Jane Austen

Jane Austen, by her sister Cassandra

Jane Austen, 1780-1814: English novelist and (according to the New York Times) the “posthumous queen of genteel cinema”. Hugely successful in her own time and popular to this day, Jane Austen wrote captivating novels about the lives, loves, pretensions and aspirations of genteel society in Regency England. She likened her style to painting literary miniatures on ‘a little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory’. Her six novels are noted for the great delicacy, humour, refinement – and at times biting satire: in her work the foolish, the selfish and the shallow invariably meet with the ruin, disgrace or obscurity they deserve. Her portrait (a heartfelt if naïve miniature by her sister Cassandra) shows a good-humoured, doughty, resourceful-looking character… no beauty. The Prince Regent admired Emma, or at least acknowledged safe receipt of the presentation copy. His secretary, James Stanier Clark, wrote to Austen suggesting an idea for her next book: “any historical romance illustrative of the august House of Cobourg would just now be very interesting.” Readers have sought comfort and amusement from Jane Austen’s work in the bizarrest places. When searching for flora on the upper slopes of Mount Everest , the nineteenth century botanist Reginald Farrer sent his servant, Ma-Fu, down to base camp, several thousand feet away, to fetch up a copy of Northanger Abbey. Ma-Fu, who couldn’t read, trundled back up with Emma, whereupon Farrer might well have found solace in the view held by some that all Austen’s plots and characters are pretty much interchangeable. Walter Scott admired her: “[Miss Austen] had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I have ever met with. The Big Bow-Wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s