Jane Austen 200th Anniversary
Sense and Sensibility. Pride and Prejudice. Emma. These are titles that are instantly recognisable, and which conjure images of stately English homes and romantic walks through beautifully maintained gardens. These books, along with Austen’s other writings, are beloved by bibliophiles the world over, and have inspired countless adaptations for the stage, film, television, and of course, literature.
"an icon for believers in romantic love"
Two-hundred years ago today, Jane Austen passed away aged 41 and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. There is no mention of her achievements in writing on her grave (though a plaque was later added), because the huge spike in popularity for her novels came many years after her death, and several of her writings were published posthumously.
Today, Jane Austen is regarded as one of the greatest authors in English literature, and has had a tremendous impact on the literary world, both in academia and popular culture. Her works are full of humour, passion, and social commentary. Her plots highlight the nineteenth-century woman’s dependence on marriage for securing status and wealth, and her heroines challenge feminine stereotypes in many ways, but particularly by marrying for love rather than money. While not always being overtly critical of this system, she often makes a point of the ridiculous lengths to which people were willing to go in order to secure a ‘good match’, and allows her characters to transcend this transactional view of marriage. In doing this, Austen has become an icon for believers in romantic love.
However, though her stories often ended with wedding bells, Austen herself never married. The reasons for this are much debated, but ultimately it has remained a mystery. The only people who will ever truly know are long dead, so scholars can only speculate based on letters and journals. As readers, it is perhaps to our benefit that she never married, because a bad husband or an unhappy marriage may have discouraged her from writing as passionately and as frequently as she did, depriving the world of her literary gifts.
While the intimate details of her private life are up for speculation and debate, it is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of the most influential writers in the English language, the likes of which we have not seen again in the two-hundred years since her death.
If Jane Austen has inspired you, discover 25 more of the best books to read on our blog!
The best of Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice
When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever.View Book
Having been persuaded to view the match as imprudent, Anne Elliot broke off her engagement to a naval officer with no prospects. Seven years later, when they meet again, Anne has the chance to recover the happiness she had forgone. This new edition examines Persuasion against the background of the Napoleonic Wars and includes fuller notes and appendices on social rank, dancing, and the Navy.View Book
During an eventful season at Bath, young, naive Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine's love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father's mysterious house.View Book
Fanny Price's rich relatives offer her a place in their home so that she can be properly brought up. Her only ally is her cousin Edmund. When her cousins befriend two glamorous new young people who have arrived in the area, Edmund starts to grow close to Mary and Fanny finds herself dealing with feelings she has never experienced before.View Book
The young Jane Austen was a precocious reader, devouring pulp fiction and classic literature, both of which she soon began to imitate and parody. Three volumes of her vivacious teenage writing survive. Devices and themes which appear subtly in her later fiction run riot here: drunkenness, brawling, sexual misdemeanour, theft, and even murder.View Book
Love and Freindship
Features Jane Austen's brilliant, hilarious - and often outrageous - early stories, sketches and pieces of nonsense. This edition includes all of Austen's juvenilia, including her 'History of England', and the novella 'Lady Susan', in which the anti-heroine schemes and cheats her way through high society.View Book
Letter-writing was something of an addiction for young women of Jane Austen's time and social position, and Austen's letters have a freedom and familiarity that only intimate writing can convey. Wiser than her critics, who were disappointed that her correspondence dwelt on gossip and the minutiae of everyday living, Austen understood the importance of 'Little Matters', of the emotional and material details of individual lives shared with friends and family throughthe medium of the letter. Ironic, acerbic, always entertaining, Jane Austen's letters are a fascinating record not only of her own day-to-day existence, but of the pleasures and frustrations experienced by women of her social class which are so central to her novels.Vivien Jones's selection includes very nearly two-thirds of Austen's surviving correspondence, and her lively introduction and notes set the novelist's most private writings in their wider cultural context.View Book