A is for Austen

Jane Austen
1775 - 1817

Can a book written in the 19th century find admirers in the 21st?... two hundred years later? Sure, if Austen is anything to go by. And so I let Jane Austen kick off my A to Z challenge. It was a tough choice from among greats like Ayn Rand, Aldous Huxley and more recently the controversial yet highly enjoyable Amy Chua. But when I let my heart choose it has to be her.

Isn't it unbelievable that she was first published in 1811 and we're still reading her and enjoying her novels?

The beginning

Jane came from a large family of six brothers and two sisters. She was born at Steventon, a small village in North Hampshire England. Apart from a few years at Oxford when Jane was just 8, she spent all her life within the circle of her family. Even before she hit her teens she was writing short plays and stories. At about 14 years (1789) she had made up her mind to become a professional writer. However her first novel, Sense and Sensibility (earlier known as Elinor and Marianne), went into print some 12 years later, in 1811. 
Her other works include, Pride and Prejudice (earlier titled First Impressions), Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
Like regular women of her times and like her heroines as well, Jane could play the fortepiano (an early version of the present day piano), was a decent enough seamstress and could dance pretty well too.

Jane, the romantic

Strangely enough for someone whose romances are so popular Jane never married. She did have one not-quite-proper romance with Tom Lefroy a law student. However they were both penniless and his family had him sent away. They never saw each other again.
She received a proposal of marriage too, the only known proposal. Though she accepted it, she later withdrew her acceptance. The reason is not known. However later in a letter to her niece who had asked for advice on a relationship, Jane told her not to commit as "... Anything is preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection", she cautioned. 
Sounds so much like Lizzie from Pride and Prejudice.

Finally..here is why

I love Austen

.. for her wit

It’s not the laugh out loud kind of thing. It’s way more subtle and unexpected. It’s an ironical kind of wit that makes you smile sentence after sentence.
Check out these gems.. 
Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure
Or Mr Darcy's 
I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.

..for her heroins

They follow their heart. They're strong and passionate yet gentle and sensitive. I wonder how that went down with the gentry two hundred years ago but it sure sits well with women of the 21st century.

.. for her plots that always end happily

I've always maintained I'm a sucker for happy endings. I love that ‘All is well’ feeling by the time her books wrap up.

.. because her books are still relevant

I can certainly vouch for India in this regard. How becoming an old maid is considered such a horror (Maybe not by the woman herself, quite like Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice, but by her family, her relatives, her neighbours and her neighbour’s neighbours). Not for nothing is she Helen Fielding’s (of Bridget Jones fame) favourite who famously said.. “Jane Austen’s plots are very good and have been market researched over a number of centuries, so I simply decided to steal one of them. I thought she wouldn’t mind and anyway she’s dead.” In a sense Austen in the mother of all modern day chick-lit. (Yikes I hate that term, so! Makes women sound like hens).

On the other side are her critics who maintain..

...her novels lack 'passion'.

Well she did skim over that bit but then I'm sure she never intended to write sexy books. (She would probably be reaching out for her smelling salts hearing that Fifty Shades was inspired by her Pride and Prejudice). 

... she suffered from a narrow vision 

because she only drew upon the small society she lived in for inspiration. Yet, how well she did it! And that her heroines could think beyond what was expected of them, speaks of her broad mindedness.

So which side are you on?


This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014, for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

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