Austen's sister caught the fever and died. In the sisters were sent to the Abbey School in Reading, where intellectual training was little emphasized. In December the girls returned home, where they received the majority of whatever education they ever had and largely educated themselves.
Jane Austen acquired a good knowledge of the literature and culture that were thought valuable at the time, she had a modest talent for music, and she loved dancing. She especially admired the writings of Samuel Johnson and the poetry of William Cowper. With the rest of her family, she shared Johnson's Tory politics, practical piety, Anglican theology, fine sense of language in everyday as well as literary use, and commitment to emergent national cultural institutions.
Cowper was the great poet of middle-class sensibility and gave epic scope and even heroic grandeur to middle-class life before the Romantic poets also attempted to do so. All the Austens were novel readers and, as Jane Austen herself later boasted, were unashamed of the fact, unlike many of their contemporaries. The Austens realized and appreciated the potential of the novel for social criticism and moral discourse at a time when most critics condemned novels as immoral, disseminators of decadent court culture, and subliterature fit only for women though dangerously seductive for the supposedly weak female intellect and strong female imagination.
Austen admired the novels of Samuel Richardson , especially Sir Charles Grandison , which she reread many times in her lifetime; with her niece Anna Austen she even tried adapting it into a play for performance by children of the family sometime after She and her family, with their gentry connections and professional standing, probably appreciated Richardson's portrayal of a landed gentleman thoroughly imbued with middle-class virtues.
Richardson's novel not only argues for a fusion of gentry and professional middle-class cultures--a fusion that appealed strongly to the largely middle-class reading public; it also develops new techniques of "realism," or artistic persuasiveness, for representing the individual who is meritorious inwardly--intellectually and morally--rather than merely socially--by birth and rank. As the Austens would have known well, the "Richardsonian revolution" in the novel was developed from the s to the s by women writers, especially Frances Burney, whose Evelina and Cecilia represent the novelistic version of the middle-class discourse of merit through a heroine rather than a hero.
In Cecilia Burney also shifts from the Richardsonian epistolary form to authoritative third-person narration, using the new technique of "free indirect discourse," the narrator's filtered reporting of the character's inward thoughts and feelings. This device sustains the reader's sympathetic identification with the character while retaining distance, control, and "objectivity" for the narrator. The forms of the novel used by Burney were those taken up by Austen when she began seriously to write novels in the s, and though she abandoned the epistolary form, letters do have important functions in her novels.
Not surprisingly, when Burney published her third novel, Camilla , by subscription in , Austen's father signed up for a copy for his literary daughter. Once again the Austens' response as a family to the literary culture of the day, including its social and political implications, was decisive in Austen's formation as a writer. Until Austen lived in her family home at Steventon, reading the literature of the day, rereading her favorite authors, maintaining her local visiting network, discussing the characters and vicissitudes of new acquaintances and old friends, visiting her brother Edward and his family in Kent, dancing at balls given by the local gentry, accompanying her family to Bath for the recreations and social life of an elegant spa town, and keeping up with issues of the day, such as the long trial in the House of Commons of Warren Hastings, first governor general of British India, on charges of corruption and abuse of office.
The Austens were pro-Hastings. Austen closely followed the careers of her brothers, especially the naval officers, who were at war from until the final defeat of Napoleon in She shared the happiness, occasional bereavements, and disappointments of brothers and friends as they married, began families of their own, and lost their loved ones. In December she fell in love herself, with Thomas Langlois Lefroy, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, who was visiting his uncle and aunt.
Recognizing that the young man would be disinherited if he married the daughter of a penniless clergyman, Madam Lefroy cut short the courtship by sending her nephew away.
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All the while Austen observed the successive feasts and holy days of the established Church, from quiet, but firm, personal conviction and not just from family duty. In the s she also left behind writing the spirited literary satires with which she had amused her family from about the age of eleven to the age of eighteen. At first without her family's knowledge, she began to write novels that were meant to be full-length and seriously literary, if still humorous and even satirical.
Yet there is continuity between Austen's "juvenilia" and her maturer works. Both grew out of a family literary culture. As Lord David Cecil puts it, "Many authors start writing in order to relieve their private feelings; Jane Austen began in order to contribute to family entertainment. Her early works were examples of a family activity and expressions of a family outlook. Austen's novels continued to reflect and advance this outlook. The novel was being used extensively in the Revolution debate of the s: the struggle to lead the "political nation" and its immediate supporters and dependents which could be equated with the reading public into coalition either with politicized artisans and the lower-middle classes or with the landed gentry.
In the late s and early s, however, writers turned to representing the reconciliation of social differences and conflicts that had threatened to take Britain, like France, over the brink of revolution in the early and mid s and that continued to cause concern for the preservation of Britain's unity and empire against challenge from Napoleonic France. Women, conventionally seen as social mediators, were quick to take up the theme of national reconciliation in their writings, while avoiding overt discussion of the "unfeminine" subject of politics.
Yet such writers wanted to continue the longstanding, middle-class critique of upper-class decadence, lower-class unreason, and middle-class social emulation of either. Austen's novels participate in this post-Revolutionary literary movement. Austen began several novels in the latter half of the s, though they were not published for some years, and then they were much altered. An epistolary novella, published after her death by her nephew as Lady Susan , in the second edition of his Memoir of Jane Austen , depicts a selfish and witty courtly coquette.
The text is partly a satirical exaggeration of the fashionable novels that portrayed such characters with apparent disapproval for fascinated and scandalized middle-class readers. In she wrote, again probably in epistolary form, a story titled "Elinor and Marianne," and began to revise it two years later in third-person narrative form as the novel that would be published in as Sense and Sensibility. In and she worked on a novel titled "First Impressions," probably also in letter form; this novel was later revised and published in as Pride and Prejudice. Late in Austen's father offered "First Impressions" as a novel "comprised in three Vols.
He hinted at willingness to pay the expense of printing if the novel were accepted, but it was turned down. Austen's mother was in poor health, and in her father suddenly decided to retire, hire his son James as his curate, and settle in Bath. Austen fainted when told of the decision, but when she moved to Bath with her parents in May she determined to like the place. It was still an important health spa, holiday center, and place of fashionable resort for the gentry and well-to-do middle classes. While the Austens vacationed on the coast at Sidmouth in Devon in summer , Austen seems to have met and fallen in love with a young clergyman.
The Austens apparently expected that he would propose marriage and be accepted, but he died suddenly. More than a year later, while visiting her close friends the Bigg sisters, Austen was proposed to by their brother. Because his fortune would insure her against a fate she feared--spending her old age in poverty--she accepted him even though he was younger and temperamentally unsuited to her, but she broke off the engagement the next morning and returned immediately to Bath.
It was at this time that Austen began a novel depicting sisters apparently condemned to the fate Austen feared for herself, though in the novel eventually a marriage of true minds and sufficient means would avert this. The novel was never completed and the surviving fragment was published after her death as The Watsons in the second edition of her nephew's Memoir of Jane Austen. One reason for Austen's failure to push a book through to publication during these years may have been a series of personal losses and the anxiety of living near the edge of socially degrading circumstances.
In December her close friend and early encourager, the lively Madam Lefroy, died from a concussion sustained in a riding accident. In January Austen's father died. Since his clerical income ended with his death, his widow and daughters were faced with relative penury, but the Austen brothers pooled resources to maintain their mother and sisters, joined by their friend Martha Lloyd, in solid middle-class comfort at Bath.
Although Austen had enjoyed the varied social scene at first, she eventually grew to dislike the place and its people. She continued to follow the career, both at sea and ashore, of her brother Frank. In he just missed participating in the Battle of Trafalgar, an experience he much regretted because he lost not only an opportunity to increase his "professional credit" but also "pecuniary advantage" from the sale of any French ships he might have helped capture. He married in and invited his mother and sisters to share his house at Southampton. They joined him there after a stay at Clifton near Bristol and a visit to the great country house of Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, just inherited by their relation the Reverend Thomas Leigh.
When Frank was again away at sea the Austen women were left to a quiet and retired existence, visiting little, using the local circulating library, gardening, visiting Edward Austen and his large family who took the surname Knight in in Kent and Henry Austen in London, and following news of the war in Spain. Austen became especially close to Edward's daughter Fanny, then in her teens; it was a lifelong friendship.
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When Edward's wife died in late , his mother and sisters comforted the family. Edward offered them the choice of a comfortable house on one of his estates, in Kent and Hampshire, so that they would be closer. They chose a house at Chawton, in Kent, not far from their early home at Steventon.
In summer they moved to Chawton, where Austen would live until her final illness. Life at Chawton was simple and neither mean nor grand. The Austen women and Martha Lloyd kept one indoor and one outdoor servant. Austen and her sister managed the household economy with great efficiency and thoroughness. Since they could not afford to keep a carriage, their local social life was limited to places within walking distance and their larger social life was mainly in their brothers' households. Jane Austen was less interested and involved in general socializing than her mother and sister.
Mary Mitford , herself an ardent admirer of Austen's novels, recorded the report of a friend that Austen had "stiffened into the most perpendicular, precise, taciturn piece of 'single blessedness' that ever existed," and until Pride and Prejudice came out she was "no more regarded in society than a poker or a fire-screen, or any other thin, upright piece of wood or iron that fills the corner in peace and quietness.
She kept up her music, practicing the piano before breakfast so as not to disturb the others. The Austens subscribed to the circulating library in the nearby village of Alton, and Austen also subscribed to a local literary society. This group was a common way of sharing the cost of new books, which would be given to each member of the society for a specified period, after which the book had to be passed to the next member on the list.
Austen looked after the household meals and in the evening joined in cards, needlework, games of skill, and conversation. She also read aloud to her companions, an interest and talent she inherited from her father. She interested herself in the doings of the large Austen family, especially her many nieces and nephews.
In the morning she read and wrote apart from the others. This thoroughly feminine, supportive domesticity was not then regarded as degrading, but in fact had gained greatly in prestige in the aftermath of the Revolution debate. Austen's way of life was represented by many writers--and Austen would be prominent among them--as the proper sphere of woman, as repository and reproducer of the "national" culture, not in the sense of high culture but as the moral and ethical practices in local, daily existence that together constituted the nation, especially the political nation.
Austen may have been sequestered in a small village and a household of women, but she was well aware of contemporary political and social thinking and would have realized that her life at Chawton in fact resembled the emergent ideal of romantic femininity, rooted in the "domestic affections" and the source of the national character. Not surprisingly, then, she turned once again and with renewed purpose to writing.
The novels that she began during this period were developed from the pre-Revolutionary novel of manners, sentiment, and emulation, but they were conceived in the latter part of the Revolutionary decade and rewritten to address the interests and concerns of a post-Revolutionary age, not directly or explicitly but obliquely. Indeed, their obliqueness was essential to their rhetorical effect, for the reading public was disgusted with direct ideological and political warfare in print, perhaps especially in novels.
A further dimension to this obliqueness was Austen's secrecy about her writing as an activity, linked to her profound and genuine aversion to acquiring a public character and life as what would then have been called an "authoress. Furthermore, the ideal of domestic woman formulated in the late eighteenth century was accompanied by ambiguity or even hostility toward women appearing in public characters, such as that of a published writer.
More particularly, the Revolutionary aftermath saw an aggressive remasculization of literary culture along with an energetic appropriation by male writers of the themes of subjectivity and domesticity that female writers had exploited in order to build professional careers in the decades before Austen's secrecy about her writing and her rejection of a public character were responses to all these forces rather than what Cecil calls "the nearest thing to an eccentricity in her otherwise well-balanced character. At Chawton Cottage she wrote away from the others at first, in a chamber that served as both a hallway and a dining room.
The room had a squeaky door that Austen prevented from being repaired because it gave warning of anyone approaching. She worked on a writing desk placed on top of a small table and used small slips of paper that could quickly be put out of sight if someone did enter. Later in her career she would sometimes write in the common sitting room when others were present. When she wrote to the publisher Crosby in to ask for the return of the still-unpublished manuscript of "Susan" she used the pseudonym "Mrs Ashton Dennis. The title page of her next novel, Pride and Prejudice , attributed the work to "The Author of 'Sense and Sensibility,'" and this practice continued with each successive novel.
By the time she returned to novel writing at Chawton, Austen was an experienced novelist, if still an unpublished one, and had strong views on the art of fiction. She expressed these opinions only desultorily, however, in letters to her family. Her criticisms were directed to maintaining plausibility in the representation of manners and social conventions and to establishing a clear focus of social relations--"3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on. Austen was also conscious of the way genres and styles were seen as either "masculine" or "feminine.
To her nephew James Edward Austen, who was trying to write a "man's" novel, Jane Austen protested: What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety and Glow? As for the practicalities of composition, Austen fully realized the conflict between sustained creativity and domestic responsibility. She began by returning to her earlier work. In April she asked Crosby to publish "Susan," which he had bought for ten pounds in , or to return it to her.
The publisher insisted on retaining his rights, and Austen let the matter drop. Eventually she reacquired the manuscript in but died before it was published, as Northanger Abbey , in Since she probably did little to revise the manuscript during the short time it was back in her hands, Northanger Abbey is generally regarded as her earliest substantially completed novel.
Furthermore, since it satirizes the naive reader of popular Gothic "romances" as well as the conventions of that genre, it is usually seen as more closely linked than her later works to her early burlesques and parodies of literary genres and conventions, designed to entertain her family rather than for publication. Nevertheless, as Austen's family would have realized, parody of literary themes, genres, and conventions might be amusing and still have implications of national importance.
Northanger Abbey certainly deals with the politics of literary discourse in ways that would have been recognized in the mid s or early s, when it was first designed or written, as issues more vital than ever. Unlike such overtly political novels as William Godwin 's Things As They Are or Mary Wollstonecraft 's The Wrongs of Woman , Northanger Abbey --like most of its contemporaries--works out issues of immediate political moment at the local level of individual lives; the oblique representation is the more rhetorically effective. Northanger Abbey is clearly in the line of the Burney novel of a young woman's first entrance into the world--or rather "World," the common self-designation of narrow fashionable society as if it were to be equated with the whole of society.
This narrow world is in fact the "political nation"--those of property or incomes sufficient to give them a voice in national affairs, however indirect. This world overlaps with the world of the "reading public"--those who can afford to rent or buy novels.
This overlap is what gave novels such as Northanger Abbey their importance. Like a Burney novel, though in much shorter compass, with far fewer characters, incidents, and complications of plot, Northanger Abbey sets a young protagonist in society peopled by both the fashionable and the vulgar. It follows her trials and errors in "reading" this world and negotiating through it to successful "establishment" there, as a woman married or about to be married to a "proper" man and thus with her otherwise hidden intellectual and moral merit recognized by and instrumental in the "World. There is evidence that as many men as women read novels, and the socially inexperienced novel protagonist may stand for either a man or woman of merit faced with a seductive social reality dominated by considerations other than intellectual and moral merit--especially inherited wealth, rank, and power--and operating by courtly intrigue and patronage.
Furthermore, this protagonist's situation must have been common to many novel readers at the time; thus such novels spoke to their real material interests and had powerful significance for them. The protagonist of Northanger Abbey , Catherine Morland, is typical in these respects. Still in her teens and taken from her childhood home to stay with relatives in the fashionable spa of Bath, she and her brother James are taken up by Isabella and John Thorpe, social climbers who affect the fashionable cultures of female sensibility and male gallantry respectively.
The Thorpes represent familiar types of upper-middle-class social emulation of their betters, resorting to deception and intrigue to advance their own interests. Catherine's genuine personal merit, despite her lack of worldly experience, is noticed by Henry Tilney, younger son of the socially ambitious General Tilney. John Thorpe's attempt to impress the general by greatly exaggerating Catherine's fortune induces the general to consider her a suitable match for his son and to invite her to his estate, Northanger Abbey.
The name is suggestive in several ways. Most obviously it echoes the titles of "Gothic romances. Middle-class readers found these romances intensely interesting. In the imaginary world of Gothic romance such readers could feel, if not consciously perceive, an analogy between the plight of the protagonist and their own situation in a society and culture dominated by what seemed an "alien," semifeudal system of court government, a system operating not through brute force but through the invisible agency of ideology and culture. In the s, "English Jacobin" novelists such as Godwin and Wollstonecraft made the analogy between Gothic romance and the real world more explicit, borrowing elements of such romances to argue that "Gothic" that is, medieval and feudal oppression and tyranny were neither in the past nor mere fictional devices, but present political reality.
Austen's novel rejects "English Jacobin" political Gothicism. In the unfamiliar setting of Northanger Abbey, Catherine does make a mistake in interpretation. As often occurs with such protagonists, her inner strength becomes her weakness. Lacking the worldly experience to chasten and direct her subjective power, her "natural" sympathy and imagination, she relies on what she has learned in reading novels and "reads" her present world as if it were that of a Gothic romance.
She sees General Tilney as a domestic tyrant and Northanger as a facade for secret horrors. Henry Tilney recognizes her error and reminds her of the present social and political reality: Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians.
Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you--Does our education prepare us for such atrocities [as she has imagined]? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing; where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay every thing open?
This speech asserts a particular view of the present constitution of Britain and thus of British society. It is characteristic of Austen's rejection of novelistic excess of all kinds that Henry's perception of Catherine's error does not diminish the value of her character in his eyes, let alone lead him to reject her as a prospective wife--that would be too characteristic of a mere novel.
As Henry soon discovers, Catherine's imaginings about his father have some truth. If not a Gothic tyrant, General Tilney is a modern equivalent, an ambitious squire aiming to advance his position by courtly intrigue and manipulation of the marriage market. When he learns that Catherine is not the great heiress John Thorpe has led him to believe, he sends her packing. Meanwhile, Catherine's brother has been thrown over by Isabella Thorpe in pursuit of the better material prospects offered by Captain Tilney, the general's older son and heir to Northanger Abbey.
Austen retains the reformist criticism of courtliness and emulation as real social evils while rejecting the reformist global condemnation of "things as they are. The move is formalized in the novel's plot by Catherine's disillusionment with the Thorpes and dismay at the general's inhumanity, Henry Tilney's confrontation with his father and decision to choose Catherine as a wife, and Catherine's prospective re-creation, with subjective merit intact and even enhanced, as wife of a man able both to school her further in the ways of the "World" and to confer on her, as married woman, social validation of her subjective merit.
Austen's social criticism in Northanger Abbey is executed not only in the novel's "story," or structured sequence of incidents and related characters, but also in its "discourse," or composition and manner of telling. As with her political argument, Austen links critical reflection on the novel as a genre to the development of the individual's critical thought in general and thus to strengthening of domestic relations and society at large. It is no accident that Northanger Abbey includes the best-known comment in English on the novel. Imagining a "miss" apologizing, when caught reading a book, that it is "only a novel," the narrator comments sarcastically that it is "only" Frances Burney's Cecilla or Camilla or Maria Edgeworth 's Belinda , "or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.
Readers in her day would probably think of two different forms of fiction--on one hand the fashionable novel glamorously depicting courtly decadence and on the other "English Jacobin," especially Revolutionary feminist, novels depicting emotional extravagance and social and political transgression. Both these kinds of fiction, it was increasingly felt, disseminated false ideology and impractical models, undermining individual morality and thus the "domestic affections," the foundation of the state. The fact that these false fictions were associated with either French courtliness or French Revolutionary culture indicates the importance of the novel as an instrument of political communication.
Austen's move to correct the excesses of the s novel is similar to Edgeworth's. Austen reduces the scope and variety of incidents and characters, avoids narratorial expressivity--in fact adopting narratorial irony--eliminates characters that are mere "humors" or caricatures, as well as any hint of melodrama in incident, and in plotting takes a middle course between mere novelistic coincidence and "English Jacobin necessitarianism," that is, the tight connection of "circumstances," individual character, and the character's ethical action.
She aims for a plausible though not inevitable outcome, thereby suggesting that "destiny" is a result of free will operating in a particular social and material horizon of possibility. Not surprisingly, such plotting accords with an Anglican theology of salvation through both true faith or understanding, in secular terms and good works or ethical action in accordance with informed and accurate moral judgment.
Throughout her career, Austen followed this same pattern of correcting excessive novel conventions, at times alluding to specific bizarrenesses in particular novels of the day but otherwise cutting against generally well known novel devices. In Northanger Abbey this criticism by "rewriting" is especially obvious, as the narrator repeatedly draws the reader's attention to ways in which this novel is not like a common "novel of the day.
Rewriting is to effect rereading--not just reading again but reading as a critical and reflective activity. This activity produces true knowledge, a secular version of that "true faith" that is the basis of ethical action necessary to win salvation. As much as her father or her clergymen brothers, Austen addresses a secular life in the light of eternity. Since women in her day could not do this from the pulpit they often chose to do so in the genre assigned to them by social, cultural, and literary convention.
Narrative method plays a central role in this process of reformative reading. The omniscient narrator represents a model consciousness, a figure for the "author," implicitly on the same level as the reader, representing the world of the novel from a superior position, whereas the protagonist is clearly fallible and limited, whether sympathetically or ironically treated by the narrator. As a character in the text, the narrator implicitly arranges all other characters in a hierarchical order over a grid whose coordinates are knowledge and moral judgment. Structurally the narrator represents a level of understanding toward which the protagonist is headed, somewhere beyond the end of the novel.
The reader's interest in this progress is underpinned by Austen's use of free indirect discourse, or reported inward thought and feeling. Other novelists who use this device, such as Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe , and Maria Edgeworth , treat several or many characters this way; Austen focuses almost exclusively on her protagonist, thereby giving a centrality and importance to a character that most other characters regard as unimportant. But Austen also uses free indirect discourse to encourage the reader to sympathize with the protagonist, to accept her interpretations and judgments of the world around her.
In this way the reader is often tricked into going along with the protagonist's errors until brought up short by the narrator's irony or revelation of the "truth. In experiencing this irony at certain moments of narratorial revelation the reader vicariously experiences the gap between the protagonist's imperfection and fallibility and the narrator's superior understanding.
All human understanding, except the godlike narrator's, is conditional and relative. The narrator's irony reminds us of this mortal fallibility. This reading would be serious matter indeed were it not for the fact that it is presented in what is "only a novel. Northanger Abbey , substantially completed by , is thus very much a novel of its time, of a particular moment in the evolution in the novel as vehicle of ideological and cultural conflict.
At the same time it includes the basic elements of the Austen novel, rapidly developed with greater sophistication and subtlety from Austen's settling at Chawton in to a few months before her death in Through and Austen worked on revising "Elinor and Marianne," her epistolary novel of , into Sense and Sensibility. When it was complete Henry Austen again served as intermediary between his sister and the publisher, this time Thomas Egerton, who may have been chosen because he had participated in the distribution of James and Henry Austen's Oxford magazine, The Loiterer.
Jane Austen offered to pay the costs of printing and, not expecting to break even on the book, had saved some money for that purpose. She was to retain copyright, and the publisher was to get a commission for distributing the book. In April she went to stay with Henry in London to correct proofs and wrote to her sister, "I am never too busy to think of S.
I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child. Sense and Sensibility: A Novel --the generic designation is important and was in the title of all Austen's novels published in her lifetime--is a more ambitious novel than Northanger Abbey. Austen doubles the plot by representing the courtship of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and by increasing the number of characters and incidents. In scope Sense and Sensibility is more like a full-blown Burney novel. Nevertheless, the narrator-protagonist relationship remains focused for the most part on one character, the unglamorous Elinor.
In fact, in Elinor and Marianne, Austen foregrounds in one novel the two character types that she preferred to alternate in the later novels--the quiet but right-thinking heroine such as Fanny Price and Anne Elliot and the more outgoing and somewhat quixotic heroine such as Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse.
Sense and Sensibility brings into play another set of issues that were prominent in the Revolution debate and the post-Revolutionary quest for reform with renewed social stability--issues of property, patronage, and gender in the reconstruction of British society. The widowed Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters are required to leave their home when the new heir, Mrs. Dashwood's stepson, John, assumes his inheritance with his fashionable and selfish wife, Fanny.
Such is the lot of wives and daughters under the system of male primogeniture that was common at the time--and much criticized by feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft. The Dashwood women are given a home at Barton Cottage on the Devonshire estate of a distant relation, Sir John Middleton, whose family is unfortunately a disorder of snobbery, vulgarity, and mere sociability.
One visitor, Colonel Brandon, is interested in the middle daughter, Marianne, but he does not fit her romantic idea of a hero, constructed from her novel reading. She makes no secret of her preference for the dashing Willoughby, who is also visiting in the neighborhood. The eldest daughter, Elinor, is disappointed, however, that Fanny Dashwood's brother Edward Ferrars, a young clergyman with a good estate in prospect, does not visit, for she has fallen in love with him and the feeling has seemed mutual.
Other guests at the Middletons' include Charlotte Palmer and her husband, the one silly and the other aloof, and the obsequious Misses Steele, the younger of whom, Lucy, confidentially divulges to Elinor her secret engagement with Edward Ferrars. The Steeles, like the Dashwood women, are dependent on others to prevent a slide from comfort and gentility to poverty and social insignificance. Unlike her mother, Elinor Dashwood is prepared to deal with her situation with conventional feminine virtues of fortitude and forbearance.
Her sister Marianne indulges in romantic fantasy. Lucy Steele has evidently taken the worst course, practicing the courtly arts of coquetry to inveigle Edward Ferrars into an imprudent engagement. When the scene shifts from the country to London the destinies of the Dashwood sisters seem to take a further turn for the worse.
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Marianne learns that Willoughby is a fortune hunter and is about to marry for money. Fanny Dashwood's mother, old Mrs. Ferrars, suspects her son Edward of being in love with Elinor and snubs the Dashwood women in favor of the Steeles, until Lucy reveals her secret engagement to Edward, who is then disinherited in favor of his younger brother, Robert, a mere man of fashion.
Returning to Barton, the Dashwoods stay with the Palmers, where Marianne falls ill. Alarmed, Willoughby arrives and confesses to Elinor that he did love Marianne and must now live out an unhappy marriage. Back at Barton the last movement of the plot unfolds.
Marianne recovers, but Elinor is further distressed when told that a Mr. Ferrars, whom she takes to be Edward, has recently married Lucy Steele. But the new husband turns out to be Edward's brother, whom Lucy has turned to as now the better prospect. Edward is freed from his engagement and proposes to Elinor; Colonel Brandon has offered the young clergyman a living in his gift; eventually Marianne comes to see the colonel's quiet domestic and social virtues and marries him.
There is an obvious post-Revolutionary argument in Sense and Sensibility , indicated in its title. In the Revolution debate "sense," or "common sense," was often opposed to Revolutionary theory, speculation, and enthusiasm. In Austen's novel the evident triumph of sense over sensibility, and the confinement of sensibility, as domestic and social sympathy, though enacted on the level of common life, would have had political and public implications for readers at the time the novel was published, in part because moral, religious, and educational writers insisted that there was a close connection between small, apparently insignificant transgressions and more serious ones.
Furthermore, Sense and Sensibility clearly establishes the value of "feminine" passive virtues of the kind possessed from the outset by Elinor and acquired through error and suffering by Marianne. These virtues were proclaimed by numerous writers of the Revolutionary aftermath, beginning at least as early as Hannah More 's Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education , as central to social order and even to national survival. At the same time it is clear that Sense and Sensibility registers the desperate situation of genteel women deprived of the wherewithal to sustain social dignity or even nobility of mind and feeling.
Mary Wollstonecraft argued in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman that this plight drove many women of the middle and upper class to coquetry and courtly intrigue, to the ruin of the domestic affections and thus the corruption of society as a whole. Austen does not explicitly make this kind of protest in Sense and Sensibility or elsewhere, but her reticence accords with a post-Revolutionary program of avoiding the explicitnesses that many thought had threatened to tear the country apart in the s.
Furthermore, the fact that her novel has a happy ending reflects her Anglican faith in a just and benevolent deity presiding over a universe that is comic in the sense that suffering and injustice have, finally, a beneficial effect. If Austen was a feminist, she was a post-Revolutionary one. Certainly the social criticism of Sense and Sensibility takes in a broad sweep of foolish and even vulgar emulation, by gentry and professional middle class alike, of a court culture increasingly seen as threatening ruin to the nation.
With Sense and Sensibility published, Austen turned again to "First Impressions," the novel she had completed in and tried to sell to Cadell. It was published early in , anonymously, though Austen's authorship soon became known beyond the family circle. It was very well received; for example, Byron's future wife, Anne Isabella Milbanke, considered it to be "the fashionable novel" of the season. It seems to have been widely read and discussed in fashionable and literary society.
Pride and Prejudice takes another pair of sisters but puts the outgoing one, Elizabeth Bennet, more into the foreground, while keeping the silent suffering one, Jane, much more in the background. Property inheritance again becomes a major factor in the destiny of these two--along with their three younger sisters Mary, Kitty, and Lydia--for their father's small estate is entailed to the nearest male relative, the Reverend William Collins. Entailment was the kind of injustice against women that Wollstonecraft and other Revolutionary feminists had criticized sharply, for it forced women to make their fortune the only way open to them--by speculating on the marriage market.
Bennet has also committed an error attacked by feminists of the time--giving in to the influence of courtly erotic culture and marrying a woman who was merely beautiful and lacking in the intellectual and moral resources necessary to support her own social position with dignity and discretion, to be a true friend and companion to her husband, and to raise children--especially children themselves utterly dependent on such inner resources.
Closed up in his gentleman's library for much of the time, Mr. Bennet does not even pass on his own knowledge and discrimination to his children, except to his favorite, Elizabeth. Fortunately, Elizabeth and Jane have also spent time with some cultivated relations, the Gardiners, who were formerly in the ungenteel mercantile middle class. Of the other sisters, Mary is a junior pedant, Kitty is impressionable, and Lydia is a mere ambitious coquette. When Mr. Bingley, a wealthy young man also from an ungenteel background, rents a nearby manor and arrives with his sister and a friend, Mrs.
Bennet's notion that well-managed intrigue will get her daughters husbands seems to have promise. Bingley seems to be falling in love with Jane, despite the condescending discouragement of his sister and the aloof disapproval of his friend, Mr. Elizabeth resents their intrusion, especially Mr. The Reverend Mr. Collins shows up determined to marry one of the Bennet girls and thereby make some recompense for the harsh terms of the entail. For their part, Lydia and Kitty are delighted with the prospects offered by some officers quartered nearby.
A young militia officer, Mr. Wickham, seems especially attracted to Elizabeth, and she is more disposed to return his regard after he tells her Darcy has treated him unjustly. When the recently arrived Mr. Collins learns Jane is already in love he proposes immediately to Elizabeth, who refuses his offer because she cannot love him. Shortly thereafter, however, he is accepted by Elizabeth's friend Charlotte Lucas, whom Elizabeth knows to have too much sense not to see that Collins is a fool.
Disillusioned, Elizabeth decides that Charlotte has merely sold herself on the marriage market. When Bingley and his party leave suddenly for London, she concludes that Darcy has talked Bingley out of proposing to Jane. Jane visits the Gardiners in London, where she is treated with mere formal politeness by Miss Bingley, who suggests that her brother is to marry Darcy's sister. Learning that Wickham is courting an heiress merely for her money, Elizabeth is completely disillusioned: all except her sister Jane seem mere courtly and self-interested intriguers, and she can only congratulate herself on not being taken in.
Elizabeth meets Darcy by accident, however, while visiting Charlotte and Mr. Collins, who has a living on the estate of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a haughty snob and Darcy's aunt. Elizabeth is dumbfounded when Darcy suddenly proposes to her, and angrily rejects him, accusing him of separating Bingley and Jane and of being unjust to Wickham. The next day he gives her a letter explaining and justifying his conduct; at first Elizabeth believes it must be false, but gradually she comes to accept the truth of everything Darcy says. Ashamed, she admits that until this moment she never knew herself, and she now sees all the characters and incidents to this point in the story in a new light.
Structurally, this scene is the center of the novel. It is clear to the reader, if not entirely clear to Elizabeth, that she and Darcy would be a match, and the plot now turns to repairing the breach between them. Against Elizabeth's advice, Mr. Bennet allows Lydia to visit the family of one of the officers, who are at the fashionable resort of Brighton, somewhat notorious at that time as the preferred haunt of the Prince of Wales.
Elizabeth herself goes on a tour with the Gardiners through scenic Derbyshire. The Gardiners want to visit Darcy's estate of Pemberley, and when they learn that he is absent, Elizabeth agrees. They are shown over the house, and the house-keeper gives them a glowing report of its master's character and conduct. The Gardiners are surprised, but Elizabeth has more reason than ever to regret her prejudice against the man.
When Darcy returns unexpectedly he is all hospitality, and prospects for a new understanding seem to be opening. But these possibilities seem dashed when Elizabeth hears that her sister Lydia has eloped from Brighton with Wickham, who is unlikely to marry someone with little money. By the social conventions of the time the "ruin" of Lydia will affect the marriageability of all her sisters. Distressed at this news, Elizabeth blurts it out to Darcy, and Mr. Gardiner leaves to help Mr. Bennet track down the couple. Later the Bennets learn that Wickham has agreed to marry Lydia and surmise that he has been bribed to do so by Mr.
But Elizabeth learns that Darcy arranged everything. When the Bingleys and Darcy return to the neighborhood, Bingley and Jane quickly resume their love for one another and become engaged. To Elizabeth's surprise, however, Lady Catherine de Bourgh arrives and haughtily tries to extract a promise from Elizabeth that she will not marry Darcy. As happens to such domineering intriguers, her aim is undermined by her own actions: Darcy learns of Elizabeth's standing up to his aunt, and to Elizabeth's further surprise--though not the reader's--he comes to propose again.
This time he is accepted. In a characteristic final comic touch, Mrs. Bennet is ecstatic at the accomplishment of more than she could have imagined in her plans to marry off her daughters. In its plot, incidents, and characters Pride and Prejudice is an interesting variation on the novel of manners and sentiment. But its originality--more obviously than in Sense and Sensibility or Northanger Abbey --is in its manipulation of the triangular relationship between narrator, protagonist, and reader.
As in the earlier novels, the omniscient narrator retains the power to withhold information from the reader and restrict access to the consciousness of characters other than the protagonist. By being let fully into Elizabeth's mind but virtually excluded from all others, the reader is meant to develop a sympathetic identification with Elizabeth's character and judgments. Thus when Elizabeth realizes in the middle of the novel that she, who prided herself on her perspicacity, has been mistaken about all the main points, her confidence in her ability to "read" her world is seriously shaken.
Similarly, the reader, who might feel confidently able to decode the story correctly but who has fallen in with Elizabeth's reading, will feel an analogous humiliation. Chastened, though in different ways, Elizabeth and the reader continue their adventures in the text, but it becomes increasingly apparent to the reader that Elizabeth's abandonment of any hope for a return from Darcy is yet another mistake in her "reading" of him and herself. The narrator, too, who has been fairly non-committal about Elizabeth's "readings" in the early part of the novel, becomes more ironic in the later part.
In short, the novel constructs an exercise in reading for both protagonist and reader, and manipulates narrative so as to make the reader conscious of the fallibility and precariousness of reading of any kind. Again, it would not be going too far to see this exercise in terms of Austen's deeply held Anglican faith and its theology of the imperfection yet improvability--though not perfectibility--of humankind.
In June , five months after Pride and Prejudice was published, Austen completed a new novel, begun in February Mansfield Park: A Novel , which some scholars feel also had an earlier version, was published by Egerton, though Austen kept the copyright this time and made more than three hundred pounds by the first edition.
In Mansfield Park Austen returns to a heroine who, like Elinor Dashwood, is right-thinking but socially disregarded from the outset. Fanny Price is one of a large and impecunious family at Portsmouth.
Sense and Sensibility
Her mother is one of three once-famous beauties, though her sisters married better than she--one, Mrs. Norris, to a country clergyman and the other, Lady Bertram, to a baronet, the owner of the large estate of Mansfield Park. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Separated from her family and especially her beloved brother William, Fanny remains an outcast at Mansfield, condescended to by her cousins Tom, Maria, and Julia, though her kind cousin Edmund protects her and guides her education.
Not surprisingly, she comes to love him for it. Her uncle Sir Thomas leaves to attend to his plantations in Antigua. In the absence of the father the others in the family soon drift into one folly or another, abetted by Mrs. Norris, who dotes on her wealthy nieces and nephews while treating Fanny like a servant. Maria becomes engaged to Mr. Rushworth, a wealthy neighboring gentleman whose name accurately represents his moral and intellectual value. All the Bertrams become intrigued by Henry and Mary Crawford, a fashionable brother and sister who are visiting their half sister Mrs.
Grant, wife of the local vicar, himself an old-style clergyman more interested in the pleasures of the table than in the cure of souls. Together the young people visit Rushworth's estate of Sotherton Court, the name of which suggests the decadent, courtly, more "southern" or Mediterranean than English fashionableness or ton pervading the values of all but Fanny and Edmund. The outing is ostensibly to discuss Rushworth's planned "improvements," or ornamental additions to his estate, but new love interests and flirtations develop quickly in the symbolically sultry weather.
While the Bertram sisters become rivals in flirting with Henry, Edmund becomes fascinated by Mary, who is, however, dismayed to learn that as the second son he intends to take up a profession in the church. Mansfield Park was written between February, and the summer of It was the third novel Jane Austen had published and it first appeared on May 4, During her lifetime, it was attributed only to "The author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice ", and the author's identity was unknown beyond her family and friends.
It is Jane Austen's most complex novel and deals with many different themes, from the education of children, to the differences between appearances and reality. The version of the novel housed here at Austen. Lovers' Vows : This is the play that the Bertrams wish to enact in the first volume of Mansfield Park. In addition to the text of the play, a synopsis is provided here, as well as a short analysis explaining some of the objections to the play within the novel and a cast list.
Emma was written in , and while Jane Austen was writing it, it was suggested to her by a member of the Prince Regents' household that she dedicate it to His Royal Highness. Austen took the suggestion as it was intended--as a command--and Emma was thus dedicated, but the dedication itself is rather slyly worded.
Emma deals with a young woman's maturation into adulthood and the trouble she gets herself into along the way.
The Annotated Mansfield Park
Persuasion was written in , while Jane Austen was suffering from her fatal illness. She was still working on some revisions at the time of her death in The novel was published posthumously by her brother, Henry Austen. Persuasion is a novel of second chances, expectations of society, and the constancy of love.
You can also read the preface which Henry wrote telling the world of his sister's authorship, life, and untimely death: A Biographical Notice of the Author. Jane Austen's works from her childhood are full of enthusiasm, humor, and very creative spelling.