Or, maybe you don’t. When I read Carol J. Adams’s article in The Washington Post I discovered a lot of stuff that I didn’t know about Jane Austen. I also found out that some of the things known about the author are actually not true.
Here are the five Austen myths that Adams busts:
1) Jane Austen led an uneventful life.
Only true if you call accepting a proposal of marriage and retracting that acceptance the next day, living next door to a sadist-necrophiliac, and seeing your aunt charged with grand larceny as uneventful.
2) Austen novels are chick lit.
Her readers Tennyson, Churchill, Kipling, Amis, Davies, and Twain would disagree.
3) She didn’t take her writing seriously.
She had an extensive revision system, critiqued other writers work, experimented with different forms of the novel, and negotiated the publishing deal for Emma when her brother Henry was ill.
4) Her books are escapist fiction.
Only if you like to escape into “the crisis of poverty and downward mobility (Miss Bates in Emma), the slave trade and emotional abuse of a child (Mansfield Park), disinheritance and parental manipulation (Sense and Sensibility), Britain’s near-constant state of war (Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion), unwanted pregnancies, and men who practice a double standard in relationships — references that sound ripped from the headlines of today.”
5) For all her popularity, Austen’s literary influence was limited.
If by limited you mean being credited by creating the modern novel through her usage of “subtle characterizations, social irony and beautiful architecture,” inventing free indirect speech, and writing the most paraphrased sentence in English literature (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”), then yes, her influence was limited.
For more Jane Austen myth busting by Carol J. Adams, read this chat transcript of a live Q&A that took place this past Tuesday.
Austen means a lot to me both as a reader and a writer. There are so few women writers in literary history and Austen’s tenacity and success is inspiring and humbling. My favorite book of hers is Persuasion, because of the main character Anne Elliot. Although her protagonist is very quiet and unobtrusive, Austen creates great tension in the novel and provides fantastic social commentary through Anne. Something I’d like to be able to do in my own writing.
What’s your favorite Austen novel and why?