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What did Jane Austen look for in a novel?

November 2, 2012

There are those who don’t get Jane Austen. Some think her novels are silly romances while others think that she writes stories about the well-to-do who, they feel, aren’t relevant or worthy subjects.

Nothing, really, could be further from the truth. Her novels may be romantic but they are more than simple romances. Jane Austen loved to satirise human foibles (as she did Mr Collins’ pomposity in Pride and prejudice). She cared deeply about the lot of women who had little financial support (such as Jane Fairfax in Emma). With the exception of Emma, in fact, her heroines are not rich, and some are in quite precarious financial situations. However, she wanted them to be able to choose partners they love and respect (as Elizabeth Bennet does in Pride and prejudice) … though she knew that this wasn’t easy or straightforward in Regency times.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the author herself – in a letter to her niece Fanny – written only months before she died:

He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.

What better manifesto or clearer indication of her novelistic imperative could she have left for us? Life and people weren’t perfect, and nor would her novels be.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2012 2:21 am

    I know that one day I will reread all of Jane Austen’s work with a different heart. Made to write essays and join discussions at school, I think we failed to understand her wit and perception and the lot of women.

    Perhaps it’s time to change!

    • November 3, 2012 8:35 am

      It sure is Catherine … Because she is pretty wicked if you read what she says rather than just follow the plot! When you do find time tell me if you think I’m wrong!

  2. November 3, 2012 3:40 am

    What a wonderful snip from Jane! I think that’s one reason we like her books so much, her characters are so much like people we know!

    • November 3, 2012 8:36 am

      Absolutely, Stefanie … And there are gems in the letters amongst all the visiting and fashion discussions!

  3. November 3, 2012 4:04 am

    I think Jane Austen and I would get along just fine. Reality is not perfect; it is our imperfections that make us real. And life fascinating!

  4. November 3, 2012 6:53 am

    I’ve loved Jane Austen novels ever since I was a teenager and used to take turns reading out passages with my sister. Our English teacher had a wicked sense of humour and always encouraged us to look at this side of the stories.

    The only time when, perhaps, the humour threatened to go too far and become cruel was in the portrayal of Miss Bates, which is hilariously accurate, but of someone whose faults were ignorance and limited intelligence, rather than moral failing or despicable character. Austen gets away with it by having Emma criticised by Mr Knightley, but I reckon she secretly was closer to Emma’s opinion. Nothing saintly about Jane.

    • November 3, 2012 9:15 am

      You’re right Elizabeth … She was probably enjoying it while realising it was wrong too! She said of writing Emma that she was a heroine whom “no one but myself would much like”. I might have paraphrased that a bit, but that’s pretty much what she said.

  5. November 3, 2012 2:31 pm

    I like your opening statement that there are people who don’t get Jane Austen. It’s true. Even Charlotte Bronte didn’t get her and a lot of the ‘Oh Mr Darcy’ romantic spin-offs don’t get that she was a satirist either. I do like your Jane Austen posts.

    • November 3, 2012 11:56 pm

      Thanks, Nicola … As for Charlotte Bronte her inability to understand Austen lessens her in my eyes, somewhat. Jane Eyre is a good book but no better than Austen!

  6. November 4, 2012 7:03 am

    I need to get austen at some point til now she has eluded me ,all the best stu

    • November 4, 2012 8:10 am

      And you call yourself an Englishman! Just joking Stu … So much to read, I know.

  7. November 5, 2012 4:07 pm

    I get Jane Austen and love her books, have always done so. though I haven’t reread any of them years. However, I did read a really quirky sequel to Pride And Prejudice the other day. It was by Joan Aiken, who is one of my all time favourite writers, and was called ‘Lady Catherine’s Necklace’. It is set at Rosings and Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a main character along with her daughter Anne. It was great fun to read with its outrageous plot and eccentric characters, more Joan Aiken than Jane Austen I must admit..

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