The Real Jane Austen. Dir. Nicky Patterson. BBC, 2002. Online at YouTube (ksotikoula) http://youtu.be/CbuBte4OMo4
The novel: Miss Burney, Jane Austen.
by Louis Cazamian, from A History of English Literature
Having started in the period which stretches from 1770 to 1800, the literary careers of Miss Burney, Jane Austen, and the poet Crabbe continued well into the decisive years of the Romantic era. But their work, if judged by its essential features, shows the stamp of the years preceding this age. To the characteristic traits of the new literature which, we have seen, were in evidence long before 1800, the reaction of these writers is hostility or reserve. Their artistic impulses swing back to motives, themes, and forms which make them much rather the heirs of the classical tradition in its essence; and their temperaments, to the very end, bear the deep mark of that early choice. Their mental outlook remains that of the close of the eighteenth century.
Of the three, Miss Burney (1) is the least remote from the first flourish of sentimentalism in England; she remains more than half a sentimentalist herself. Richardson she hails as a master; in Evelina she takes from him the idea of a novel in letters, a tone of conscious moralizing, the study of virtue among women as a subject for a plot—a study which remains with her discreet and unobtrusive; and the setting up of a strong contrast between the good and the wicked. From the atmosphere of her own day she acquires the habit of the ever-ready tear, and the lavish display of feeling. But if such traits tend to stamp her as one of a school of writers, she has others which single out her talent as one of the most original. The spontaneous vivacity of her verve, the fresh new touch she brings to all her observation of customs and manners, and behind her brilliant gift that clear judgment, readily ironical, of a young person in full control of herself, all make her an exponent of satire and realism, in which her innermost nature seems to have dwelt and had its being.
Fashionable society has always delighted in its own reflected image; but never before had it seen itself through the eyes of a young girl of so arch a temperament and so shrewd a nature, who could penetrate from the feminine point of view the weak points of drawing-room life, and in the most delightful manner reverse the picture of it painted by writers of the opposite sex; yet who was able at the same time to flatter the taste of her readers by showing a sincere respect for rank and worldly conventions. There is, to use a phrase not yet then in vogue, a certain snobbery in her work; but it is a quality which enables her more readily to seize in its very essence the superficial, brilliant, and frivolous life she describes; and her description is pleasing, because she has the gift of a witty and animated style. She often shows up the little whims of people with no excess of indulgence; and in some of the figures she has drawn with a rather too pronounced touch of comedy we are reminded of Smollett. In other cases, we think of Fielding, or even of Sterne. The author of Evelina had a precocious and assimilative talent. But Miss Burney does retain a personality, a charm peculiarly her own, a gift of greater precision in her pen pictures of society than any one before her; a rendering of conversation more light, more rapid, and more true. Never before has the real atmosphere of social gatherings and pleasure haunts, with all their gossip, nor the feverish excitement of those momentous days which open with the heroine's entry into society and close with her marriage, been described so successfully. Here is a picture of the aristocracy of the time with its sense of refinement in contrast to its relative lack of delicacy; it must be admitted that Miss Burney herself sometimes shows as slightly blunt taste in the way she upbraids the vulgarity of the middle classes. And this first tentative revelation of the feminine self in the novel, if we leave aside the bold freedom of a Mrs. Behn or a Mrs. Manley, does not conceal that inner ardour of imagination which will often develop in a life whose interests are all bound up in love.
And still, what predominates is common sense, coloured to some extent by the spirit of dry calculation. The term 'Romantic' is hardly ever used except ironically. The pictures of happiness held out are such as a social world will allow in which wealth, birth, and health are yet the almost indispensable conditions of any success. The second novel of Miss Burney, Cecilia, with greater care in the writing, has less of the liveliness of the first; it is yet more closely obedient to the fashions in vogue, whether literary or intellectual. The Memoirs of Madame d'Arblay shows us a woman of sufficient talent and feeling to take in the various interests and picturesque aspects of the social life which surrounds her, and whose image she has preserved, but entirely unable to rise above them.
Those traits reappear in the work of Jane Austen (2) but further developed and chiefly much refined. By virtue of a stronger personality and a keener sense of delicacy in art, she is a writer of the first rank.
Miss Burney had connected the whole fate of her characters with the central crisis in the life of woman, when the possibility of marriage lies directly in her path, and thus had created what may be termed the domestic novel (3). In the hands of Jane Austen the subject is thoroughly sifted, and more strictly reduced to essentials; all the worldliness over which the authoress of Evelina loves to linger is unknown to her or is omitted, because the circle of her experience is more narrow, or indeed purely intimate. Her novels rarely treat of anything save the restricted circle of home life, and all social interests are gathered round it. The atmosphere is one of provincial calm with a very limited outlook, where the extremes of wealth and poverty are unknown. In this little world of country gentry, clergymen, and middle-class people, social intercourse is smooth and simple; few are the incidents which could be called dramatic, so that an observer's attention may concentrate on shades of character. The realism of Jane Austen is more truly psychological than that of Richardson, for it is free from the tragic obsessions of moral conscience. With its greater freedom, it acquires a greater purity. There is an extraordinary degree of truth in the picture it paints of reality—of a group of human beings, their relations one with another, their clashes and affinities, their mutual influences, their conversations.
And this gift is explained by the immediate intuition she brings to her study of character, an intuition so natural and supple that it appears absolutely simple. Her clear-sighted eyes read through the inner minds of those who leve around her, or of the beings whom she invents and animates, just as if those minds were transparent. She seizes them in their depths, although at first we do not get this impression, nor does she claim to give it. Only by a slight tremor in her style, whose even course is like that of some transparent stream, are we made aware of the tension, the nervous vigour, the effort put forth by her thought to comprehend and surmount the unseen obstacles that bar its progress. And everything dissolves into light. The secret complexities of self-love, the many vanities, the imperceptible quiverings of selfishness, all that a Rochefoucauld had shown up in the strong and bitter note of straightforward denunciation, and which at a later date the pessimistic novel will dissect with such profuseness and intensity of method, is here indicated or suggested so calmly and with so sobre a touch that the author's personal reaction is reduced to a minimum. There is nothing more objective than these stories with their spirit of gentle tolerance, one might even say their naïveté, if a subtle suggestion of irony did not hover over every page, revealing a sharpness of vision that could be unmercifully severe.
The sentimentality of Miss Burney is entirely absent. Everything shows a delicacy of touch, a sense of balance, a serene reasonableness. All Jane Austen's work is transfused with the spirit of classicism in its highest form, in its most essential quality: a safe, orderly harmony among the powers of the mind, a harmony where of necessity the intellect is paramount. So classical, so delicately shaded is that method, that we are strongly reminded of the art of the great French analysts. Jane Austen writes as one who is entirely ignorant of the growing force of Romanticism, which already has spread its power around her; or rather she holds herself aloof, meeting its fascination with ironical immunity. One of her first novels, Northanger Abbey, is a most penetrating criticism of the self-deception practised by those whose souls are intoxicated with the spell of artificial fear. The morbid cult of an emotion that is too readily excited to be genuine is linked up on the one hand with literary conventions, which supply it with its resources; on the other, with a deranged condition of mind and conduct, of which it is drectly the cause; and nothing could improve on the neatness of the dissection. Her attitude towards Romanticism was to grow less critical with the progress of time. In Mansfield Park and Persuasion there is a warming of the thought, a greater tendeness of feeling, and an easier reconciliation with the tone of the epoch. She allows it to be seen here that she is not in complete agreement with the hierarchy of social order. But to the end her vision of life remains primarily clear, though not dry. The power of facts, and the material conditions of happiness, are accepted with a simplicity far removed from the slightest hint of revolt; while the moral teaching embodies a wisdom free from all illusions, the fruit of a perfectly healthy heart and mind.
That exquisite analysis is no enemy to creative power; Jane Austen's work shows us a wealth of character studies. They are not all equally good, those of women being at once more searching and more lifelike than those of men. But if she has reconstructed souls from the inside with the full and finished touch of the great masters, she has also the talent of picturesque evocation, and knows how to sketch figures with so sure and suggestive a pen that they stand out in a strong and unforgettable relief. Her power of perception is keen and fresh; she immediately grasps the individual traits, and so the odd as well, and at least potentially the comic. Her work represents in an original way the eternal comedy of life with all its whims and fancies; and as reality only awakens in her a spirit of amusement without bitterness, in which self-possession does not exclude a feeling of sympathy, just as her divination of character does not destroy the concrete sense of faces, gestures, and acts, she allows the virtual quaintness of whatever is human to grow active of itself and to tell; and she abundantly possesses the implicit eloquence of humour.
Her range of effects is wonderfully varied, extending as it does from the piquant, youthful gaiety of Pride and Prejudice, where her art is alomost perfect at the first attempt, to the mellow maturity of the last novels, in which it is perhaps less sure, less free from lengthy or weak passages, but is richer on the other hand in moral significance. But the literary personality behind it all retains throughout her work a unique charm, associated with a most sober distinction of technique and style.
(1). Frances (or more familiarly, Fanny), the second daughter of Doctor Burney, a musician of note, was born in 1753 and introduced at an early age into the fashionable society of London. Her novel, written in secret, Evelina, or a Young Lady's Entrance into the Word, 1778, had a great success; she acknowledged the authorship and in 1782 published Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress. Attached to the court as one of the queen's maids of honour from 1786 to 1791, she married in 1793 General d'Arblay, a French emigrant, and resided in Paris from 1802 to 1812. After the publication of her last two novels—Camilla, 1796; The Wanderer 1814)—she wrote a life of her father (1832), and died in 1840. Her Diary and Letters were published by her niece (1842-6), ed. by W. C. Ward, 1927. Evelina; Diary, ed. Dobson, 1904. See Dobson, Fanny Burney, 1903; M. masefield, The Story of Fanny Burney, 1927.
(2). Jane, youngest child of George Austen, a country parson, was born in Hampshire (1775), received a careful education, and led an uneventful, home-keeping life amid the quiet provincial surroundings of the south. She began to write at an early age, and three of her novels were already completed before the end of the century, but they did not appear in print until a later date. Sense and Sensibility appeared in 1811; Pride and Prejudice in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, Emma in 1816; Northanger Abbey and Persuasion after her death in 1817. A fragment of Love and Freindship [sic] was published in 1922; another in 1925. There are several cheap editions of the novels (see Everyman's Library, etc.; ed. R. W. Chapman, 1923); the Letters were published in 1884. See W. and R. A. Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen, her Life and Letters, 1913; the studies by Goldwin Smith (Great Writers), 1890; Helm, 1909; P. Fitzgerald, 1912; Cornish (English Men of Letters), 1913; Kate and Paul Rague (Jane Austen), 1914, Léonie Villard (Jane Austen), 1914; R. Brimley Johanson, 1927.
(3). The theme had already been adumbrated in the Pamela of Richardson and the Amelia of Fielding.
From George Sampson,
The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature,
1970 ed. (rev. R.C. Churchill)
The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature,
1970 ed. (rev. R.C. Churchill)
Jane Austen had in a high degree a gift that some more imposing authors have had in a low degree, or in no degree at all, namely, the gift of self-criticism. She wrote of the life she knew, and never tried to write of the life she did not know. No one understood better than the author of Pride and Prejudice the limits she must not pass. Jane Austen (1775-1817) was born at Steventon, in Hampshire, of which her father was rector. She had one sister, the heroically-named Cassandra, and five brothers, two of whom became distinguished admirals. She was taught by her father, and lived quietly at various homes in Hampshire and in Bath. She did not travel, went to London merely as a visitor, saw nothing of 'high life', and, after a long period of bad health, died at Winchester in her forty-second year. She made no pretensions to be a literary lady, but wrote in the common sitting-room of her family, sharing some of her secrets with her beloved sister. She read the ordinary English classics of her time. She enjoyed Fanny Burney, but shrewdly recognized the places where Fanny was writing beyond her means. She enjoyed Richardson even to the extent of bestowing upon Sir Charles Grandison what seems to modern readers an excess of admiration. And of course she read the current "Gothick" romances with amused contempt.
Her inborn sense of comedy was aroused very early by the absurdities of sentimental novels, and some juvenile literary efforts, not printed till 1922, take the form of burlesques in Richardsonian epistles, which reproduce with impish gravity and humorous restraint the ardours of passionate lovers. Love and Freindship (so spelt), dated 1790, was evidently written for domestic entertainment. It contains, potentially, nearly every quality the writer was to show in her mature works. The swoonings and sudden deaths are managed with immense comic effect. The transition from these juvenilia to her first published books can be found in the fragment of an epistolary novel called Lady Susan, first printed in 1871. It was written about 1794. A little later, Elinor and Marianne, a first sketch for Sense and Sensibility, was written in letters. The author did not offer it for publication, and never afterwards attempted the epistolary from of the novel. Actually the first of her published novels to be written was Pride and Prejudice, which, under the title First Impressions, was composed during 1796-7. Her father offered it to Cadell, who refused it. First Impressions had been completed some three months when the young author began to re-write Elinor and Marianne as Sense and Sensibility; but this did not appear till 1811. It is thus her first published book, and its success was immediate. In 1798 she began to write Susan, the first draft of Northanger Abbey; and this she sold to a publisher, who, however, failed to issue it, and Jane did not recover her manuscript till 1816. It was posthumously published as Northanger Abbey in 1818, perhaps with some revision, and with apologies for "those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete". In 1803 or 1804 she began a story which was never finished, and which was first published as The Watsons in 1871, with some other fragments, in the second edition of J. F. Austen-Leigh's Memoir. [Sanditon, a fragment from an unfinished novel, was published in 1925].
After 1803 there came a gap of several years in Jane Austen's literary work. The rejected First Impressions was triumphantly revised, and appeared as Pride and Prejudice in 1813—her second publication. In 1812 she began Mansfield Park, which was published in 1814. Emma was begun in January 1814, finished in March 1815, and published in 1816. Persuasion, last of her regularly published stories, was begun in 1815 and finished in July 1816. The manuscript was still in her hands at her death, and it was published posthumously with Northanger Abbey in 1818. All her books appeared anonymously, but her name was given in the short biographical notice prefixed to the volumes of 1818. In January 1817 she had begun to write a new novel, but after the middle of March could work no more. No reason ahs been ascertained for the gap in her work from 1804 to 1811. The odd fact is that from 1811 to the end she worked steadily.
From this unavoidaby tangled tale of Jane Austen's literary activities there emerge two main facts: first that the dates at which her books were published tell us little about the dates at which they were composed, and next that she was a careful craftsman, prepared to give long consideration to her tasks. The earliest stratum of her work, as we now have it, is represented by Northanger Abbey, which, apparently, was allowed to retain most of its first form. Both theme and treatment support the supposition. A quietly humorous observant girl with a gift for writing would naturally want to ridicule the passion of women, old and young, for grotesque and exorbitant romances. Catherine, the simple heroine, has naive charm, and is in character, though not in years, much younger than the more critically studied Marianne Dashwood and Fanny Price. Sense and Sensibility represents the next stage. It was written from small experience, and is weaker in character and control than any of the other novels. Pride and Prejudice comes next in 1813. One would be glad to see the first draft which Cadell refused; for the work as published is one of Jane Austen's masterpieces. It has the Shakespearean (and Dickensian) quality of describing absurd and disagreeable people delightfully. Jane Austen's next novel, Mansfield Park, is less brilliant than Pride and Prejudice, but it is the widest in scope of the six. The development of Fanny Price, from the shy little girl into the woman who marries Edmund Bertram, is one of Jane Austen's finest achievements in the exposition of character. This book most clearly shows the influence of Richardson. Emma was written rapidly and confidently after the success of its predecessors. That Emma is loved for her faults as well as for her virtues is testimony to the fineness of Jane Austen's art. Persuasion, written when the author's physical powers were failing, is a quiet story, rich in character and sparing in incident. There is no sign of mental failure.
In Jane Austen's novels there are neither peasants nor noblemen. Her world is comfortably off, and no one seems to work for a living. She never describes great passions or seeks to point any moral. She is completely detached and impersonal. In a national literature a little inclined to excess she represents the triumph of understatement. With complete verisimilitude she gives us commonplace persons, not types, and they reveal themselves completely and consistenly in narrative and conversation of almost extraordinary ordinariness. Jane Austen's poise and self-control, her perfect fitting of her quiet utterance to her quiet purpose, are as clearly marks of creative genius as the exuberance and expansiveness of the more heroic creators. The high praise given to her by Scott and Macaulay is explicable and deserved. They acknowledge the fine artistic sincerity that shone out from the mass of contemporary novelistic rubbish.
from Austen, the 'Regional' Novel, and Scott
From The Short Oxford History of English Literature, by Andrew Sanders (1994)
Wordsworth, goaded by the high poetic standing accorded to Crabbe by the critics of the great early nineteenth-century journals, consistently denigrated his rival's work. In one of his sharper asides he even ventured to compare Crabbe's poetry to Jane Austen's fiction. Though he admitted that her novels were 'an admirable copy of life', he nevertheless insisted that he could not be interested in 'productions of that kind' and, he protested, 'unless the truth of nature were presented to him clarified, as it were, by the pervading light of imagination, it had scarce any attraction in his eyes'. Wordsworth's comment suggests something of the breadth of the gulf which seemed to separate the new poetry from the staid, older fashion of a literature which aspired merely to represent nature by copying it. The idea of the transforming power of the imagination, which was to become so much a commonplace of subsequent criticism, cannot uniformly be applied to the literature of the English 'Romantic' period, nor can the absence of visionary gleams or pervading lights be now seen as crucially detrimental to a substantial portion of the poetry and the fiction of the period. Jane Austen (1775-1817) was, according to her first biographer, an admirer of Johnson in prose, Crabbe in verse, and Cowper in both; she 'thoroughly enjoyed' Crabbe's work and would sometimes say 'in jest' that if she ever married at all 'she could fancy being Mrs Crabbe'. Such conservative tastes in matrimony and literature should not be viewed as inconsistent either with Austen's own work or with the opinions of many of her original readers.
J. E. Austen-Leigh's memoir of his unmarried aunt assumes that she shared the feeling of 'moderate Toryism which prevailed in her family'. Austen's novels ostensibly suggest little active political commitment or deep involvement in national and international affairs. The class to which she belonged, and which her fiction almost exclusively describes, had largely remained unruffled and unthreatened by the ructions across the Channel, but the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution, the long-drawn-out conflict between Britain and France and the active risk of a French invasion, left few families untouched by the Napoleonic Empire and the domestic and foreign policies of the succession of repressive Tory governments. Although a well-connected cousin of the Austens had died on the scaffold in France, and although the novelist's two younger brothers served as officers in the navy in the great campaign against Napoleon, any discussion of revolutionary politics is eschewed and the war remains a relatively marginal (or at least, largely male) concern even in novels such as Mansfield Park and Persuasion which introduce naval officers as characters. The desperate domestic measures introduced by British governments to counter political dissent, notably the frequent suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act (which secured the liberty of the citizen against arbitrary imprisonment) and the emergency legislation aimed against all kinds of 'sedition' (such as the enforcement of the Combination Acts), are passed over silently. The agricultural depression which left many farm labourers destitute and the widespread evidence of rural pauperism is glanced at only as the occasion of genteel charity or, as in the case of Lady Catherine De Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, as an occasion for scolding the poor 'into harmony and plenty'. The vast advances in industrialization and imperial expansion, and the social earthquake consequent upon both, elicit mere allusions. The upper-middle-class world of Austen's fiction is seen as secure in its values, its privileges, and its snobberies. It is a society which defines itself very precisely in terms of land, money, and class and it accepts that rank is an essential guinea-stamp. Its awareness of geographical space is generally revealed only with reference to far-flung estates and to the incomes derived from them, and to forays into the fashionable society of London or Bath. Its attachment to nature and to natural scenery is expressed in transitory enthusiasms for picnics at Box Hill and trips to the seaside or for parkland disciplined and tidied up by landscape gardeners.
Jane Austen is far too subtle, challenging, and inventive a novelist to be usefully defined by negatives. Her work may seem to stand apart from the preoccupations of many of her literary contemporaries, but it remains very much of its time. It is, in many significant ways, defined in Christianly conservative, but not necessarily reactionary, terms against current radical enthusiasms. It should also be seen as standing in, and presenting variations on, an established fictional tradition. Where new writers who had espoused Jacobin libertarianism spoke of rights, Austen refers to duties; where they look for steady human improvement, she remains sceptical about the nature of the fallen human condition. The late eighteenth-century cultivation of sensibility and sentiment, and the new 'Romantic' insistence on the propriety of passion, are consistently countered in her novels by an ironic exposure of affectation and by a steady affirmation of the virtues of restraint. Austen chose her own literary limitations, not simply because she held that 'three or four families in a country village' were an ideal subject for the novel, but because her omissions were considered and deliberate. Her moral message is infused with an ideological insistence on the merits of good conduct, good manners, sound reason and marriages as an admirable social institution. She never scorns love, but she balances its often disconcerting and disruptive nature with a firm advocacy of the complementary qualities of self-knowledge, self-discipline and practicality. Her heroines can be as vivaciously intelligent as Elizabeth Bennet and as witty, egotistic, and independenta as Emma Woodhouse, but both, like the essentially introspective Elinor Dashwood or the passive and self-effacing Fanny Price, are finally brought to mature judgement and, by proper extension, emotional fulfilment. The narrative line of Sense and Sensibility (1811), which balances maturity against impulsiveness, also systematically undermines the attractions of superficial glamour and contrasts conflicting value systems and ways of seeing. In the two other novels which were probably begun in the 1790s and later revised, Northanger Abbey (1818) and Pride and Prejudice (1813), first impressions, illusions and subjective opinions or prejudices give way to detachment, balance, reasonableness and, more painfully, to humiliating reassessment. mere cleverness, wit, or spontaneity, though admirable in themselves, are never allowed to triumph without being linked to some steadier moral assurance.
The scrupulous pattern of education that Austen requires of her major characters (both male and female) is also required of her readers. Those who merely seek to escape into a delicately placid and undemanding fictional world wilfully misread her novels. Throughout her work, but especially in her three later novels, Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816) and Persuasion (1818), she obliges readers to participate in the moral processes of disciplined learning, weighing, and judging, and in the gradual establishment of the principle that judgement is contingent upon understanding. This is not to imply that Austen is either priggish or stridently polemic (she is, it should go without saying, one of the most calculatingly amusing of all English novelists), but to suggest that her readers have to be constantly alert to her tone and to her supple narrative method. The relatively restricted world of her novels, and the social and physical confines of her settings, define the limits in which opinions are formed and within which her fools and snobs, her bores and gossips, her prudes and poseurs, must be both endured and accepted. The illusion of actuality which she so succicintly suggests also enforces a response to a society confident of its own codes and values. In Emma, for example, we follow the heroine in her often wayward exploration of manipulations, misapprehensions, niceties, complacencies, and lapses in judgement, but we also see her finding a personal liberation within the enclosure of the society whose rules she learns to respect and use. Austen's often astringent anti-romanticism is nowhere more evident than in Mansfield Park, a novel centred on a heroine suffering from what she admits are 'faults of ignorance and timidity', but also one who embodies, like the man she finally marries, a Christian forbearance which can be seen as informing her grasp of tact and decorum. If the values of the novel, most clearly expressed in the embarrassments surrounding the play-acting which so offend Sir Thomas Bertram, often seem to be at odds with twentieth-century preconceptions of character and social action, for Austen such values are projected as essential to the happy development of human affairs. The relatively sombre tone of Persuasion also emphasized the importance of the process of learning and judging through which all her heroines pass. Anne Elliot is not only Austen's most asuste literary critic (she finds it 'the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely'), she is also her most discriminating woman character, the one whose intelligence most effectively balances the merits of conflicting opinions, ideas, impressions, and feelings. It is against Anne's 'sunny' domestic virtues that the world in which she moves so often seems shallow, worldly, petty, and vain. The freedom which all Austen's lovers attain is a freedom of action and moral decision worked out, not in a deceptively 'gracious' society, but in a post-lapsarian world often unaware that it is in constant need of grace.
From The Short Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble:
Lady Susan, a novel by J. Austen, written probably 1793-4, published 1871, from an untitled manuscript dated 1805.
The story consists of letters, written chiefly between the kindly Mrs Vernon and her mother Lady de Courcy, and between the unscrupulous, beautiful Lady Susan (the widouw of Mr Vernon's brother) and her London friend Mrs Johnson. The events occur mainly at Churchill, the country house of the Vernons.
Pride and Prejudice, a novel by J. Austen, published 1813. It was originally a youthful work entitled 'First Impressions' and was refused by Cadell, a London publisher, in 1797.
Mr and Mrs Bennet live with their five daughters at Lonbourn in Hertfordshire. In the absence of a male heir, the property is due to pass by entail to a cousin, Willliam Collins, who has been presented with a living near Rosings, the Kentish seat of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Charles Bingley, a rich young bachelor, takes Netherfield, a house near Longbourn, bringing with him his two sisters and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, nephew of Lady Catherine. Bingley and Jane, the eldest Bennet girl, fall in love. Darcy, although attracted to the next sister, Elizabeth, offends her by his supercilious behaviour. The aversion is intensified when Darcy and Bingley's sisters, disgusted witth the vulgarity of Mrs Bennnet and her two youngest daughters, effectively separate Bingley from Jane.
Meanwhile the fatuous Mr Collins, urged to marry by Lady Catherine (for whom he shows the most grovelling and obsequious respect), proposes to Elizabeth. When firmly rejected he promplty transfers his affections to Charlotte Lucas, a friend of Elizabeth's who accepts him. Staying with the newly married couple in their parsonage, Elizabeth again encounters Darcy. Captivated by her in spite of himself, Darcy proposes to her in terms which do not conceal his wounded pride. Elizabeth indignantly rejects him.
On an expedition to the north of England with her uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Gardiner, Elizabeth visits Pemberley, Darcy's seat in Derbyshire, believing Darcy to be absent. However Darcy appears and welcomes the visitors. His manner, though grave, is now gentle and attentive. At this point news reaches Elizabeth that her youngest sister Lydia has eloped with the unprincipled Wickham (son of the late steward of the Darcy estate). With help from Darcy, the the fugitives are traced, their marriage is arranged, and (again through Darcy) they are suitably provided for. Bingley and Jane are reunited and become engaged. In spite, and indeed in consequence, of the insolent intervention of Lady Catherine, Darcy and Elizabeth also become engaged.
Sense and Sensibility, a novel by J. Austen, which grew from a sketch entitled 'Elinor and Marianne'; revised 1797-8 and again 1809; published 1811.
Mrs Henry Dashwood and her daughters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret are left in straitened circumstances, because her husband's estate has passed to her stepson John Dashwood. Henry Dashwood, before his death, had urgently recommended to John that he look after his stepmother and sisters, but John's selfishness defeats his father's wish. Mrs Dashwood and her daughters accordingly retire to a cottage in Devonshire, but not before Elinor and Edward Ferrers, brother of Mrs John Dashwood, have become mutually attracted. However, Edward shows a strange uneasiness in his relations with Elinor. In Devonshire Marianne is thrown into the company of John Willoughby, an attractive but impecunious and unprincipled young man, with whom she falls desperately in love. Willoughby likewise shows signs of a strong affection for her, but he suddenly departs for London, leaving Marianne in accute distress. Eventually Elinor and Marianne also go to London, on the invitation of their tactless and garrulous old friend Mrs Jennings. Here Willoughby shows complete indifference to Marianne, and finally, in a cruel and insolent letter, informs her of his approaching marriage to a rich heiress. Marianne makes no effect to hide her great grief. Meanwhile Elinor has learned, under pledge of secrecy, from Lucy Steele (a sly, self-seeking youn woman) that she and Edward Ferrers have been secretly engaged for four years. Elinor, whose self-control is in strong contrast to Marianne's demonstrative emotions, conceals her distress. Edward's engagement, which had beeen kept secret because of his financial dependence on his mother, now becomes known to her. In her fury at Edward's refusal to break his promise to Lucy, she dismisses him from her sight, and settles on his young brother Robert the property that would otherwise have gone to Edward. At this juncture a small living is offered to Edward, and the way seems open for his marriage with Lucy. but Robert, a fashionable young fop, falls in love with Lucy, who, seeing her best interest in a marriage with the wealthier brother, throws over Edward and marries Robert. Edward, relieved to be released from an engagement he has long and painfully regretted, proposes to Elinor and is accepted. Marianne, eventually accepts the proposal of Colonel Brandon, an old family friend, whose considerable quiet attractions had been eclipsed by his brilliant rival.
Mansfield Park, a novel by J. Austen, begun 1811, published 1814.
Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, a stern but kind-hearted man, has two sons, Tom and Edmund, and two daughters, Maria and Julia. His wife, a charming, indolent woman, has two sisters: Mrs Norris, a near neighbour, who is spiteful and selfish, and Mrs Price, the wife of an impecunious officer of marines, with a large family of young children. In order to assist the Prices, Sir Thomas undertakes the charge of the eldest daughter Fanny, a timid child of nine. In spite of her humble situation and the cruelty of Mrs Norris, Fanny becomes an indispensable part of the household. The strength and earnestness of her character is particularly shown during Sir Thomas's absence in the West Indies, when family discipline is relaxed, forbidden private theatricals are mounted, and an unseemly filtration begins between Maria Bertram, who is already engaged to marry Mr Rushworth, and Henry Crawford, the attractive, worldly brother-in-law of the parson of Mansfield. Against all this Fanny resolutely sets her face. Loving her cousin Edmund, she grieves to see him fascinated by the frivolous Mary Crawford, sister of Henry. Maria having become Mrs Rushworth, Henry turns his attention to Fanny, falls in love with her, and proposes. Fanny unhesitatingly rejects him, incurring the grave displeasure of Sir Thomas for what he regards as a a piece of ungrateful perversity. During a visit paid by Fanny to her own home, matters come to a crisis. Henry, accidentally encountering Maria Rushworth again, runs away with her, and Julia elopes with an unsuitable suitor, Mr Yates. Mary Crawford's failure to condemn her brother's conduct finally opens Edmund's eyes to her true character. He turns for comfort to Fanny, falls in love, and they are married.
Emma, a novel by J. Austen, begun 1814, published 1816.
Emma, a clever, pretty, and self-satisfied young woman, is the daughter, and mistress of the house, of Mr Woodhouse, an amiable old valetudinarian. Her former governess and companion, Anne Taylor, has just left to marry Mr Weston. Emma takes under her wing Harriet Smith, a pretty, pliant girl of 17, daughter of unknown parents, who is parlour-boarder at the school in the neighbouring village of Highbury. Emma schemes for Harriet's advancement. She first prevents Harriet from accepting an offer of marriage from Robert Martin, an eligible young farmer, as being beneath her. This tampering greatly annoys Mr Knightley, the bachelor owner of Donwell Abbey, who is Emma's brother-in-law. Emma hopes to arrange a match between Harriet and Mr Elton, the young vicar, only to find that he aspires to Emma's own hand. Frank Churchill, the son of Mr Weston by a former marriage, now visits Highbury. Emma first supposes him in love with herself, but presently thinks that Harriet might attract him, and encourages her not to dspair. This encouragement, however, is misunderstood by Harriet, who assumes it is directed at the great Mr Knightley himself, with whom Emma is half unwittingly in love. Emma then suffers the double mortification of discovering, first that Frank Churchill is already engaged to Jane Fairfax, niece of the garrulous old maid Miss Bates; and second, that Harriet has hopes of supplanting her in Mr Knightley's affections. In the end Knightley proposes to the humbled Emma, and Harriet is happily consoled with Robert Martin.
Northanger Abbey, a novel by J. Austen, begun 1798, published posthumously in 1818 with Persuasion.
The purpose of the novel is to ridicule the popular tales of romance and terror, such as Mrs. Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, and to contrast with these the normal realities of life. Catherine Morland, the daughter of a well-to-do clergyman, is taken to Bath for the season by her friends, Mr and Mrs Allen. Here she meets Henry Tilney (son of the eccentric General Tilney) and his plesasant sister, Eleanor. Catherine falls in love with Henry, and has the good fortune to gain his father's approval, which is founded upon the exaggerated report of her parents' wealth given him by the foolish young John Thorpe, brother of Catherine's friend Isabella. Catherine is invited to Northanger Abbe, the medieval seat of the Tilneys. Somewhat unbalanced by a too assiduous reading of Mrs Radcliffe's novels, Catherine imagines a mystery in which General Tilney is criminally involved, and suffers severe mortification when her suspicions are discovered. General Tilney, having now received a second report from John Thorpe representing Catherine's parents as extremely humble, packs her off back to her family. Henry, disobeying his father, follows Catherine to her home, proposes, and is accepted. General Tilney's consent is obtained when he discovers the true financial position of Catherine's family.
Interwoven with the main plot is the flirtation of Captain Tilney, Henry's elder brother, and the vulgar Isabella Thorpe, who is engaged to Catherine's brother; the consequent breaking of the engagement, and the rupture of the friendship between Catherine and Isabella; and Isabella's failure to secure Captain Tilney.
Persuasion, a novel by J. Austen, written 1815-16, published posthumously 1818.
Sir Walter Elliot, a spendthrift baronet and widower, with a swollen sense of his social importance and personal elegance, is obliged to retrench and let his seat, Kellynch Hall. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, haughty and unmarried, is now twenty-nine; the second, Anne, who is pretty, intelligent, and amiable, had some years before been engaged to a young naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but had been persuaded by her trusted friend Lady Russell to break off the engagement, because of his lack of fortune and a misunderstanding of his easy nature. The breach had brought great unhappiness to Anne, and caused indignation in Wentworth. When the story opens Anne is twenty-seven, and the bloom of her youth is gone. Captain Wentworth, who has had a successful career and is now prosperous, is thrown again into Anne's society by the letting of Kellynch to Admiral and Mrs. Croft, his sister and brother-in-law. Sir Walter's youngest daughter, Mary, is married to Charles Musgrove, the heir of a neighbouring landowner. Wenworth is attracted by Charles's sisters Louisa and Henrietta, and in time becomes involved with Louisa. During a visit of the party to Lyme Regis, Louisa, being 'jumped down' from the Cobb by Wentworth, falls and is badly injured. Wentworth's partial responsibility for the accident makes him feel an increased obligation to Louisa at the very time that his feelings are being drawn back to Anne. However, during her convalescence Louisa becomes engaged to Captain Benwick, another naval officer, and Wentworth is free to proceed with his courtship. He goes to Bath, where Sir Walter is now established with his two elder daughters and Elizabeth's companion, Mrs Clay, an artful woman with matrimonial designs on Sir Walter. There Wentworth finds another suitor for Anne's hand, her cousin William Elliot, the heir to the Kellynch estate, who is also indulging with an intrigue with Mrs Clay, in order to detach her from Sir Walter. Anne has remained unshaken in her love for Wentworth and moreover learns about the duplicity of William Elliot. Accidentally made aware of Anne's constancy, Wentworth renews his offer of marriage, and is accepted.
In this, Jane Austen's last completed work, satire and ridicule take a milder form, and the tone is more grave and tender.
The Watsons, an unfinished novel by J. Austen, written some time between 1804 and 1807.
The story largely concerns the unremitting efforts of Emma Watson's three sisters to get themselves married. Emma, a pretty, sensible girl, has been brought up by a well-to-do aunt. She returns to her family, who live in gentelel poverty in a Surrey village, where she is surrounded by people in every way inferior to herself. Even her good-natured sister Elizabeth is as intent on a good match as her unpleasant sisters Margaret and Penelope. The other principal characters are Lady Osborne, handsome and dignified, her son, Lord Osborne, a fine but cold young man; mr Howard, a gentlemanly clergyman; and Tom Musgrave, a cruel and hardened flirt. The author left no hint as to the future course of events.
Sanditon, an unfinished novel by J. Austen, written 1817.
Mr Parker is obsessed with the wish to create a large and fashionable resort out of the small village of Sanditon, on the south coast. Charlotte Heywood, an attractive, alert young woman, is invited to stay with the Parkers, where she catches the fancy of Lady Denham, the local great lady. Lady Denham's nephew and niece, Sir Edward and Miss Denham, live near by, and Clara Brereton is staying with her. Edward plans to seduce Clara, but his aunt intends him to marry a West Indian heiress, under the care of a Mrs Griffiths and her entourage, whose visit to Sanditon is anticipated shortly. After a ludicrous series of complications, involving both Mrs Griffith's party and a ladies' seminary from Camberwell, the excited inhabitants of Sanditon find the expected invasion of visitors consists merely of Mrs Griffiths and three young ladies.
This highly entertaining fragment was written early in 1817, when Jane Austen was already suffering from Addison's disease (of which she died on 18 July).