What did Jane Austen look for in a novel?
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.