Jane Austen: a Short Life that Lives on Forever
Jane Austen wrote about everyday life and how the little things can be the most important things. She had a powerful way of using stories to explain love, friendship, personal growth, and happiness. She impacted British Literature well after her life on earth, eventually she would become the most famous British novelist. Most women authors during that time were not given the respect they deserved, which led them to publish their novels in secret. Her letters illustrate her various styles of writing, and it especially reveals her British sense of humor. What makes her writing impactful and enduring, is her ability to connect everyday life and struggles to a compelling story. In her writing she would have a very subtle and simple way of writing about her society at the time. She would make the readers work to understand the meaning behind her writings (Deresiewicz 15).
Austen wrote mostly during the time of the French Revolution. This was a time emphasizing a move to conservatism in the Arts (Grey 192). Society was experiencing good economy and lower classes were able to enjoy more prosperity (Grey 190). Novels were becoming more realistic and less about fantasy. Jane Austen was very careful about how she shared her views of politics and more. In her novels she would subtly express her opinions, for example her heroines almost always end up better off. This hints at the feminist side of Miss Austen. Her female characters were smart, successful, and strong. There were other authors that wrote about feminism as well. One that stands out is Mary Wollstonecraft. It is hard to talk about feminism in British Literature without referencing Wollstonecraft. She was a leader in the feminist literature movement of the eighteenth century. When she died her memoir was written and many people had an abundance of criticism. This set the advancement of female writers back. In the 1790s Austen had three of her novels rejected, it seemed that Jane Austen’s female characters were too intelligent. In Austen’s writings she focused more on the ordinary women of the middle class, whose lives were consumed with daily activities such as, maintaining a household and educating themselves and their children, and enjoying leisure activities.
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Another way that Jane Austen expressed the social structure of the time is the way she described the wealth of the people. For example, she spoke extensively about the landscaping of the manors and estates. If the landscaping and gardens were extensive, then her characters were wealthy. If the gardens were more modest then she made it clear. When she spoke about the gardens and landscaping that people had, it was her subtle way of depicting the wealth of the people at the time. When Jane Austen wrote she would try to be as discrete as possible. Examples of novels where she showcased two different standards of wealth were Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. In Pride and Prejudice, the wealth was shown through the landscape of Pemberley. This showed the social character and worth of Darcy. In Emma Donwell Abbey is a good sense of Knightley’s care for the property (Bloom 23).
Fanny Price was the Heroine in Mansfield Park. Growing up she liked to learn. Learning for Fanny took work and it did not just happen over night, this showed Jane Austen’s brilliance. Price grew up amongst her cousins, they did not have a particularly happy presence. Fanny was never unhappy because she was never bored, while her cousins were always bored, which made them unhappy. She loved to use her imagination and creativity. The east room, her little space upstairs, a place she could always find “some pursuit, or some train of thought…her plants, books,…her writing desk, works of charity and ingenuity” (Deresiewicz 155).
Women at the time were important consumers but had no means of generating income for themselves. Consumer goods previously would have been only available through inheritance. The consumer revolution made it possible to attain consumer goods by purchasing them. This was depicted in many of the characters that Jane Austen used in her novels (Grey 78). In her novels character wealth is often sited clearly an important issue of the time (Grey 79). The characters in her novels often discussed fabrics such as, muslin, silk, wool and the various colors and amounts that were available of it (Bloom 305). In the unfinished novel “Sanditon” it depicts what life was like postwar in England’s countryside, and how it transformed into a new bustling economy. Social mobility is often apparent in the characters in her novels. Consumer goods are mentioned in the novel Sanditon. The quote is “blue shoes and nankin boots” (Grey 132.)
Austen had three unfinished novels, almost all of her novels both complete and partial have scenes in them at dancing balls and assemblies. The social life of the time centered mostly around the dancing balls. In the scenes where dancing was depicted, young ladies’ conversations covered the gambit in terms of the issues of the day, from romances to family feuds. In many cases the ball served as the turning point in the story (Grey 118). Jane was invited to these balls, and experienced all of the gossip and conversation. Her family was “upper” middle class. Her father and brothers were clergymen, they were well respected positions, and made a good living (Grey 198). “The eighteenth century church was a prime choice of career for a wellborn younger son, since landed families had livings to bestow or could buy them” (Grey 203). For second born sons of the day a clergyman was a decent way to have land and a living because the first born son would normally inherit any wealth. In Pride and Prejudice her character becomes a clergyman from the largess of his patroness Catherine de Bourgh. Mr. Elton also appears to be a clergyman who did not come from a wealthy family and had to marry his wealth. Regardless the clergyman of these tomes were well respected and had money either from their own family or wealthy landowners who paid their salaries and supported their livelihood in everyway (Grey 203).
In Ms. Austen’s social circle dresses and fashion was a topic of conversation because it was popular to have new clothes. The characters in her novels would often spend much time talking about their trips, and their fashion finds. If you had personally made clothes it was a statement of good taste and class. Throughout her novels she mentions dress fabrics and how they were bought in different lengths (Grey 132). The characters in the novel used a professional dressmaker but then they might help to trim and alter the dresses themselves. They were talented seamstresses in their own right. Austen described all of this because she felt it depicted her hero’s and heroines with fine taste and good manners. If she thought poorly of someone, one way she may express it is described in her criticism of the dress that person is wearing (Grey134).
Jane Austen had many unfinished novels, one of them was “The Watson’s.” This expressed the views that Austen had of society at the time. It explores the views of aging women, spinsters, who have no money and suffer society as unmarried. She expresses her disagreements with Robert Watson’s attitude towards all women as transactional in nature (Grey 195). Robert Watson often said that he did not think women should be trusted with money. Jane Austen chose to be careful about how she expresses herself and her beliefs in her novels. In “The Watson’s” she was very blunt, therefore she never published it.