Happy Anniversary Jane Austen! Okay I’m a little late. This January marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s books. I doubt I will find anyone that will argue with me about the impact Jane Austen has had on the literary world, but even more importantly is the impact she had on society. People continue to underestimate how revolutionary it was for Jane Austen to not only be the intelligent and witty writer that she was but to have the published success that she did for the time (though that success was still quite small). Austen’s works critiqued the novels of sensibility that were popular in the late 18th century. Although her plots were fundamentally comic they served to highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and any kind of economic security. Her published works were successful and yet they brought her little personal success and garnered only a few positive reviews in her lifetime. Since I feel like most people know a lot about Jane Austen in general (and if you don’t you totally should), I shall present some fun facts about her that I think highlight how awesome she was.
- she was raised away from her parents and her siblings in an emotionally detached school setting
- she had a disturbing and often hilarious view of death (she asked for details about her sister-in-law’s “corpse” and she joked about dead children)
- she had an aunt who was accused of shoplifting and had to face a threatening trial (scandal!)
- her training as a writer was self-taught, at home, with her favorite books
- she had writer’s block for a decade when she was forced to live in a city she hated (Bath)
- the prince regent ‘requested’ that she dedicate Emma to him and she did so in the snarkiest way possible without getting hanged:
“To His Royal Highness, The Prince Regent, This work is, by his Royal Highness’s Permission, most respectfully dedicated, by His Royal Highness’s dutiful and obedient humble servant, The Author.” (seriously how do you not love her?)
- some people who knew her identity as a writer were scared to be around her in case she mocked them in her novels
- she died a painful death at a young age
- she had a lifelong correspondence with a woman she only knew for a short time and who she left something for in her will
- her choices were limited, but she CHOSE not to accept marriage proposals, she CHOSE to be a ‘spinster’ and dress like a matron well before her time, she CHOSE to be a writer and a partner in life to her sister
Her letters help highlight how wicked and wonderful and multi-dimensional she really was, and if you don’t believe how wicked they were her sister Cassandra burned the majority of the letters. The ones that survived often show a flirtatious, intelligent, sincere, and sometimes bitchy Jane. I can only imagine what was in the burned ones.
But more importantly and the part that makes her so revolutionary is that she wrote in the 18th and 19th century. She had a voice that didn’t belong to her father, brother, or husband–only her. The majority of novel readers at the time were women, and first time a woman was writing for them.
I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. I’ve always found her works hilarious and fun, and I suggest people celebrate her anniversary by picking up one of her books.