While authors like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain are rightly famous, it is just as important to remember the contributions of classic female authors. Jane Austen serves as the perfect example of a classic female novelist who became successful despite her gender.
The publication of novels such as “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” and “Emma” earned her positive reviews and income while she was alive, and Austen’s reputation today places her as one of the greatest English writers in history. Her novels are known for their social commentary and feminist undertones.
Freshman Aisha Asghar says, “I first heard of Jane Austen from ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ but she should be known for so much more. She was a prolific writer who wrote about multiple issues of her time, and the women in her novels are admirable for their strength and intelligence.”
Born on December 16, 1775, the English author did not immediately gain success for her works. However, interest in her writing arose around 1869, and it became fashionable to read her books by the middle of the 19th century. Even today, a dedicated fan base known as the “Janeites” exists.
As a child, Austen was encouraged to read, and she often participated in plays with her many siblings. She briefly received a formal education, but a near-fatal bout of typhus and financial issues eventually sent her back home.
As a teenager, Austen began to write parodies of romantic and historical works. Known respectively as “Love and Freindship” and “The History of England,” they are collectively considered Austen’s “Juvenilia.” This compilation of her early works, written from ages 11 to 18 hints at her writing style and issues she would focus on in later writing.
The intentionally misspelled title of “Love and Freindship” mirrors the satirical tone of the novel. In it, Austen criticizes the relationships between women and their fathers and lovers.
Austen’s “The History of England” is a biased and abridged account of different English monarchs. She herself professes in the foreword that it was written by “a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant historian.”
Austen started writing her most well-known books in her 20s. In her mid-30s, she published her books under different names over a five-year period.
“Sense and Sensibility” was published in 1811, and “Pride and Prejudice” was published in 1813, both written under the pen name “A Lady.” The former was an immediate best-seller, and the latter was even more successful.
“Mansfield Park” was published in 1814, and “Emma” in 1815. “Emma” did not immediately bring Austen success, but later critics have called it her best work.
Austen died on July 18, 1817 at age 42 of medical issues. Today, it has been speculated that she died due to either Addison’s disease or Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her family published the novels “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey” in the same year.
Her books remain so popular today due to Austen’s sharp wit and realistic portrayal of England during the 19th century for middle-class families.
Her works are characterized by their social commentary, which criticized her society for the pressure it put on women to marry well for the sake of economic stability rather than love. Her depictions of life for the middle class are also a major factor in her novels.
“Pride and Prejudice” clearly illustrates Austen’s beliefs on this matter. Published in 1813, the book denounced the idea of “romantic hysteria” and the expectation that women must marry for status rather than love.
In the novel, protagonist Elizabeth Bennet refuses to marry the characters of both Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy, two well-off men, on the basis of the fact that she does not love them. In fact, she initially rejects both of their marriage proposals. Only after Mr. Darcy approached her with a genuine apology did she fall in love with him and accept his proposal.
In both “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice,” women challenge their “duty” to marry up in terms of economic and social status rather than love. Additionally, the women demand respect despite their social and economic status.
Proof of the timelessness of Austen’s works is seen in the numerous adaptations they have spawned. Multiple books, movies, and TV shows have been inspired by her novels, ranging from a movie that is a modern retelling of “Emma” to a BBC television series adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” to a dystopian book series based on “Persuasion.”
Freshman Kushboo Patel says, “I think it’s really interesting that Jane Austen’s books are still so popular today. It shows that her writing is really relevant even though it’s about people who lived more than a hundred years ago.”
Austen’s lasting fame is proof of her skill as a writer and social critic. Whether you are looking for a romantic read or feminist tales with strong female characters peppered with satire, Jane Austen is the author for you.
If you have read any of them, what is your favorite Jane Austen book? Why?