we get enough of Austen? What is it about her writing that has travelled intact for nearly two centuries?
Well, ultimately, even if just taken on surface-value her plots and characters are funny – just look at the hysterical Mother in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or the creepy Mr Collins. On basic terms Austen takes what is amusing in the world around us and points a finger to make us laugh at it. And everyone enjoys a good old love story right? In Austen there isn’t any sad endings, people fall in love, overcome obstacles such as money and status to be together and live happily ever after. Even though life isn’t like that, Austen leads you into a world where anything is possible and you always come out smiling. Lastly, more for women than for men, Austen offers the reader heroines that have passion, heroines that are witty, and heroines that, basically, would do well in any century they were brought to – particularly the 21st one.